Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Neither Dragon’s Crown nor Muramasa will be nabbing a “best screenplay” award any time soon, but to take these tales at their mere face value is to rob them of much of their charm. Though the writing is enjoyable enough in both games, it’s the way the stories are presented that really sets Vanillaware’s offerings apart from the pack.
Muramasa’s narrative centers around two main characters: the young princess Momohime, and the amnesiac ninja-boy Kisuke. Both possess separate, 6-7 hour storylines complete with unique bosses, and oftentimes different NPCs to chat with as well. The two tales are very different from one another, but the stark contrast comes off as refreshing rather than jarring. After experiencing Kisuke’s heartbreaking tale of sacrifice in the name of love, Momohime’s more fantastical adventure of possession and eventual transformation strikes the right chords at the right time. I actually prefer her tale to Kisuke’s, and the events of Momohime’s plotline mixed with the overall beauty of the artstyle, her potent girlish charm, and a nice deviation from standard story archs cement it as my favorite short-but-sweet videogame story of this generation.
One of Dragon’s Crown’s obvious advantages in the story department comes from its unique, fairytale-style method of relaying plot information. But does that boost its story to the top of the heap? Well, the answer is… yes. But also no.
Dragon’s Crown’s main delivery technique when it comes to storytelling is via a broad-voiced storybook narrator, not unlike the narrator found in a game like Bastion. The effect is twofold – the story is granted an air of authenticity that wouldn’t otherwise be possible without big-budget cinematics or voice performances, and that is a definite plus. The Lord of the Rings vibe is strong with this one, and the feelings the story instills as a result of this direction are much appreciated. Everything you do feels epic, and that’s exactly what the game wants.
There’s a downside to this, though, and the technique proves to be a bit of a double-edged sword over time. Though everything that happens is bolstered to a certain bare-minimum level interestingness, true emotional peaks are not really possible via a narrator alone. Now, I’m not saying the game tried for this and failed – it’s definitely aware of what it is, and content with what it’s done. Dragon’s Crown is a game where you create your own protagonists, after all, and considering the need to keep story references to the player-character vague, the game’s plot does end up a reasonably impressive one.
Advantage: Muramasa: The Demon Blade
It’s a tough call, and I definitely love getting up close and personal with the sprawling, monstrous beings that are Dragon’s Crown’s characters. The wizard Lucain staring into the pit of my soul is unlike anything I’ve ever really experienced. That said, Muramasa effectively played at my emotions and did so in style, and for that I have to give it the edge.
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