RPGamer Feature - Muramasa: The Demon Blade Interview
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Developer: VanillaWare
Publisher: Ignition USA
Release Date: 09.2009

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With the hustle and bustle of E3 now looming lazily in our rear-view mirror, RPGamer sits down with Ignition to talk about its upcoming Wii Action-Adventure title, Muramasa: The Demon Blade. On top of this, we take the chance to speak with Shane Bettenhausen, Director of New Business Development at Ignition, about his move from videogame media to publishing, as well as the company itself. It also seems that on top of the two currently announced games, as well as Blue Dragon's DS release, these will not be the only RPGs that we will be hearing about from this company.

We know this game was announced for localization at TGS 2008 by XSEED & Marvelous. What made Muramasa stick out as the game to get and how did you go about obtaining it?
Ignition: We here at Ignition are huge fans of VanillaWare’s previous work, so once we got the chance to play Muramasa at the 2008 Tokyo Game Show we were immediately hooked by its gorgeous art style and addictive, old-school gameplay. When the opportunity arose for Ignition Entertainment to acquire the U.S. publishing rights we obviously couldn’t say no! We can’t go into much detail about exactly how the publishing arrangement transpired, but we’re absolutely thrilled to be working closely with VanillaWare.

What are the differences between the three swords available in combat? How does each one affect gameplay?
Ignition: While the player can have three different swords equipped at a time, there are only two distinct sword types. First, Odachi – huge blades that deal heavy damage but are slow to swing. Next are Tachi – a smaller sword type that offers quicker attacking than Odachi but deals less damage. Overall, you can find over 100 different swords during your journey, and each one has its own unique stats and special attack.

Could you share some of the bigger details on Muramasa's RPG elements?
Ignition: As in most RPGs, Muramasa’s weapons have their own statistics that are used to calculate damage. Players also receive experience points for defeating enemies in order to level up, and the amount of Exp. you receive depends upon how effectively and stylishly you dispatch your foes. Of course, leveling up gives you the usual extra strength, damage and health upgrades.

Odin Sphere was heavy on areas that you had to battle through over and over, how does Muramasa avoid falling into the same style?
Ignition: Muramasa really doesn’t fall into that trap—sure, you’ll want to do a little re-traversal of previous areas to go back and find hidden paths and items, but in general, you’re progressing to new, exciting areas.

What are some of the main differences between the two playable characters? Do the story sequences alone change, does the game play differently with a different character, or is it a mixture of both?
Ignition: You’ll totally want to play through the game twice in order to get the full experience: Each character has a distinctly unique storyline, different bosses (Including the final boss) and an associated cast of supporting characters. Both players also start at opposite ends of the game world, and some stages are only accessible by either Kisuke or Momohime. The core control and gameplay are the same for both, but each character has their own unique sword tree that gives them each access to different swords.

How will Muramasa challenge RPGamers? Long stretches between places to save? Insane boss fights? Long hours in front of the TV?
Ignition: When playing the default “Muso” difficulty mode, one can definitely still expect over-the-top boss battles, challenging missions, and overwhelming amounts of enemies attacking from every direction. And the really hardcore kids can tackle “Shura” mode; it’s more in line with the difficulty level seen in such titles as Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry 3. This mode quickly becomes quite hard and forces the player to make strategic use of the various special moves and evasive actions in order to survive. Button mashing will only lead to a quick death here. And if you can handle that, then you unlock the ability to play “Shigurui” mode which gives the player only one measly hit point of health…ever. Good luck.


Could you tell us a little bit about Ignition Entertainment? We know you've been around for a while, but with your RPG focus being stronger now, we'd like to know a little more about your future publishing outlook?
Shane: Sure, Ignition Entertainment has existed as a European publisher for about eight years, but first established its North American presence two years ago. Everyone here at Ignition shares an intense passion for gaming—we all grew up with controllers firmly in our hands, and can now draw upon our past experiences in various aspects of the gaming industry to help bring killer titles to the market. While Ignition Entertainment didn’t initially publish many role-playing games, we’re thrilled to dive in with Nostalgia and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I would certainly expect to see more RPGs and action RPGs from us in the future—I’ve personally been a fan of console role-playing games for 20 years, and I’m stoked to have the opportunity to help expand the genre.

We've noticed that Ignition has (or had) development studios in both the US and Japan, are they still planning to push out new IPs?
Shane: A little bit of intel has slipped out about original IP that we’re working on internally, but you’ll likely have to wait a few more months before anything concrete can be shown.

You've made some aggressive moves, most noticeably in acquiring Muramasa from another publisher? Did you feel like you needed to jump in headfirst to make a bigger name for yourself?
Shane: I’d view that as more of a lucky opportunity than an aggressive poach, but yes, it is indicative of our philosophy. At Ignition Entertainment, we place a strong emphasis on artistry, creativity, and gameplay, and VanillaWare’s Muramasa: The Demon Blade perfectly aligned with our vision for the ideal Wii title. And yes, we’re eager to help expand our audience, and hopefully helping to increase the appeal of 2D action-RPGs among mainstream and younger gamers who might not have been around to experience the awesome 8- and 16-bit titles of yore that inspired Muramasa.

What are your ties to SNK? You've published and are going to publish quite a few of their titles, so do you have strong ties to them? Any chance of us seeing Doki Doki Majo Shinpan or Kimi No Yuusha?
Shane: We currently have a multi-game publishing contract with SNK PLAYMORE that began with Metal Slug 7 for DS last fall, continued with The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match for PS2 earlier this year, and will carry on with The King of Fighters XII for PS3 and Xbox 360 this summer and Samurai Shodown: Edge of Destiny for 360 this holiday. Our relationship will extend beyond that, and we’re currently contemplating potential reboots for some additional SNK/ADK franchises…but nothing official has been decided yet. As for Doki Doki Majo Shinpan, I’m unsure whether poking and prodding nubile young girls constitutes acceptable gameplay in the West! Kimi no Yuusha, on the other hand, doesn’t seem quite as bizarre, so perhaps I’ll take another look at that one….

How have you had to adapt jumping from the media side of gaming into the publishing side? What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced?
Shane: I expected it to be a big change and I was right—despite having served nearly 10 years on the editorial side of the fence, transitioning over to the publisher/developer world presented plenty of challenges and surprises. Getting the chance to work closely with developers is thrilling, but it’s also heartbreaking when you fall in love with a game concept that doesn’t come to fruition. Plus, I’ve quickly gained an even greater appreciation for public relations and marketing folks—they are integral parts of getting a game to market. Back when I was in the press, I attended tons of press junkets, game demos, and big events such as E3, but now that I see how much effort and hard work goes on behind the scenes, I’m absolutely floored, not to mention exhausted! We learned a lot from our recent E3 presence and KOF XII tournament, and hopefully we’ll have a few more opportunities this year to show the public our games.

RPGamer would like to thank Shane Bettenhausen, and everyone at Ignition for continuing to work on bringing RPGs that we may not see otherwise. Muramasa: The Demon Blade looks like it will continue what Odin Sphere brought to the table, and it sounds as if VanillaWare is doing its best to not have the same pitfalls that were prevalent before. With the game scheduled to release in North America in September, there are only three months left until RPGamers finally get to have their hands on the finished product. Also, for anyone that is interested, if you all have a suggestion for an interview you would like to see here, feel free to email me at: madhtr[at] with "Interview" in the subject.

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