Review by StaplerFahrer

"An interesting experiment, but a failure as a game."

Bushido Blade is an oddity. It's as if a group of developers suddenly became collectively sick of the fighting genre and threw it all it up, and the end result was this Squaresoft weapons-based fighter. But let's not kid ourselves, BB is (initially, anyway) unlike any other fighting game you've experienced.

Bushido Blade lacks almost all the trappings of traditional fighters. There are no health bars, no flashy character intros, no time limits, no super moves, nothing of the sort. Rather, BB takes a more realistic approach to weapons-based fighting than, say, a game like Namco's Soul Calibur.

Let me get one thing out of the way first: Bushido Blade's fighting engine is fantastic. In Japanese sword fighting, one aims for "one hit, one kill" and BB emulates this mantra faithfully. In Bushido Blade, all it takes is one well-timed (or perhaps accidental) slash to one's opponent's head or chest and victory is yours. Score a hit on their legs and they'll be rendered almost totally immobile; strike them in the arms and they'll become useless, forcing your opponent to wield their weapon with one hand. If you're feeling truly sadistic, you can hack up all your opponents arms and legs, leaving them a sitting duck on the ground in a Japanese Monty Python and the Holy Grail kind of way.

Another major difference that separates Bushido Blade from almost every other fighting game is that the six selectable characters in BB have little difference from one another. Each differs from each other slightly in regards to their speed or strength, but the true difference comes in the form of whichever weapon you choose to fight with. There are seven implements of death to choose from; the trusty katana, the rapier, the naginata (basically a polearm), a sledgehammer (!), the nodachi (a Japanese longsword), a European long sword, the sabre, and finally the good ol' broadsword. Each weapon has its own strengths and weakness, and it will take time for the up-and-coming swordsman to learn to use all seven of them effectively. There are three stances for each weapon, low, medium, and high, but they are tricky to use and offer few moves; plus, it's rather difficult to defend yourself from the killing blow when the tip of your sword is buried in the ground or held above your head. But in time, one can become a proficient Bushido Blade master and develop a unique fighting style, something lacking in most masher-fest fighting game.

And as much as I'd like to say that the fighting engine of BB is immune to button-mashing, sadly that's not the case. You see, in a world where one hit can kill and where parrying is decidedly tricky, victories by sheer fluke happen all too often. Squaresoft clearly intended Bushido Blade to do for 3D fighters what Samurai Shodown did for 2D fighters; making the gameplay defensive in nature, with players waiting for their opponents to make a critical error and hitting them with the fatal blow. Sounds good in theory, but in reality there's nothing stopping a player from simply rushing up to his opponent and throwing out random attacks in the hopes that at least one will strike soft flesh, either killing your opponent outright or maiming him and putting him at a serious disadvantage.

However, I can forgive some of these flaws as a game like this has simply never been attempted before and there's bound to be some hitches along the way, but one thing I will not forgive is the sheer dearth of options available to the player. The crux of Bushido Blade is the so-called "Story Mode," which follows the adventures of whichever of the six warriors you choose. They all belong to this super-secret school of assassins, which is so secret, that leaving the compound is one of the Things Not Allowed. Naturally, you play as one of the characters who does, in fact, leave the compound, and thus everyone is suddenly out to get him or her. Now, one might be tempted to ask WHY said character ran away, and at this time I'd like to introduce a word that I'll be using quite frequently from now on: vague. As in, muddy, unclear, confusing, nonspecific. You get the picture.

Perhaps it's simply the "Japanese style" but BB's Story Mode takes sadistic delight in not telling you anything and being as sickeningly pretentious as possible. Nothing is explained in the manual either, and the game takes the attitude that it will somehow shame itself and commit seppuku should it dare reveal a coherent plot point. Your character's backstory, their motivations, their relationships with the other characters, all of these are left almost totally blank, leaving the player scratching their head in confusion. The characters' win quotes and endings do nothing to clarify things; you'll hear vague references to an evil dojo master, some sort of cursed sword, but nothing to explain what's actually going on. Listening to yet another vague tirade from my chosen swordmaster, I could only think to myself "listen, Bushido Blade, why don't you stop beating around the bush and tell me what you're REALLY about?" For all I know, my character could have left the super-secret dojo simply because he was hungry and wanted a pizza. It makes about as much sense as anything else in the Story Mode.

Slog your way through the story mode with every character (which, amazingly, can easily be done in under an hour), and you'll soon be looking for other modes of play to sink your teeth into. Sadly, BB offers little else aside from the Story Mode; there Slash Mode, where you must fight against 100 identical ninjas, or the POV Mode that lets you play the game in a first person perspective. Bizarrely, the Training Mode was actually more entertaining than anything else in the game! Freed from the confines of the pretentious and incomprehensible Story Mode, Training Mode is nothing but you and your opponent doing battle. It's simple, it's entertaining, but it's not enough to sustain an entire game.

Another of the so-called "features" of Bushido Blade is the "Code of Bushido." Simply put, you must follow certain rules during battle. Like so much else in the game, it's not explained in the game nor in the manual, but from my experience with the game, you cannot hit opponents while they're down, there's no hitting your opponent while they are still in their opening spiel, no throwing dirt or sand in their face, and no hitting them while their back is turned. It all sounds like a great way to prevent "cheap" tactics, but Bushido Blade once again infuriates by not telling when you've broken the code. That's right, should you commit an offence during the story mode, the game will not DARE to do anything so utterly dishonorable as coming right and saying "hey buddy, you just threw sand in that poor Japanese woman's face and stabbed her in the head while she was blinded! What's the matter with you!!??" Instead, BB will let you play to the fifth level or so and then throw you a black screen with some vague text vaguely explaining that you've done something vaguely wrong, right before kicking you back to main menu screen.

Graphically, Bushido Blade is a mixed bag. The character models are well done, but they are dressed in some of the most ridiculous looking getups I've ever seen. Mikado dresses in a hot pink jumpsuit, while Black Lotus looks like a wannabe Lone Ranger. Strangely enough, during training mode these character dress in more appropriate attire; if one is fleeing a Super Secret School of Assassins (TM), then it doesn't make much sense to dress oneself like a bad cosplayer (Dept. of Redundancy Dept.), does it?

And while the character models are decent, those looking for a gore fix will surely be disappointed. There's no dismemberment, no decapitations, no slicing your opponent clean in two a la Samurai Shodown. The environments are bland, boxy, and non-descript, filled with ugly, grayish texturing and suffering a lack of variety. None of the environments truly affect gameplay, aside from being able to chop down the occasional tree. They also suffer from irritating collision detection, causing your sword to glance off a wall when it came nowhere near it.

Audio, however, is a positive point. Swords clanging, leaves rustling, the cries of your slain opponent, they all sound good, and the voice acting is top notch. There is no music during the battles, and although that might sound like a drawback, it actually serves to enhance the sense of atmosphere pervading the battles.

In the end, Bushido Blade fails as a game. The options provided to the player are too few; there is little to keep the player coming back after fully completing the Story Mode. But it is an interesting experiment, and Square must be applauded for taking some risks in a genre that seemingly looks down on innovation. It aspires to be a true "samurai simulator," and with a few tweaks could have been an instant classic. But as it is, it never rises above the level of mediocrity.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 02/04/05

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