The tragedy of an innovative game is that it can only be truly new once. A title like Dark Souls manages to keep its formula fresh and generate new, top tier games every time, whereas F.E.A.R. wallows in old ideas and grows stagnant. Bushido Blade 2 is a tragic, third case, where a once fantastic game regurgitates its own ideas and does them worse. I am not sure how this even happens.
A plot rediscovered
Bushido Blade 2 curiously chose to put most of its effort into the story, which was utterly neglected in the first game. It offered a simple plot about a corrupt dojo where a single warrior chose to escape in order to expose their secrets, forcing them to do battle with all of their old friends who were tasked with assassinating the deserter.
The second game acts as a reboot, which instead gives us a story about two rival clans with two rival dojos that have been warring since ancient times. Now the current generation of warriors from the respective factions seek out a final confrontation, as one clan sets out to enact vengeance while the other wants to retrieve a sword stolen from them long ago. However, these objectives will both lead to the complete destruction of the other dojo and the massacring of its people.
Realizing the limitations of the PS2, Lightweight turned Bushido Blade 2 into a cheesy samurai flick filled with cheap plot-twists and hammy acting. Characters get way more dialogue and are better defined, with outliers like the flamboyant gunslinger Katze and the disco-loving Tony standing out especially well. The story mode is also different for each character, making it much more interesting to play through it multiple times.
Story score: 8/10
While upgrades to the game’s plot are appreciated and a nice step forward, the true strength of Bushido Blade lay in its solid combat mechanics. The 1 versus 1, one-hit kill matches were an intense experience that was easy for any gamer to get into. You didn’t need to be a fighting game expert to get its easy concept and accessible control scheme.
Bushido Blade 2 retains many of these qualities. The game still gets you all sweaty and focussed when a battle drags out, knowing all too well that a single slip-up could spell your doom. It still has a roster of different weapons and colorful characters, and it still allows you to freely move about the 3D environments to look for a better spot to fight in or get in a cheesy charge attack. However, the game doesn’t add anything new and, actually, subtracts some of the complexity.
The controls have been cut down, removing the high attack from your strikes and cutting down on the number of weapons you can pick between. It has a larger roster of characters, sure, but those don’t change much to the moment-to-moment gameplay, they are mostly just an aesthetic preference. The game also feels less reliable, with strikes frequently passing through enemies harmlessly or causing them to be pushed away. Even weirder is how the blocking appears utterly random, like sometimes an enemy will be able to block a strike as they are crawling back up from the ground or climbing to higher ground. It’s rarer for fights to feel like true contests of skill, as they more often feel like silly swordfights where a winning strike is semi-randomly decided.
With an improved story also comes an overhaul of the story mode. Battles between the relevant characters are now spaced out by having players battle color-swapped ninja goons between each fight. It’s a bit of an endurance run before you are permitted to do the next, big battle. It feels a bit too much like filler and it’s especially obnoxious because the goons are easier than regular foes, but not easy enough to make them cathartic to strike down. The sudden lag and camera movement as new targets get into the arena is also inelegant.
A fun addition to the story is that your chosen character is frequently aided by allies passing by, who then take on the next level in their stead. This lends itself to some good banter, but also allows you to unlock that character. However, you then need to beat that next stage perfectly, beating the endurance round and the opponent, without dying even once. A single slip-up will have your original character rush in to save the day instead. These are meant to be fun portions that add some variety to the story mode, but often had me quitting the campaign entirely because a single foe would get in a cheeky stab and ruin my odds at unlocking that character.
Bushido Blade 2 could have just lifted its mechanics straight from the first game and, while it would have been rightly criticized for not innovating at all, at least it would have retained the same quality. Whatever tinkering they did here has only made a great system an average one; it has less options, it’s less reliable, and the extra characters don’t make for acceptable substitutes for these shortcomings.
Gameplay score: 4.5/10
Like 1 or 2 extra polygons
I won’t devote too much time to talking about the game’s visuals because they are largely unchanged. Character models are slightly improved, but at the cost of levels looking less dynamic and suffering from aggressively short rendering distances. The increased cutscenes also highlight the game’s stiff animations and I was especially bothered by how characters hold their weapons.
A point in the game’s favor is that it has finally been properly translated to English, complete with characteristically poor dubs, but those perfectly fit the tone of the story. Menus are still largely in Japanese, but there is enough English present to make sense of them.
Presentation score: 6/10
Bushido Blade 2 is the younger brother that just can’t compare to the older sibling. It mimics it as much as possible and tries to one-up it with pointless achievements, all while failing to actually address its actual shortcomings. It could have advanced the series further, turned Bushido Blade into a fighting game series worthy to stand alongside other greats of the era. Instead, it feels like a step backward, like the two games got released out of order. It’s an okay game when viewed on its own and the story is miles better, but in almost all cases I’d recommend the first game over this sequel.