3 seconds, 2 fighters, 1 strike, and it’s all over. The introduction dialogue had scarcely ended and already my opponent already lay on the floor bleeding and the replay kicked in. I have been on the receiving end of fighter game experts that would wipe the floor with me in seconds, but even in the most combo-heavy games out there, few battles will go as quickly as those in Bushido Blade. This Playstation exclusive from 1997 is one the most thrilling fighting game experiences out there and you don’t even have to study intricate movesets and combo lists to get that sensation.
Traditions to uphold
The story of Bushido Blade isn’t that spectacular. It takes place in the modern day and centers around a secretive dojo whose members are being corrupted. The character you pick acts as a deserter, seeking to escape into the world and expose the secrets of the dojo. The others give chase to stop him or her, creating a series of encounters that form the story mode. Make it past the playable characters and you’ll square off against special, unplayable foes and a finale against the big villain.
Each battle starts with a bit of dialogue and the characters do show some personality, but their limited screentime makes it difficult to grow a fondness for them or get a sense of how everybody relates to each other.
The combat is where the game actually shines. Each of the six playable characters has their own stats, which you combine with a weapon of choice. These weapons vary from Japanese icons like the Katana, Naginata, and Nodachi, to more Western blades or even a sledgehammer. Each of these plays differently and you can switch between three stances to further alternate your moveset. In essence, this means every character has the same moves depending on their weapon of choice, but it also gives you much room to mix & match and discover what combinations work for you.
And the fighting, as I alluded to in the intro, is brutal. The characters are very defensive, but any hit that gets through is likely to cause instant death. A well-timed stab or a sledgehammer to the face, it’ll end the fight in an instant. If you are lucky, a direct hit might leave you limping around or reduces the speed of your swings, or it might even completely paralyze you. These are major drawbacks, but even when you are reduced to rolling around on the ground you can still attain victory. Most of the time, however, it’s instant death.
And there is nothing else in Bushido Blade to distract you from the combat. There is no HUD because everything is communicated visually, there is no combo list, and there is no timer. Fights can be ended in seconds by a quick strike or go on for minutes as combatants clash and look for openings. And these long fights are even more tense, as you always know that a single mistake will spell your end. Get too greedy or too hesitant and it’s all over.
And you can play a lot of mind-games in these levels. Players are free to press a button to enter free-mode and just run around the large, 3D-stages for a bit. This can be done to steer the fight to more ideal terrain or to get a devastating charge attack in. You can also use walls to your advantage, as especially the larger weapons tend to bounce off them.
Now, the game does have one major annoyance to it and that is the requirement to follow the Bushido code. This is most obvious when the battle starts and the typical pre-battle banter is entirely interactive. You can strike a foe down as they introduce themselves, ending the fight effortlessly. Doing so will lead to a bad ending that interrupts the story mode and the above example may be obvious, but you also break the code with a variety of other actions that are never explained to you. As far as I can tell, you don’t even lose the story mode on the mission where you broke the code, making it difficult to determine where you went wrong.
Story & Gameplay score: 9/10
Japanese it is, I guess
For all its gameplay qualities, Bushido Blade isn’t much of a looker. The visuals are hazy, with character models that are hard to read outside of the color schemes. Similarly, those large 3D stages aren’t particularly exciting to look at. Lighting and shadows also tend to misbehave, and textures sometimes glitch a little. It’s not a big deal and with a game this intense you’ll have to really look for these issues. The nice weather effects and excellent animations also do much to compensate for this.
A stylish bit of design is that during gameplay the game is all-silent. There is no background music, only ambient sounds and the clashing of two fighters. The menu and load screens have music that sounds stereotypically old-timey Japanese, but all of that fades when the players need to focus on their fights. On the flipside, a weird bit of design is that the introduction video is in English while all the dialogue is in Japanese. They didn’t even bother to translate the writing in some places, which leads to some confusion.
Presentation score: 8/10
Why would you do this to yourself?
Besides the regular story mode and a versus mode, Bushido Blade also has a POV mode wherein players have to play the game from their character’s perspective. It’s nifty that the game allows for it and it does work, so those looking to make an already hard game that much more difficult to play will have a good time with this mode. There is also Slash mode where you will fight an uninterrupted series of battles.
The game only has one unlockable character on top of the 6 default ones and the story mode is the same for every character, on top of already being rather short. This does leave the game sparse in content and, while the story is replayable enough, it’s a game that largely banks on you wanting to keep playing it for the mechanics alone.
Extras score: 7.5/10
Bushido Blade is a game entirely focussed on doing one thing really well, namely its fantastic combat system. It’s a fighting game everybody can play and get excited about, which may see you effortlessly win in seconds or leave two heavily wounded warriors crawling on the floor for minutes. The story is a little vague and short, plus the models are rough, but this game is so unique and thrilling that I would recommend it anyway. Even playing through the story once or twice will guarantee you some pulse-pounding battles and hilarious incidents.