It’s becoming clear why Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is considered a masterpiece

The word “masterpiece” is bandied around a little too readily these days, with it often being used to describe a creative work that simply stands out from the crowd in some way. But there are still occasions when it is justified; Full Metal Daemon Muramasa has long been considered a masterpiece of the visual novel medium in its original Japanese incarnation, and the more I read the English translation, the more it’s clear that this descriptor absolutely applies to the localised version, too.

The writing in this game is astounding. And in this instance I specifically mean that the work the localisers put in to this game is of astonishingly high quality. Since I lack a familiarity with the Japanese version — not to mention with the Japanese language in general — I can’t comment with authority on the overall tone and style of the original release. But I can say that the English version of Full Metal Daemon Muramasa features some of the most beautifully artistic, poetic, evocative and emotionally engaging English prose and dialogue I have ever read in any medium, not just in video games.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Localised versions of visual novels in particular are best considered as their own distinct releases in their own right, since localisation of something this substantial is not just about doing a word-for-word direct translation from Japanese to English; the result of that would be clumsy, stilted and barely readable English text due to the inherent differences between the languages. Rather, good localisation is about taking the intent and meaning of the original text and fashioning it into something that achieves the same goal in the target language. And in this case, that has been achieved spectacularly.

That does mean that Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is not what I’d describe as an “easy” read — though from what we’ve talked about already, that should probably be obvious. The combination of the heavy subject matter and the elaborately descriptive text means that this is a visual novel which demands your full attention, and which can be quite exhausting to read at times. But allow yourself to be drawn in and you’ll enjoy an experience like no other; a complex story where the lines between “heroes” and “villains” are blurred considerably, and where there’s intriguing mysteries around every corner.

As always, there will be some spoilers for Full Metal Daemon Muramasa ahead — in this case for Chapter Two. You have been warned!

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is divided into distinct chapters, and from what I’ve experienced in my recent time with the game, it very much appears that each chapter is a self-contained, complete story that contributes to the overarching narrative of protagonist Minato and Muramasa, his suit of supernaturally powered armour, or “tsurugi”, pursuing the “Silver Star” Ginseigo in an attempt to stop her massacres.

Judging by the conclusions of both the first and second main chapters of the game, it appears that each of these self-contained stories are intended to have something of a hard cutoff in no uncertain terms, since they typically end up concluding with a significant number of major characters lying dead for one reason or another.

This is quite an interesting approach, since in many cases the characters introduced in each chapter are fleshed out significantly enough to feel like they will play a major role in the overarching narrative as a whole — but once their role in the unfolding story has ended, they are cut down, never to be seen again.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

There are exceptions to this — most notably in the form of the characters Kanae and Ichijo, who were both teased in the first chapter and who both play a more significant role in the second — but they actually are major players. And this will be obvious if you look at the game’s “affection meter”, which clearly shows Kanae and Ichijo’s faces as two of four possible “options”, along with an ill-defined figure sporting a question mark and a completely blank meter which I can only assume will appear on a subsequent playthrough.

That said, appearing on the affection meter is by no means a guarantee that a character is going to survive, since by the conclusion of chapter two in my particular playthrough, the aforementioned ill-defined affection meter ended up splattered with blood and then destroyed completely, suggesting that I had forever cut myself off from a particular route through the story through the choices I had made. I don’t yet know exactly what this means, but I am absolutely intrigued to find out, and wondering if I will end up regretting some of my decisions.

A key part of Full Metal Daemon Muramasa’s narrative would appear to be Minato’s struggle with his role as the keeper of the tsurugi Muramasa. In popular legend, Muramasa swords are regarded as being cursed with demonic powers, with one of the most common beliefs being that once they are drawn from their scabbard, the sword must taste blood before it can be put away again — even to the point of forcing the wielder to commit murder, self-harm or even suicide.

