Review #1 by Phaze
Bushido Blade. Just the mere mention of those two words bring to mind thoughts of cool swordfights, one-hit kills, spraying blood, & full 3D movement. Square's venture into the world of weapon-based fighters was certainly a unique one. Gone were the health bars most people expect in their fighters. In their place was a body damage system in which hits to certain parts of the body resulted in a loss of mobility &/or use of a limb. Gone was the limited fighting arena prevalent in 99% of fighting games. In its place, was a completely 3D landscape where you & your opponent could run around in at will. This was Bushido Blade & it was a prime example of what could be done to breathe new life into a genre that has been around since the days Karate Champ ruled the arcades.
So, along comes Bushido Blade 2, the sequel to one of the most revolutionary(or perhaps evolutionary) fighting games of all time. How could Square possibly top themselves? Well they have. And in some respects, they haven't at the same time.
Bushido Blade 2 starts off with a rather nice FMV intro which sets up the player for the action to come. A few of the characters in the opening get their faces splattered with the blood of an enemy at some point, so a few people may find that disturbing. Personally, I'm a sucker for some good ol' fashioned bloodletting.
After the requisite opening, you're presented with the first options screen. The game is entirely in Japanese, but the main options screen features pop-up pictures of the various game modes as you highlight them, so a little trial & error will have you navigating the menus like a Kyoto native.
1) Story Mode - Just like in the original, you choose a character(you start with 3 from each clan & can gain 12 others) & fight it out with a bunch of cpu drones who are all hellbent on putting your head on a stake. Unlike the original however, this Story Mode is a lot longer because in addition to fighting the main characters from the game, you'll also have to contend with the enemy's ninja forces. For each round, you'll fight about 5 ninjas before getting to the "boss" of that area. The ninja are basically sword fodder & can be dispatched with relative ease due to the fact that they're incredibly stupid & will usually just run right into your blade. Still, they do have their moments & if you're not careful, you may find yourself impaled on some idiot ninja's sword. If anyone has read my original Bushido Blade review, you may remember that I made a comment that Square should've thrown in a few ninja drones to make the Story Mode longer. Whether Square heard me or not(I'll vote "not"), it's nice to see this addition in BB2. Each character in Story Mode has two support characters that you switch over to temporarily during play. If you can get through a support character's section of the game without dying, you can "unlock" that support character for use in the other modes of the game. You can even use a support character as the main character in Story Mode(complete with his own storyline, support characters, cinematics, & ending). Talk about replayability. You'll need to go through Story Mode at least 18 times before seeing everyone's story. Everybody's cinematics & endings are done in the same graphic style as the game itself which lends itself to a nice continuity that FMV couldn't. The only fmv in the game is the opening.
2) CPU VS Mode - Basically you just fight against all of the bosses in the game(depending on how many support characters you've unlocked). This is kind of like Story Mode except there are no between-level cinematics, ninja, or endings.
3) Practice Mode - Choose whether you wish to fight with real or wooden weapons. If you choose wooden weapons, you fight against a ninja & you can choose which type of attack you want him to perform(horizontal, vertical, thrusting, or any combination of the 3). Choose real weapons & you can select your character, opponent, & what weapons you'll be using. The cpu player will fight with his own style & you can't select which attacks he can do. You're limited to only one fighting arena in this mode(which is disappointing).
4) 2 Player Mode - Self explanatory. There are 18 different arenas to choose from & this is the only mode where you can use the characters wielding the guns. 20 different characters can be used in this mode.
5) Tournament Mode - Haven't really delved too deeply into this one. It's a 2+ player only mode & you can set the time limit, # of players, & # of rounds. Wooden weapons are used & there's even an announcer. In this mode, even the characters who normally use guns, must use the normal weapons.
6) Link Mode - If you have 2 Playstations, a pair of tellys, & a link cable, this is the mode for you. Can only be played in first person view.
7) Chanbara Mode - This mode is normally hidden & will open itself up when you complete a certain task(or tasks). As in the original game, you need to plow through 100 ninja to win. Try to do it within 15 minutes for a surprise.
8) Options Screen - Allows you to alter settings such as difficulty, controller configuration, & whether you wish to play the game in B&W(for that authentic Samurai feel) or color. Loading & saving games is also done here.
With all of that out of the way, how is the actual game itself you ask? For the most part, it's pretty damn good. First of all, you should put just about everything you know about the first game out of your head. This "sequel" doesn't even feel like one. In fact, I had to double check the CD case just to make sure it was Bushido Blade 2 I was playing & not some other hack-n-slasher.
The biggest difference that you'll probably notice right away, is that the parry button is gone. Square seems to have taken an "offense is the best defense" stance with this game & you block by attacking. There are two buttons for attacks & you can counterattack by pressing the right button at the right time. This does take a bit getting used to, but after playing the game for awhile, I think it works well enough. The game does seems more skewed to the button-mashing crowd now & Bushido Blade purists who need to have that block button will probably be turned off. However, if you take some time to learn some of the game's nuances(as well as character/weapon combinations), you'll find a deeper fighting system than simply pounding on the buttons as fast as you can. A patient BB2 player with knowledge of some moves will beat a button masher most of the time(I speak from experience). Luck still plays a role in this game as it did in BB1 however.
You still have 3 stances to choose from but now they're toggled with one button & certain characters will go into a "sheathed sword" stance(for quick strikes, but leaves you vulnerable) or will use two swords at a time(great for combos). I believe some characters may have unique stances for certain preferred weapons, but I haven't tested this aspect of the game much.
