Review by True Darem

"We call this "wasted potential"."

Back when the Playstation was still in its early days, Squaresoft released a fighting game that promised to be a sight to behold. My father, being a Final Fantasy fiend, bought this game because of its developer. I ended up playing it a lot more than he did.

I used to crow this game's virtues to the world, but recently I gave it a lot of thought. And that thought rapidly turned to, "What a waste..."

Story: 6/10

In the days of samurai, a school of swordsmanship was actually a secret clan of assassins. Once you joined, leaving wasn't an option - in fact, you were not allowed to leave the compound. One of its members recently decided to escape; according to what they've heard, there's a way out through the highest tower of the castle...

Okay... It's a fighting game, so story isn't very necessary. Still, this would be a decent time-waster if made into a good movie, so I'll give it a pass.

The Roster: 4/10

There are two major problems with the cast of Bushido Blade. One is its size. There are only six playable characters - six. Granted, they're six playable characters with decent backstory and interrelationship, but I have trouble with the idea of a group of assassins numbering only five people (one of the characters is a young man who just stumbled onto them). That's not even enough to keep three feudal lords happy.

Second, there are only two character types: the big guys (Utsusemi and Kannuki) and the speedy girls/guy (Red Shadow, Mikado, Tatsumi), not counting the middle-of-the-road Black Lotus. Half the roster plays exactly the same way, so your choice of character means nothing. For a fighting game, that's a lethal flaw.

In the single-player mode, I will admit, the characters have personality - they have unique post-battle sequences, and each reacts differently to the events as they try to escape - but this doesn't make up for their similarity and scarcity.

Graphics: 5/10

This was early in the Playstation's hardware cycle, and it shows. Everything looks like the developers had only just discovered what "polygons" were. The draw-in distance is terrible - trees will appear from nowhere ten inches away from your character - and there's more fog than London. At least the characters animate well, although I doubt the human body contains that much blood (to see what I mean, just kill someone).

And Black Lotus might have the weirdest outfit I've ever seen.

Music: 4/10

Music? There was music in this game? Okay, that's hyperbole, but there are only four songs in the game - and there is no music in the single-player mode at all. What music there is works well for the most part, but it's easy to forget there is any.

Sound Effects: 6/10

There are far more of this than there is music, but sometimes they just don't work. The sound of swords clashing works quite well, but if you hit someone it sounds like you swung a two-by-four rather than a katana. Take out their legs, and it sounds like a rubber mallet. The only time the weapons sound right is when you land a killing blow.

And Katze's gun sounds like a cap pistol...

Controls: 8/10

For the most part, the controls are well-designed and responsive. There are three slash buttons - high, low, and middle - along with a block button, and three stances, also high, low, and middle (changed with two buttons, one high to low and one low to high). They're very easy to pick up and work well in the middle of combat.

Unfortunately, unless you hold the run button down or constantly double-tap the D-pad (this is pre-analog, remember), the characters move agonizingly slowly - like they all left their walkers in the castle. Didn't anyone on the staff at Square ever watch a Kurosawa film? Or heck, Ninja Scroll? Trained samurai didn't fight like geriatrics!

Camera: 6/10

This is a 3D fighter, and the camera always centers on you without turning. For the most part, this isn't a problem, as swordsmen don't bother with projectiles for the most part, so don't worry about cheap shots. However, this makes for rather static gameplay.

Fighting Engine: 7/10 overall

This is the most original part of the game, and for the most part is done right. I'll discuss it in three parts:

Damage System: 6/10

The idea is simple - one hit can be lethal if you time it right. The game is largely about timing that one perfect hit, blocking the opponent's attacks and trying to slip through their guard. This can work well...

...or it can screw you over.

You see, far too often, you'll attack when you think you did everything right - only to get stabbed in the chest and die. The game's AI knows the weapons better than most players, so cheap deaths are commonplace until you work out what you're doing. Luck plays a big role here.

In addition to the single-hit kills, you can take out an opponent's arm or legs. Taking out an arm is supposed to weaken their attack capabilities, but in my experience there's little change. Taking out the legs makes the opponent a crawling duck, and it's often just funny to watch them inch forward.

Weapon Variations: 8/10

Ah, here's where the game gets tactical. There are several different weapons, ranging from the bog-standard katana to the ultra-long naginata to the "what's this doing here?" sledgehammer. Each weapon has different attacks and works differently - the sledgehammer takes forever to launch an attack, leaves you open, and is guaranteed to knock a blocking player several steps back, while the rapier leaves no openings, but blocks horribly (being so light) and doesn't slow the opponent down much. The choice of weapon often makes a massive difference, as opposed to the choice of character.

Bushido: 6/10

The only way to properly finish the game's story mode is to fight with honor. Among other things, don't strike from behind, don't hit the enemy while they're talking, and don't strike a downed opponent. It's like a Cliff Notes version of the Bushido code. If you foul up too often, the game cuts off partway through and kicks you back to the main menu.

Decent concept, but you have no way to tell how you're doing, Bushido-wise. Therefore, it's possible to get thrown out of the game for offenses you don't remember doing.

Replay Value: 2/10

The worst part about this game is how little there is to it. There are four single-player game modes: story, practice, slash, and FPV (first-person view), in addition to two-player. Of the single-player modes, one is the practice mode and one is a horribly-designed gimmick wherein you play a one-on-one battle from a first-person viewpoint with terrible controls. Both can be discounted.

That leaves the story mode - with six characters and two endings per character (the acquisition of one of which is ridiculously complex), you'll be done with that fairly quickly - and slash mode, a fun time-waster where you fight one hundred ninjas, one after the other, on one "life". You'll be done with both of these in no time.

There just isn't anything there - there's not even anything to unlock, short of one character that can only be used in two-player mode - and so the game runs out of playability in a very short while.

Overall: 5/10

You can see an absorbing, addictive fighter waiting to get out in Bushido Blade. However, there's so little there that it's over and done with before you can blink. I've tried to imagine what it would be like to have a properly-done 3D fighter with some of Bushido Blade's positives; I try not to do it very often, though, or it gets depressing.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 02/15/06


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