If you liked Odin Sphere...
October 02, 2008
The Tokyo Game Show will deliver its annual cascade of bittersweet announcements next week. North American gamers like me will squeal with delight at the games headed our way and lament our misfortune at the games we'll never see. Okay, maybe squealing and lamenting are a tad dramatic, but TGS always seems to deliver a few surprises that make me happy to be a gamer, but sad to be one living outside Japan.
Happily, one game I don't have to worry about is Oboro Muramasa (aka: Muramasa: The Demon Blade) developed by Vanillaware, creators of Odin Sphere, one of my favorite games from last year. Though it's been delayed until 2009, publisher Marvelous Interactive has promised to have a playable version available at TGS. This month's Nintendo Power also features a two-page spread with luscious screenshots and a few more details on the game, which will include male and female playable protagonists and visuals that are said to "put Odin Sphere to shame."
That would be quite a feat. In my book, Odin Sphere was the most visually impressive game of 2007. What's that, you say? What about Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, or Crysis? Am I seriously comparing a last-gen 2-D beat-'em-up to these next-gen graphical wonders? Absolutely. While we might niggle about a few holes in Odin Sphere's gameplay, nothing I saw last year matched the sumptuous hand-painted artwork and gorgeous, fanciful character models found in this wonderful game. It's simply stunning, even on my outdated old 4:3 TV screen.
I admire what the artists who created Odin Sphere did, but that game was designed for the PS2, a platform more conducive to Vanillaware's labor-intensive design aesthetic than current next-gen consoles. Oboro Muramasa is intended as a spiritual successor to Odin Sphere, but as producer Yoshifumi Hashimoto told Gamasutra in an interview last year, it's hard to make games like this today:
Gamasutra: Has it gotten easier to make high-res 2D games with newer systems?
Hashimoto: It's harder now to make 2D-graphics games. Before, everything was 2D, so you had enough people who were actually specialized in making 2D characters. But now, everything is 3D. So now, to find a good team that can make 2D games, even if you have better technology and more RAM or whatever, it's really hard now.
Gamasutra: I've heard from some people that it's actually more expensive, in terms of time and money, to make 2D games, versus 3D games, in high-res.
Hashimoto: Yes. To explain, when you are making a 3D character and just want to make it punch, you can just build a model, put the skeleton in it, and just make it punch. But for a 2D character, you have to write each step of the punch animation. So it's more expensive now, to make 2D games than 3D games...In the end, eventually it's not 2D versus 3D for me; it's more about putting what you have in your guts in the game, and to make it really fun and enjoyable to play. Previously I was working on 2D arcade games before, so it's not just 2D versus 3D, it's more what you want to show, and what kind of game you want to make. 
I've learned not to let myself get too excited about unreleased games. Actually, I haven't learned anything. I can't wait for Oboro Muramasa next year. It's set in the Genroku era - a golden age of Japanese art - so I can only imagine what the artists at Vanillaware will do with such a rich backdrop.
If you'd like to see a non-direct-feed trailer for the game, click on the video below. It was shot with a camera aimed at a screen showing footage from the game...and it still looks pretty incredible.