Muramasa: The Demon Blade — Total Pandemonium

Muramasa: The Demon Blade is essentially a side-scrolling beat-’em-up. At first glance it looks like a Metroidvania or an action-RPG, but this is not so — it’s got trapping of those two genres, but doesn’t really belong to either. At any given time, you have a goal, which is your next boss fight. The gameplay consists of running towards that goal, killing any enemies that get in your way. You can go other places if you like, but there’s no point to it — you’ll quickly find yourself blocked by barriers which cannot be destroyed except by collecting specific swords, swords which are in the hands of those very bosses you’re trying to delay fighting, and the only things to find there are consumable items, which (while helpful) aren’t exactly rare.

The only time you’re not running in the direction of a boss is when you’ve been ambushed by minor enemies and need to stop to kill them. These fights can contain as few as two enemies or as many as eight, but they tend not to take more than thirty seconds or so either way. So, when playing Muramasa, you get into a kind of rhythm — run for a while, stop briefly to fight, resume running, until you reach the next boss.

This is true everywhere except the Enemy Lairs, which are small, squat tree stumps blocked by barriers similar to the ones used to keep you out of areas you’re not supposed to be in yet. Here, there is nothing but combat — the game will drop wave after wave of common enemies into a small arena with you until you’ve either beaten them all or died. Some of these are pretty easy (“Snow Woman, Oiran Procession”, “100 Incarnations of Shadowy Ninja”), some are difficult (“Ozaru Stealth Army”, “Ghosts of the Battlefield”) and some are somewhere in between (“100 Armed Monks”, “Seven Samurai”). One Enemy Lair stands above them all, though, and that one is “Total Pandemonium”.

Total Pandemonium is located in the Izu province, and it’s blocked off by a white barrier, meaning that you need the sword obtained from seeing your character’s first ending to enter. Total Pandemonium has a recommended level of 92, which is about right, given that the enemy levels scale: Doing it at a higher level gives you better damage and survivability, but the free health refills you earn on level ups can save you some items, encouraging you to try it at a level less than the maximum (which is 99).

Before we discuss strategies, here’s the enemy list. Each bullet point is a “wave”. You have to kill every enemy in a wave before the next will appear.

  • Ninja and Kite Ninja
  • Ninja, Jonin, and Kite Ninja
  • Ninja, Jonin, and Kite Ninja (higher percentage of Jonin)
  • Ninja, Jonin, and Kite Ninja (still higher percentage of Jonin)
  • God of Pestilence
  • Two Gods of Pestilence and six Undead Riflemen
  • Jonin
  • Jonin
  • Three Kurozarus
  • Five Samurai
  • Seven Samurai
  • Three Samurai with boss-length health bars (in actuality, Yukinojyo palette-swaps)
  • Monks
  • Monks (more)
  • Five Monks and two Blue Monks
  • Boars and Pheasants
  • Four Tengu
  • Five Tengu and three Karasu-Tengu
  • Six Snow Women
  • Four Undead Bushi
  • Six Undead Bushi and Chigurui Bishamon
  • Small Oni
  • Red and Blue Oni with boss-length health bars
  • Gozu and Mezu with boss-length health bars
  • Five Red Oni with boss-length health bars
  • Momohime’s Shade and Kisuke’s Shade

Well, it’s aptly-named.

If you noticed that Total Pandemonium is at least four times longer than any other Enemy Lair in the game, give yourself a point. If you’ve noticed that there are no fewer than seven bosses in there, as well as several other enemies that are of boss-like difficulty, give yourself a point. If you’ve noticed that it contains the entirety of the “Seven Samurai”, “Courage in the Ghostly Hour”, “The Scheming Yagyu Clan”, and “Lair of the Oni” Lairs, give yourself a point. If you’re wondering how a player is supposed to deal with all of this in one sitting, go ahead and give yourself a passing grade.

Total Pandemonium is very much one of those video game challenges where the question is not if you’re going to cheat, but how. If someone tells you they beat Total Pandemonium straight, you go ahead and call them a lying liar who lies, because they most assuredly are. I would dearly love to see a video of someone beating Total Pandemonium with no items and no Secret Arts, but I doubt I ever will, because the amount of effort and luck it would take is just astronomical. (Bonus points if it’s in Shigurui mode!)