While the Muramasa in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is a sentient tsurugi rather than a blade, it seems there’s something similar at play here — though as of the end of the second chapter, much of the details are still left to our imagination and interpretation.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

What’s interesting about this is that Minato’s role so far has primarily seen him acting in a seemingly heroic role; in chapter one, he defeats the insane Suzukawa to prevent him from inflicting any further harm on innocent children — harm which we saw him inflict first-hand on Yuhi, Tadarasu and Konatsu — while in chapter two, his primary goal is defeating a Rokuhara prefect that has been oppressing a rural village in the name of his own selfish interests.

In both of these cases, though, it just so happens that playing the hero coincides with Minato and Muramasa’s real goal: destroying the “eggs” of Ginseigo before they hatch and seemingly retrieving fragments of a weapon as a consequence. At this point, we don’t really know what these “eggs” are, nor what the consequences of them hatching are, but we have seen what Ginseigo is capable of, so it’s fair to assume that it’s probably not a good thing to leave them implanted and incubated in crackpot villains.

In the first chapter, Minato and Muramasa follow up their heroic (if tardy) rescue of the three high schoolers with a seemingly inexplicable murder that would appear to defy all logic. In the second chapter, we get a slight insight into what might be happening as Muramasa utters the ominous words “the battle’s over; it’s time for the slaughter”, followed by the brutal murder of two genuine innocents who, it’s fair to say, were tangentially involved in the overall situation at absolute best.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

But there are also some interesting exchanges between Minato and Muramasa at several points which just raise further questions about their “relationship” and connection with one another — especially given that when she’s not murdering people, Muramasa actually comes across as a rather likeable character in her own right, particularly during some oddly adorable scenes when Minato is relying on her to help him in socially awkward situations.

In one instance, Muramasa blames herself for the pair’s defeat in aerial combat when they were assailed by an unexpected combatant entering the fray. Here, Minato reminds her that “you have no role, you have no duty. You are a weapon. My weapon. It falls to me to master you. You need only do as you are told. During that battle, I did not use you properly. I failed in my duty. Therefore the responsibility is mine.

“Understand?” he continues. “Duty, authority, responsibility — all belong to me. You have nothing. Nothing. It’s quite simple. Only an imbecile would blame a tool for how it has been used.”

Tsurugi don’t kill people, people do, and all that. But, as the saying goes, the tsurugi certainly helps. And a certain amount of doubt is cast on Minato’s assertion when Muramasa turns his own logic back against him after the murder of the aforementioned innocents — and Minato telling himself that he is a “demon” for following through on what he is apparently obliged to do.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

“You are just my puppet, an extension of Muramasa,” Muramasa says. “A puppet need not think. He need only be used. When everything is over, I’ll release you. Until then, let your heart be stone. Think nothing, feel nothing, and wait for the nightmare to end. My answer hasn’t changed. I am a weapon. I embody the principle by which I was made. Where there are demons, I slay them. Where there are saints, I slay them. There is no other answer. For I am not human. If you cannot turn your heart to stone, then hate me instead, with all of your being. I am the blade that ruined your life. You have every right to hate me.”

But Minato is unconvinced. “You are a weapon, a tool,” he reasserts. “A tool carries no guilt. A tool cannot take responsibility for the sins committed with it. As I said before, the duty, authority and responsibility are mine. You have nothing. Nothing. Only an imbecile would blame a tool for how it is used. Only he who wielded the blade is guilty. He alone is deserving of hate.”

After seeing Minato’s distressed reaction at inadvertently causing pain while murdering one of his victims, though, there are still plenty of questions. Why is he doing these terrible things if he seemingly does not want to? Why does he feel compassion for his victims? And why is he so keen to absolve Muramasa of any blame for these atrocities, taking on the entire burden of guilt for himself?

These are questions that I can’t answer at this point in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa. But I suspect it’s going to be a thoroughly interesting and disturbing journey as we attempt to track down those truths.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is available now from JAST USA. A patchable all-ages (hah) version is available on GOG.com.

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Pete Davison
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