Muramasa: The Demon Blade Interview
While the darling of E3 may have been Scribblenauts, the big deal on Wii was Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Developed in Japan by Vanillaware, who also developed Odin Sphere for PS2 and Princess Crown for Sega Saturn, Muramasa: The Demon Blade stands apart from many current Wii titles with its intense gameplay and beautiful art style, as well as being a 2D game in a 3D gaming world. To celebrate the American release of the game, Ignition Entertainment, the North American publisher of the game, held a "2009 Bi-Coastal Launch Celebration" with the game playable at the Penny Arcade Expo and a release party Saturday September 5 at the Nintendo World Store in New York City. Nintendojo made it to the NYC launch and had a chance to interview one of the people behind the North American version of the game.
Nintendojo: Thanks for taking the time to interview with us. I know that Ignition Entertainment is really busy today thanks to events going on both here and at PAX, so it means a lot that you're willing to take the time to talk to Nintendojo.
Jason Hughes: You're quite welcome.
ND: I guess my first question is, who are you and what do you do at Ignition Entertainment?
JH: My name is Jason Hughes. I am at Ignition Entertainment; I'm a project manager. So, it's sort of like being a producer, but I have my eyes on multiple titles at once. Muramasa has been a pretty incredible experience and definitely a lot of focus of a lot of my time.
ND: How long has Ignition been working on Muramasa: The Demon Blade?
JH: The game itself has been in development for a long time. If you want to go back all the way to when they [Vanillaware] were really just starting working on it I've heard the number ten years thrown out there as to how long they've actually been holding onto that and working on it. We were able to show it at E3 . Our involvement with Vanillaware has gone back even before Muramasa, building a relationship with them, and really just interested in what they were doing and what they were about. So it was this year that we were able to really start making progress on bringing Muramasa to the states.
ND: Analysts have said that there is little to no hardcore market on Wii, yet Ignition picked up Muramasa to publish even though it is considered as a "core" game. What was the thought process there?
JH: So, I think there are enough things in [Muramasa] that make it unique. The gameplay may seem a little towards the hardcore kind of gamer, but I think that the Nintendo Wii is a great opportunity with the amount of units out there and with the legacy that Nintendo actually has. I think that when I play Muramasa I think of games like Castlevania, I think of Metroid. I think of games that I experienced on Nintendo, that's the feeling I have when I play a game like this, when I talk about the core gameplay and its roots. So, I think there's definitely still a market for games like that. I think the Wii is a very interesting platform, and there is definitely a space for this kind of gameplay.
ND: What kind of numbers are Ignition looking for for Muramasa to be considered "a success," or are they not looking for numbers?
JH: We actually aren't looking at that much [sold] at all. To be completely honest, we completely believe in this game, what it represents, and what people can experience when they get their hands on it. It's a title that we're really excited about. We have undying love and energy for it, and getting that [experience] to people and having it played is truly our focus on this game. You spend 10 seconds with it and you've never seen anything quite like it.
ND: Muramasa is very different; a lot of people have compared it to Okami which released much earlier and also has a very Japanese aesthetic, yet it has a familiar feeling too. Would you agree with that?
JH: I agree. I think the core of it is there's something very familiar that you feel when you're playing it, but at the same time I think that the visuals, the audio, the very Japanese-heavy influence is really what makes it stand out. So, at least for me, you feel very comfortable playing with it because of the feelings it brings back.
ND: So, what makes Muramasa such a big deal?
JH: There's a few things. Number one, I think: the art itself. It is an absolutely gorgeous game -- completely hand-drawn, hand-animated. There aren't a lot of 2D games there. A lot of people feel that maybe 2D isn't the genre that it used to be. Everyone loves 3D, everyone's really pushing for 3D, but I think this title shows there's a lot of life in [the 2D] genre. There are stories and things that you can experience that doesn't have to be in 3D. The feeling you get from playing this is you're playing a painting, and you're really playing a piece of Japanese history. The fact that the story's roots are in kabuki plays, you look at a lot of the very famous woodblock paintings -- there's so much of that in this, including mythology, that you really feel the life of [Japanese history] when you're playing, especially graphically.
ND: How hard has the staff at Ignition worked to maintain the Japanese aesthetic of the game?
JH: That was absolutely essential. There was nothing that we wanted to touch in that area. There has been some discussion about perhaps the voiceover work for one, but I think that you spend some time playing the game you will notice immediately that the voiceover, the way it is, is essential to what the game is about. We localized the text. The subtitles are in English so everyone can still experience it, but we didn't change anything. We kept it exactly the way it was, exactly the way it should be, and exactly the way it was intended.