The best way to cheat at Total Pandemonium is to exploit Secret Arts. Not just any Secret Arts, though, we’re looking specifically for Secret Arts which a) have large amounts of invincibility frames, b) score multiple hits per use, and c) can be used multiple times on a single bar. Good choices are the Earth Hornet line and any of the many Secret Arts that cause your character to spin vertically (of which the Gale line is the best, since it allows full horizontal control and doesn’t lose altitude when used in midair).

However, this strategy won’t carry you the whole way — your soul bars won’t hold out for the duration of the fight if you’re spamming Secret Arts constantly. Therefore, you need to develop a good sense of when you ease off on them and give your soul bars time to recharge. Good waves for recharging include the Blue Monk wave, the Snow Woman wave, the Undead Bushi wave, and the Small Oni wave. Also, large Oni can be evaded fairly easily if there’s only one to worry about.

Just as important is knowing when to spare the rod is knowing when to whip your horse to death. Waves in which you want to minimize the amount of time you’re vulnerable at all costs include any wave with a large number of Jonin (remember that their corpses explode), any wave with Samurai, the Chigurui Bishamon wave, the five Red Oni wave, and the final wave.

Here are a few other general tips:

  • If you’ve been playing on Shura, consider dialing the difficulty back down to Muso. Not so much for the autoblock, although that certainly doesn’t hurt, as much for the ability to have your entire inventory open to you during the fight. Total Pandemonium can burn through a lot of items if you let it, and the five item shortcuts Shura restricts you to may not cut it. (Obviously this isn’t an issue on Shigurui.)
  • Even if you’ve forged and can wield it, don’t use the Oboro Muramasa. It’s the most powerful sword in the game, yes, and its Secret Art Disturbance can wreck the bad guys… but you only get two uses of Disturbance on a full soul bar, and that’s not enough. Furthermore, Oboro Muramasa is one of only two swords that gets weaker if you equip the Nio Bracelet (which fixes your swords’ power to 700), and that’s definitely the accessory of choice here (as the swords with Secret Arts that you do want generally have relatively low attack power). If you bring it, you’ll find that Oboro Muramasa will spend less time shredding enemies and more sitting in its sheath waiting for its soul bar to recharge.
  • Don’t forget about your sharpening stones! If you get into a tight spot where there are a lot of enemies on the screen and all three of your swords are low on soul (common in the tougher waves), use one to get back in the fight. You can’t afford to spend time running away from the enemies waiting for swords to recharge.
  • Know when it’s safe to be in the air and when it’s not. Undead Riflemen, Tengu, and large Oni are best handled as close to the ground as you can manage — but enemies like Samurai can be evaded for a time by staying in the air. Juggling’s a staple technique in most of the game, but you have to be able to recognize where it’s more trouble than it’s worth here.
  • The Shades of the player characters can be locked into a harmless pattern, but it’s difficult. This tends to be the hardest part, because there’s so much variation in what they can do. Lean on your Secret Arts here.
  • Don’t waste time waiting to Quick Draw in the perfect situation. When a sword gets low, switch it out, whether Quick Draw is charged or not. In Total Pandemonium, think of Quick Draw damage as a pleasant bonus. It doesn’t even work on the Shades, so don’t bother.
  • If you really want to stack the odds in your favor, give yourself a buff via cooking before entering. Houtou, which grants a single re-raise, is damn near necessary on Shigurui. It’s fine on the other difficulties as well, although they may want to try other, more generally usefeul buffs instead. You can also try using swords that grant buffs, although remember that the Secret Art takes priority.

The prize for clearing Total Pandemonium is the Narukami Bracelet. This item is one of the coolest, most powerful, and most fun accessories in the game. When equipped, your swords’ soul power will not go down. Ever. You swords will only break against autobreak attacks. It is unbelievably entertaining to tear through the enemies by spamming powerful Secret Arts over and over — head into Momohime’s final dungeon and show those damn butterflies what for with Ghost Blow. Totally worth it.


1 Response to “Muramasa: The Demon Blade — Total Pandemonium”

  1. 1 Sebastian April 25, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Recently beat it easily in Shura, being level 61. Ended up as LVL 78. :P

    Didn’t use Nio bracelet (didn’t have it), and didn’t even have to use the autorecovery of Houtou (though I had eaten it, just in case). Just picked the right swords and had a loooot of patience… attack, fly away from enemies and stay in the air… attack, repeat ad infinitum. The most annoying ones were the 2 in the end, but nothing a lot of spamming of secret arts couldn’t handle. Used a ton of sharpening stones.

    Actually, beating it while being level 61 (with Kisuke) was way easier than being level 94 (with Momohime). WTF enemy scalabilty. o_O

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