Learning a painful lesson in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

After hours of play and some thoroughly intriguing, exciting, terrifying and horrifying narrative twists, I reach what I guess we can technically call an “ending” of Full Metal Daemon Muramasa. It wasn’t really a conclusive ending, however, and thus it didn’t provide me with a credits sequence, a sense of complete closure or anything. Instead, it was a clear sign that I had absolutely, positively, definitely failed.

Yes, it was a Dead End, a Game Over, a sign that I had ballsed things up beyond all recognition. I saw it coming; given that two of the previous chapters had killed off two of the main leading ladies in the narrative, and a flashback sequence in what turned out to be my “final” chapter killed off another character who was once of critical importance to our leading man Kageaki Minato, I knew that things at the very least weren’t going to be easy. At least, I did by the time I hit that fateful, final scene.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

The interesting thing about this is that if you play Full Metal Daemon Muramasa in the way you would play a “conventional” visual novel — that is to say, deliberately “favouring” the character you like the most, or who you want to see the narrative route for — you’ll end up in this position. And, as revealed in that “final” chapter, this result is entirely thematically appropriate for the story being told.

The flashback I mentioned concerns the time at which Minato first Joined with Muramasa, you see — and it reveals the truth behind not only why his sister is piloting the destructive force that is Ginseigo, the Silver Star, but also why Minato has been forced to perform such morally reprehensible acts even after bringing “justice” to a particular situation which had been unfolding.

Muramasa — or, more specifically, Muramasa the Third, which is the full title of Minato’s enigmatic tsurugi, was created as a force of balance, rather than to be specifically “good” or “evil”. The covenant by which one Joins with Muramasa should make this abundantly clear — “where there are demons, I slay them; where there are saints, I slay them… Good and Evil alike shall perish beneath my blade” — and yet it’s still somehow surprising when Muramasa reveals the dreadful truth. For every enemy slain that Minato judges “evil”, he must slay one deemed “good”. For every foe, a friend. For every figure of absolute hatred, a beloved.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

The tragedy of this sequence is that Minato ends up having to slay the one he was trying to save — his mother. By unleashing his rage and channeling it through his tsurugi with such force he literally cleaves his enemy in two, he has destroyed a figure of evil. But a price must be paid — and the only one who fits the bill is Minato’s mother.

Just to add some extra crispy dramatic irony atop all this, Minato’s mother had, by this point, been repeatedly telling Minato that he must not kill in order to solve problems.

“Do you think killing your enemy will end the fight?” she poses to him. “Well, it won’t. It’ll do just the opposite. Kill your enemy and the fight goes on forever. If you get killed out there, I’ll murder every last person who had a hand in your death. I won’t let a single one live. Count on it. If you kill someone, who’s to say their friends or family won’t make the same promise? If they come for revenge, will you kill them, too? Then their loved ones might be next.”

She’s right, of course, but her explanation — and Minato’s initial understanding of it — is in stark contrast to how things are handled in a lot of other anime-style popular entertainment such as RPGs; their default approach tends to be that if you have a significant problem, you should punch it in the face until it goes away.

This, of course, would have been the easy approach for Minato, who is faced with the quandary of how to deal with a group of highly-trained bandits — actually deserters from the occupying Rokuhara forces — who have been threatening the town in which he lives.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

To make matters worse, his beloved sister’s life, at this point, is hanging on by a thread thanks to heavy metal poisoning, and his success in his endeavour would determine whether or not she would be able to get some potentially life-saving treatment. So it’s understandable that his first response would be to take a desperate approach.

His mother’s words ring true, though, so he attempts to negotiate with the bandit leader. Their discussion escalates into a duel but, still desiring to resolve the situation without any needless loss of life, Minato manages to defeat her through trickery. That, it seems, is that; she had agreed on her honour as a warrior that she would tell her men to stop raiding the town if she lost the duel, and regardless of how it happened, she definitely lost the duel.

That doesn’t mean she couldn’t indulge in some trickery of her own, of course. By deliberately handing over command to her bloodthirsty younger brother and declaring herself “retired”, the raids continue without her breaking her word. And, as such, the situation escalates into Minato and the bandit captain facing off in another duel — this time, supposedly, to the death.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

But Minato’s mother’s words are still ringing true in his ears, so despite an exceedingly tense confrontation between the pair of them — during which Minato systematically lays out each and every way it would be possible for the captain to kill him at various junctures in the stand-off — he manages to successfully defeat the captain without killing her, even going so far as to help nurse her back to health in his own home, and offering her men a place in the town if they will lay down their arms and work the fields.

“What is a warrior?” she muses to herself as she ponders whether or not to take her own life. “One who rules by force of might. A warrior may lead the people, protect the people, or take from the people as she sees fit. What a warrior may never do is depend on the people. Last night, Minato Kageaki offered [me and my men] a place in the town, land to live on and work as their own. He offered mercy. He offered forgiveness. And that is why [I] could not accept. To draw on the kindness of the people is not the warrior’s way.”

“He defeated her,” continues the narration, reflecting her thoughts. “It was his right, therefore, to take from her life, limb, whatever he pleased. That, she could have accepted. But for her, the defeated, to receive his favour, why that would make her the dirt beneath his feet. That’s it. That’s what galls her most. To accept his mercy now, after losing to him in single combat, would be to repudiate the very concept of a contest of equals. And that, she cannot allow. If she is to remain his equal, then she must pay him his due as the victor.”

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

As it happens, she gets the opportunity to do so much sooner than she expected; overhearing Minato’s sister having one of the frequent seizures she has as a result of her illness, she comes to realise that her going along with his plan actually would benefit him directly and pay him his dues somehow; he wishes nothing more than the chance to make his sister well again, and the best way for her to provide him with that reward would be to agree to his terms.