Another ingredient from the first game that's missing from the sequel is the ability to cripple your opponent's leg & thus leaving him/her unable to stand. Now, no matter how often your leg is hit, you'll always be able to get back on your feet(you'll still lose some precious mobility/speed). I won't miss this feature much while playing against the computer, but I will miss it in 2 player mode. crippling or being crippled made for some great trash-talking between "friends". Curiously, the "surrender" option is still available even though there's really no reason for it since you'll always be able to stand. By pressing the select key, your character will get down on his knees & wait for the opponent's killing blow. In this version however, the "killing blow" comes in the form of a cinematic. The game will shift to a close-up view of your kneeling character with the death-dealer standing behind him. A quick chop to the back of the neck & it's over(sorry, no decapitation here). Even in two player mode, you have no control of the actual execution. The computer will take control of the fatal blow. Bummer. Nothing like a little hands-on experience to get the juices flowing.
Also the "defensive roll back" maneuver is no longer with us. This was a particular favorite of mine since it allowed you to get out of the way of a particualrly brutal attack & catch a breather or two. The Sabre, Rapier, & Warhammer are also MIA from this version only to be replaced by the Yari(spear). The Katana, Broadsword, Nodachi, Longsword, & Naginata make a return appearance & two of the weapons(Katana & Longsword) can even be double upped by certain characters for some great dual-bladed action.
One thing that caught a lot of people's attention about the first game was the huge sprawling complex that battles could take place in. You could run from one area to the next(with some slightly annoying loading in between) & decide where to fight. This didn't really enhance the actual fighting itself, but it was pretty cool as well as innovative nonetheless. Now however, the levels that you fight in are no longer connected. The viewing area also seems to be more limited as there is a darkness(unlike the original, there are no daytime fights here) that surrounds each arena that seems even closer than in the first game(obviously to hide popup). All in all, Bushido Blade 2 feels very....claustrophobic. Still, you do have free 3D reign over each level & the various levels are unique enough from each other to break up most of the monotony that many may experience from normal arena combat. There is one level that takes place on a roof top & only allows forward/backward movement(feels like a 2D fighter), but this is an exception rather than a rule. Oh yes, & in certain arenas you can die if you fall too far.
Graphics seem improved from the original. The various levels that you fight on are clean(at least the parts you can see before they fade into blackness) & the characters themselves look very good. There is quite a bit of clipping on some characters though. This is especially true if a character has some kind of portruding polygon like a scarf, sword sheathe, or sash. The item in question will sometimes go through a character in places where it shouldn't & will result in polygon flashes & such. This is a minor nitpick & doesn't affect the game at all. I really must comment on the animation of the characters, however. I don't think I've ever seem such realistic movement before. I'm talking more about the cinematics than the actual fighting. Just the way the people move and use their body language during the cinemas, it's really amazing. The actual fighting itself is also well done with smooth, deliberate motions & no herky-jerkiness. There is some slowdown, but this only occurs when the two characters are at a great distance from each other. Since this is a close in fighting game, slowdown will rarely happen. I appreciate the fact that the 1st person perspective can be used in just about every mode in the game(even Story Mode) even though I rarely use it myself. Playing from the first person view, you can even see the pain on an enemy's face as you run your sword through his gizzard.
Computer AI is much improved! This was my biggest gripe about the first game & I'm glad Square has addressed this area in the game. Stupid ninjas aside, the computer is very good at fighting now & they'll definitely make you pay for your mistakes. They still prefer to climb rather than jump up to a higher elevation(& thus making themselves vulnerable while climbing), but as long as you fight fair & don't chop 'em while they're climbing, you'll get a good workout. Even the easy level of BB2 is harder than the hardest level of the first game. I still wish there were greater variations in the levels of difficulty(the game still only has two: easy & hard) as I still seem to win a majority of my fights, but at least the game is no longer a walkthrough.
Another nice addition to BB2 is that secondary weapons won't just maim anymore, they can kill! A well-timed toss of a second sword will result in an opponent with a blade sticking out of his back as he collapses to the ground. If timed right, you can even send an airborne sword through a person's skull. One of the characters has an interesting choice of secondary weapons: a frog. When she throws the slimy green amphibian at another female character, that female character will start flapping her arms like crazy(Eww! Frog!) & then drop to the ground for an easy kill by the frog-chucker. Hilarious! I've even seen one of the male characters react the same way(wuss). The frog will continue hopping around the level until you chase it down & pick it up for use again. As in the first game, your opponents can also pick up your thrown weapon(s) for their own use(even the frog) & vice versa.
Yet another new feature to the Bushido Blade universe are what many people are calling "throw" moves. From what I believe, these moves are all performed the same way(Back + X while close) & are canned animations that a character goes through which, if not countered, results in an instant kill of his opponent. Some of these include: A) hoisting a victim up by his neck, gutting him in the abdomen & finally kicking him off your sword, B) multiple kicks to the head followed by a sword through the heart of your foe while he lies unconscious on the ground, & C) stepping behind an opponent & snapping his neck like a twig. This last bit I must nominate for "best necksnapping sound in a videogame ever". It will make you cringe.
Well, I guess that covers it. All in all, I'm very happy with Bushido Blade 2. Sure, I'll miss my roll back defense, leg crippling, & block button, but I'm glad Square wasn't just willing to sit on their laurels & release a game exactly like its predecessor only with more characters & maybe an extra feature or two(like some companies). It really feels like BB2 is a completely different game which makes me want to keep the original around as I'll still go back to play it every now & then.
Bottom line: If you liked the original, then by all means get Bushido Blade 2. Just keep in mind that this ain't your papa's Bushido Blade. If you didn't like the original, then give the sequel a look anyway. It's not even the same game & you may end up being pleasantly surprised. Then again, chances are just as good that you'll hate it even more due to the radical changes that were made. Either way, you can't deny that Square certainly deserves kudos for at least trying to do something different. For that, I applaud them.
Now....bring on Bushido Blade 3!