Title: Bushido Blade
Developer: Squaresoft
Publisher: Sony
Date Published: 01 October 1997 (14 March 1997 in Japan, February 1998 in Europe)
Platform: Sony Playstation
ESRB rating: Teen

Many games claim to be revolutionary. Bushido Blade is one of the few that live up to that claim.

Simply put, Bushido Blade is a samurai fighting game. But there's more to it than that. This is a game that takes the conventions of the genre and tosses them out the window. This is a game that dispenses with tradition and offers up a whole new level of realism in its place. To get right to the point, this is a game that deserves the attention of any fighting-game aficionado. The rest of you should check it out, too.

The most striking difference between Bushido Blade and other fighting games is the lack of the ubiquitous health meter. Whereas in other games you accumulate damage incrementally, Bushido Blade's "single deathblow" system allows you to defeat your opponent with just one well-placed attack. This means that no matter how long a battle has been raging on, one critical blow to the head or chest can end it. Repeated attacks to other areas will gradually weaken your opponent, but it isn't until you hear that satisfying meaty sound and see red that you know you've won. After all, why stop at a KO?

Giving and receiving damage is also very different. In other games, your character can have his elbows broken, his kneecaps split, and his body burned away and still go on fighting merrily, clinging with amazing tenacity to his last remaining sliver of health, until he's pushed over the edge by that one little punch. In Bushido Blade, however, damage means damage. If your legs take too much damage, you will eventually find yourself unable to stand and will have to crawl around for the rest of the battle. Or say, for instance, your left arm is severely injured. Your ability to hold a weapon with both hands is lost--obviously a serious impediment if you're using a two-handed weapon.

Furthermore, and speaking of realism, there are no time limits and no confining battle arenas. Most of the battle environments are outside, and they are not flat and featureless. Some of the environments have water, or multiple levels, or walls that always pop up at the most inconvenient times. One battle area has a thicket of bamboo, which can help or hinder you, but is mostly just cool to cut down with your sword. Use these features to your advantage when you can, or just revel in the freedom of being able to run around wherever you want. Go wild.

Of course, realism only goes so far, and there are certain rules even this rebel of a game can't ignore. It's fun, for example, to press "continue" after losing and watch the eyes of the supposedly dead fighter fly open. But you couldn't very well have it any other way, could you? Within the reasonable boundaries of video games, Bushido Blade does what it sets out to do, and that's always a good thing. But of course, all this wouldn't matter one iota if the game weren't also damn fun to play. Which conveniently brings us to:

Weapons & Characters

There are eight weapons to choose from in Bushido Blade, each with its own strengths and weaknesses that you should keep in mind. For instance, if speed is your thing, you'll probably favor the ultra-light, ultra-fast rapier--but be warned that your opponent will likely blow right through your defense. On the other hand, you might be willing to sacrifice a little agility for the sheer fun of bashing somebody's brains out with a ten-pound sledgehammer. It's all up to you. The important thing to remember is that you can't fight the same way with every weapon and expect to do well. You may 0wn with the super-long naginata, but if you try to use the exact same fighting style with the tiny saber, you will get your ass handed to you on a platter. Promise.

In addition to this exciting range of tools with which to hack, stab, or crush one another to death, there is a somewhat less exciting range of characters to choose from. Bushido Blade has six characters, fewer than most fighting games. But when you consider that each character can use any of the eight weapons, the possibilities are endless. As for the characters themselves, there's your typical Ryu stand-in, the requisite old guy, the teenage boy who looks like he gets stuffed into lockers a lot, and a stunt double for the Dread Pirate Roberts. Oh, and a couple of obligatory girls. These characters have about as much depth as a saucer, which, be fair, is what we generally expect from a fighting game. In fact, Bushido Blade probably makes more of an effort to flesh out its characters in-game than most others, but I don't want to spoil anything for you. In any case, this is a fighter; if you want character development, go play Final Fantasy.

There are a couple of neat features of Bushido Blade's weapons/characters system which I feel are worthy of mention here. First, each character has a unique sub-weapon (except for one, and he has the ability to pick up and use an opponent's sub-weapon). These weapons are used for throwing and include the shuriken, the tanken, and others. Each one differs in speed, flight distance, and power, and the heavier ones can deliver a killing blow or at least make sure you won't be using that arm anytime soon. Second, in addition to the special moves for each weapon, each character has the ability to bust out special attacks unique to that particular character/weapon combination. This allows for a very distinctive fighting style. Of course, it also means that unless you have an amazing memory, you will have to refer back to the manual a lot because you've forgotten which weapon and stance went with a specific button sequence for a particular character... but this is a failing of the human brain, not the game itself, and probably means we should all strive to be more like machines.