Unfortunately, the world is not so kind, and her men — including her own brother — turn on her, rape her and beat her to within an inch of her life. Completely broken, she drags herself back to Minato’s side to spend her final moments, distraught that she wasn’t able to keep her promise, and that she was unable to give him the “prize” he deserved for his defeat of her.

But before she passes away, Minato is able to tell her that she did succeed; her efforts were enough to summon a doctor for his sister, whose treatment allowed her body to recover, if not her mind; the rest ended up being inadvertently taken care of when Hikaru accidentally Joined with Muramasa the Second — that which would come to be known as Ginseigo, the Silver Star — and was able to partake of her supernatural healing abilities.

And this is where it all begins. Ginseigo was not designed to be a force of balance in the same way Muramasa is; rather, Ginseigo was infused with the way of might.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

“It is death,” the spirit within Ginseigo explains. “It is destruction. A warrior may declare his battle good and his enemy’s evil, but good and evil are far from absolute. The cause that you believe to be just may seem to your foe the height of villainy, and the goal that you despise as inhuman may be to your enemy worth body and soul. Hence, for each man who falls beneath the blade, one good and one evil meet their end. Might, therefore, is neither good nor evil. It is simply the power to kill. Only one thing can come of such power. The strong shall live, and the weak shall die.”

Hikaru, having been suffering in her mental “prison” for the duration of her illness, had had a lot of time to reflect on her life. And the longer she thought about it, the more she resented that her father had been taken from her — actually forced to leave the Minato family, which was once a prestigious house — before she ever really had a chance to know him. And the more she grew to resent that fact, the more afflicted with fury she became.

“My father was stolen from me as I took my first breaths,” she muses to herself. “I must take him back if I am to be whole. However, such an act would violate the laws of man. A child’s father belongs to her mother. She cannot claim him for her own. So though I was born with a piece of my soul missing, it has never been permitted to me to reclaim it. With no way to fulfil my purpose, I have been forced to remain here — forever bound, forever dreaming. But now — Might! The Law of Might! If might will lead me to godhood, then the way is open after all! Become a god, and all will be well. The laws of man will bind me no longer!”

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

She is, of course, completely off her rocker by this point — and it’s debatable whether the cause of this is Ginseigo herself, shown repeatedly to turn men’s minds to mush by this point in the narrative, or if Hikaru had already fallen to darkness while trapped within her “prison”. Both are plausible explanations, and the truth is likely that a bit of both was involved.

Either way, both Hikaru and Ginseigo see that a good starting point for following this “Way of Might” would be to take care of the bandit problem once and for all. And neither Hikaru nor Ginseigo have any qualms about widespread slaughter in order to achieve this — though given Ginseigo’s ability to corrupt the minds of all around her except those clad in the armour of a tsurugi, the pair don’t actually have to do all that much killing themselves. Those driven mad by Ginseigo’s “song” end up doing the hard work themselves.

Ginseigo kicking the absolute crap out of the late bandit captain’s tsurugi-clad brother is what leads him to flee, by unfortunate happenstance causing him to land right in the shrine where Minato and his mother were still reeling from the sheer power unleashed when Hikaru finally donned Ginseigo as a tsurugi for the first time.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

Minato knows that the situation is a life or death one for both him and his mother, but he resists the terrible, terrifying power of Muramasa initially. He knows that no good will come of using that tsurugi — but eventually his desire to save his mother overwhelms any sense of trepidation he might feel. And it’s this which leads him to kill for the first time — and subsequently to be forced to pay the “balancing” price by also slaying his own mother.

She knew that this was inevitable; she knew from the moment that Ginseigo was first accidentally released that this is how things were going to end, and she accepts responsibility as the one who was supposed to prevent it from happening. And thus she knows that the heavy burden placed on Minato is not something he should be blamed for.

But it also explains something to us, the player. If, by this point, both Otori and Ichijo are dead, as they were in my initial playthrough, we see a situation where Minato and Muramasa’s latest “evil” kill is unable to be met with a balancing “good” kill — simply because Minato has no-one left that he thinks of in that way. And thus the only possible option is for either Minato to destroy Muramasa, or for Muramasa to kill Minato. I think you know which way that goes.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

It’s a painful, frustrating lesson to learn to reach a dead end like this — but it effectively drives home a point that, in retrospect, Minato had been repeatedly impressing upon us over the course of the narrative up until this point: the fact that he should not allow himself to become attached to anyone, nor that he should allow anyone to feel affection for him.

In fact, the game provides us an explicit, seemingly unavoidable demonstration of what happens in this regard with the Emishi girls Minato and Muramasa end up murdering at the end of the game’s second chapter: we see their affection meter gradually rise — unavoidably — over the course of the chapter’s narrative, then the consequence of that affection meter being the highest being their death.

The game was telling us outright that a high affection meter, in this case, is not a desirable thing, because it indicates Minato reaching a point where he considers that individual to be “good” — thereby making them a target for the next time he slays someone “evil”.

Of course, if Minato had continued to bear his mother’s advice in mind — to avoid killing at all costs, lest the cycle of death continue into perpetuity — then all this might have been avoided. But sadly, at least on this initial playthrough, it seems that a certain amount of death is unavoidable, particularly given the nature of the foes that Minato and Muramasa face.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa

At this point, it remains to be seen if there is any way in which it is possible for things to resolve without anyone important dying at some point. But it’s certainly going to be an interesting journey to explore this further.

Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is available now from JAST USAA “streamer-friendly” version is available on GOG.com.

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Pete Davison
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