ND: One thing that has been commented a lot on since it was revealed was the "bath scenes" in the game which have the main characters at a traditional hot spring. While this is no big deal in Japan, was it ever discussed to remove these scenes or censor them for the American version?
JH: No. That needed to be in the game. It's a very cultural thing, it's no big deal [in Japan], but we wanted to stay true. The game is rated "T." It has what they call some "suggestive themes," but I would definitely say it's still appropriate for many ages.
ND: Some people have seen the game and said that it's just a "button-masher," do you think this description fits or is that a misnomer?
JH: I would actually go as far as to say if you button mash in this game, you won't progress very far. That really ties into the three difficulty levels that are available in the game. What is considered to be the easier difficulty does a lot of the blocking for you, so it's a lot more forgiving if you just want to jump in and start playing. But the next difficulty higher, if you really want to focus on your skills, you have to be very creative and very clever in your blocking and your use of the A button and your use of the sword because you are unable to mash and get away with it.
ND: Was there anything that frustrated the staff of Ignition while they were working on bringing the game to North America?
JH: I'd love to have some kind of a "dirty story" for you -- some sinister bout of frustration or anarchy -- but I have to say it was a complete pleasure. I love everything about the game. A lot of people in the office are extremely passionate about it as well. The very fact that we were able to work on it and bring it out exactly the way it is now, that's a privilege and an honor. As a matter of fact, the version that we have here is actually what's preferred by Vanillaware because there's an extra little bit of functionality in this version that wasn't in the Japanese version, which actually helps to eliminate potential player frustration. It has to do with the warp points. So once you beat the game you can actually go from shrine to shrine and get to where you want to a little faster without as much backtracking. This is the definitive version of the game.
ND: Alright, which is your favorite: Kisuke or Momohime?
JH: I am absolutely in the minority in this, it seems like, around the office. Everyone seems to love Momohime; I prefer Kisuke actually myself. And the reason for that is when you start off there are different paths, completely different stories, and as a result they have different swords available to them at the beginning. I prefer the way Kisuke plays. I prefer his selection of swords, what he has available to him. A lot of people around the office like Momohime's story better, but it seems to be pretty evenly split.
ND: What are the differences between the two?
JH: The big difference is the story. They have completely different stories, completely different campaigns. They experience different bosses, so in order to experience the whole game you really do have to play as both characters. There are 108 different swords you can collect in the game, and not all of them are available to each character right away. So the first time you go though [Muramasa] with Kisuke he doesn't have the same swords that Momohime has and visa versa. You can eventually unlock that ability later to be able to use any sword you want, but the characters really are unique, especially in little ways.
ND: Does Ignition Entertainment have any other major Wii titles in the works right now?
JH: There's nothing I can comment on. We always have a lot of projects in the works, but nothing that we can discuss at the moment.
ND: Is there anything you'd like to say, either about Muramasa: The Demon Blade or Ignition Entertainment as a company?
JH: You'll see something very unique with the name of Ignition. Our big focus is games we really care about, games that we think are really really strong, games that we want to play, games that we're very proud to have our names on. Muramasa, I think, is the ultimate example of that. There's going to be a lot more coming back, and I think in the next few months people are going to start seeing the name [of Ignition Entertainment] a little bit more than they are now. As I said, we always have things in the works, and I'm very proud to have my name on those as well.
As far as Muramasa is concerned? It's such a unique experience that I really hope people are open to giving it a try. I've talked about the art. I've talked about the gameplay. I've talked about the spirit of Japan that's within the title and the fact that I love 2D games. I have no problem with 2D games; things don't have to be in 3D for me. The big motivation actually while I've played the game is to just see what's around the corner. What am I going to see next? What characters, what bosses are there going to be? It's such an exhilarating feeling to be so excited and so inspired by a game like this. It's something that can be played very casually. If you're a hardcore gamer you can get into that too. It has a lot for everybody. I highly encourage people to at least give it a look. Hopefully it will be for you. Lets keep games like this and 2D games strong.
Nintendojo would once again like to thank Jason Hughes for taking the time to meet with us and discuss Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Muramasa is rated T for Teen and is available now. Be sure to check back with Nintendojo for first impressions and our final review of the game. If you don't feel like you can wait, you can purchase the game here.