Mar 05 2014

Review of Muramasa Rebirth: A Cause to Daikon For

image5 Stars

We don’t do a ton of DLC reviews here at HalfBeard’s HUD, mainly because there’s generally a lot of full-fledged games we have to focus on, but this piece was something special so I wanted to write about it. You might remember Muramasa: The Demon Blade as the Vanillaware game for the Wii that mixed metroidvanias and beat ’em ups together with Japanese mythology; as you may or may not know it was re-released last year on the VITA as Muramasa Rebirth. In an odd twist, the VITA version is getting DLC that the Wii version did not, each focused on a brand new playable character. The first pack focused on a cat lady of some sort-I don’t know the specifics, I haven’t played it yet-but this second piece, A Cause to Daikon For, focuses on something significantly more interesting, a peasant farmer doing his best to deal with the oppressive feudal government in a fairly realistic fashion.

Gonbe's ghostly wife, Otae, provides a helping hand in both platforming and combat, giving you a couple special moves and the ability to float a bit.

Gonbe’s ghostly wife, Otae, provides a helping hand in both platforming and combat, giving you a couple special moves and the ability to float a bit.

You play as Gonbe, a poor middle-aged widowed farmer, whose entire village is suffering from a poor harvest after surviving a terrible drought. As you might imagine all “drought” meant to the local lord was an excuse to sit on his porch while drinking mint juleps and exclaiming that it is “powerfully hot out here”, or whatever the Japanese equivalent to that would be. Despite appeals from the village elder, their lord has decided to not only refuse to give aid to the village but actually raise their  taxes to a level that they most certainly will not be able to pay. The villagers are obviously not happy about this and barely contained rebellion starts to brew. Gonbe and his friends however know better and realize that any uprising from the village would result in all involved being slaughtered and the village essentially being destroyed. This being the case, Gonbe and his compatriots decide to go to Kyoto so they can approach the governor of their province in person and beg for aid in their situation, even knowing that simply talking to such a member of nobility is an offense punishable by death for those as low in status as themselves. What makes this story interesting is that the peasant is the never the hero of the traditional Japanese fiction we tend to see, they are always the victims and have to reach out to the real heroes who are often samurai or other nobility. Gonbe is just a regular guy, haunted by his own shortcoming (as well as the ghost of his dead wife), doing anything to prevent the deaths of those he cares about despite his own anxiety and knowing that success is as likely to kill him as failure. That feels so much more heroic and realistic than a stoic samurai cutting down hordes of foes in the name of honour and dignity. While I won’t ruin the rest of the story, I will say that things don’t end at the governor and eventually Gonbe needs to take the things into his own hands, in his own way. This leads to a really satisfying ending that you can feel good about but also acknowledges the consequences of Gonbe’s actions and uses the nature of medieval Japanese culture and mythology in some very interesting ways.

In the heat of battle Gonbe is able to summon his buddies to fight alongside him who will stick around until either the fight is over or they take enough damage.

In the heat of battle Gonbe is able to summon his buddies to fight alongside him who will stick around until either the fight is over or they take enough damage.

Now with Gonbe being a poor radish farmer, he’s not going to be able to afford a sword, instead he fights with the tools of his trade and has a unique play style as a result. He fights with a hoe, a bamboo spear, and hand sickles, each of which controls very differently and has its own strengths. His overall fighting style is an interesting mix of haphazard dodging and practiced attacks honed by years of agriculture and while the basic maneuvers from the main game stay in place, Gonbe’s moveset feels entirely different from anything found in the main campaign. One of the most interesting changes to the gameplay is the fact that he’s not finding or equipping new weapons; instead the forging menu from the main game is replaced with a training menu and the same resources you used to build new swords are now for powering up your farming tools and unlocking special attacks and passive bonuses. Another neat change is that the game takes into account Gonbe’s status as a poor peasant when it comes resources and as such gives you very little money when winning fights, it wouldn’t do for him to ask governor to lower everyone’s taxes while he’s got mad stacks in his pockets now would it? A side effect of those limited resources though is the fact that it constrains the amount of health items you’re going to have on hand as you’ll not be able buy up a large stock, this forces you to use a lot more strategy when fighting and learn the intricacies of the combat, it’s a nice change of pace as I found the main campaign to be a little mashy.

There isn’t really much to say about this DLC presentation-wise, it looks like the rest of Muramasa, which is beautiful like all Vanillaware games. That said though I do want to discuss Gonbe’s design a little bit because it’s another interesting facet of his character and a reversal of traditional hero imagery. Gonbe does not have a strong jaw, rippling pecs, or chiseled abs, he does not look like your standard hero. Instead he has a pot belly, his ribs are showing because he’s malnourished, and he has a plain face with a big nose and a five-o-clock shadow that’s looks less badass than just tired. He looks the way an NPC does in the world of Muramasa and that makes his story seem all the more powerful. Gonbe is a simply designed man of the earth versus the massive intricately styled bosses and overdrawn ethereal story characters that Muramasa is built upon, it really enforces the whole underdog aspect of the story.

 A Cause to Daikon For is a very charming little adventure and for the low entry fee of just $5, it’s hard not to recommend. It’s maybe a little short at only 2 hours or so but it does give you the option to go through and fight all the bosses and dungeons from the main game once you’re done, so if you want it to Gonbe’s adventure can last for a very long time. I really enjoyed my time as a poor farmer and as such I’m giving Muramusa Rebirth: A Cause to Daikon For a 5 out of 5 stars, if you own Muramasa Rebirth then you need to get this DLC.

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