Fighting Modes

Versus Mode: For two players. Pick a character, a weapon, a battle environment, and start killing each other! This mode is great for simply duking it out with someone else. No more wussy "best of three" or what have you--in this mode, the game keeps a tally of wins for each person, and you can literally keep fighting as long as you have thumbs left. Because of this, you may find that versus mode becomes a sort of virtual game of hot potato--whoever has the most wins when Real Life interferes and forces you to stop playing gets to lord it over the other player, no matter how wildly different the balance was ten minutes ago. Enjoy it when this works in your favor.

Training Mode: Self-explanatory. This mode is much like versus mode, except that you play against the computer and can only select from three battle areas. This mode is useful, and not just for practicing moves. With some of the weapons, you first have to learn to move with them at all. For example, train rigorously with the saber and then rush into battle with the long, cumbersome nodachi. You won't even be able to shift into high stance before your opponent's sword is through your throat. That's why this mode exists: first, get used to just wielding the thing without falling over. Then work on memorizing those button sequences.

Story Mode: The story of Bushido Blade is about as complex and engaging as that of any fighting game, i.e., not very. It goes something like this: The Meikyokan is a secluded and ancient dojo where the ways of Narukagami Shinto are still taught. There are rumors that the Meikyokan is really home to a secret group of assassins, the Kage. But these are only rumors, as all Kage are sworn to secrecy on penalty of general unpleasantness. And, of course, as with any decent assassin's society, once you're in the Kage, there's no getting out.

Until the day one escapes, that is. And that one is you. Depending on which character you play, the story unfolds differently, so that you end up entirely confused and wondering if it's all supposed to be one story or six different stories or what. The revelation-filled ending movies for each character may or may not clear anything up for you; in any case, I advise you not to lose sleep over it.

What's more interesting is how certain aspects of the story affect gameplay in this mode. As a warrior, you are bound by the code of Bushido, which can be loosely translated as "no cheap shots, you unprincipled cretin." This means that while some games may allow you to kick your opponent when he's down or even to go straight for the groin, in Bushido Blade, such fighting will bar you from uncovering the secrets of the Kage and achieving resolution for your character. In other words, you'll be stopped about halfway through by a mysterious and vaguely insulting message and wonder how the hell you lost when you didn't die a single time. What's even better is that the game won't tell you exactly what you did wrong. There are a few obvious things thou shalt not do, such as striking your opponent from behind, but there are other rules that you will have to discover on your own. The manual doesn't tell you, and neither will I. Muahaha.

Also keep in mind that winning story mode once does not qualify as "beating the game." Win it once with every character and every weapon, and then we'll talk.

Slash Mode: In this mode, the goal is to kill 100 opponents. The game spits them out one after another and you slash at them with your katana (the only weapon you can use in this mode). It is, essentially, a killing marathon, so any damage you sustain is with you until you start from the beginning or continue after dying. What's more, if you are killed, your count will be rounded down to the nearest multiple of ten, or zero if you've killed fewer than ten. In other words, bad luck if you die after your 29th kill. Go ahead and curse, if it makes you feel better.

POV/Link Mode: Another truly unique feature of Bushido Blade. In POV mode, you fight while actually looking through the eyes of your character. Obviously, the perspective and controls are quite a bit different and take some getting used to. This mode can be frustrating for those of us accustomed to a left-to-right format, especially when you lose sight of your opponent for the hundredth time. A diagram in the top right corner of the screen helps somewhat by showing you your overall position and direction, and you can press the directional, attack, or defend button to turn towards your opponent, wherever he is. So mastering POV mode is difficult, yes, but not impossible.

If you have two Playstation consoles and two Bushido Blade discs, two players can face each other in link mode; that is, two-player POV mode. I don't know exactly how this works, as I've never had two Playstations at my disposal. However, I am assured that it is very exciting.

At this point, Bushido Blade is old enough that you probably won't find it new anywhere. However, it is available used through a number of online merchants and auction services. You could do what I did, and waltz into your local GameCrazy to see if they have it. While you're there, check out the sequel, Bushido Blade 2 and tell me if it's worth playing.

And that's all. So until next time, kiddies, remember:

KOs are for wussies
Death before dishonor
Go for the jugular

Happy slashing!

source: many hours of playing
/msg mercuriosity with any corrections

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