BUSHIDO BLADE / Squaresoft / Playstation

So I guess if Tenchu is the "ninja sim" for the Playstation, this one is the "samurai sim." Ostensibly it takes place in modern times, though you'd never know this except for one boss battle versus a man with a gun on a helipad. The rest of it has a very feudal Japanese theme, down to the Samurai Shodown-esque soundtrack.

You get six playable characters that you can take through a story mode, non-lethal training battles, or a "first-person" mode where you fight looking through the eyes of your character. Each character has a bit of a different rating in speed and power, but the main difference lies in the weapon you choose for them. There's a few varieties of sword, a long spear, and what looks to be a club or mace of some sort (sorry, low-res jaggy polygons.)

The main gimmick with this one is that it attempts to be a somewhat realistic sword-dueling sim, in that one blow to a vital area kills you, and getting hit in the arm or leg can cripple that limb. This is one of those theoretical ideas that is great, but the technology of the time isn't necessarily ready for. Consider that, when Bushido Blade was released, the cutting edge of fighting games was Tekken 2. I mean, the genre was still extremely young and getting basic gameplay ironed out. Now, Bushido Blade does have pretty solid gameplay - if you have the patience and time to learn it. The concept of parrying and countering blade strikes from all angles with a full range of human motion was way too much for the PS1 and its joystick/few buttons to really take on, so things have been necessarily simplified a little, but it also gives an unnatural feel to a game that's trying to be a simulation of natural movement.

Basically, you have three strikes - high, low and medium - and can also switch between three defensive stances to respond to those strikes. If you're in the right stance for the swing type and facing your opponent, you automatically block. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to work, but certain strikes seem to randomly go through your defenses anyway, making playing a defensive game a really unsafe gamble in this one. Until you learn to parry and counter effectively, which really takes a while, you're kind of reduced to taking wild swings and hoping to get lucky.

Here's the main rub with the game. When you get good at it, it can be fun, but that takes a long time and a lot of patience. But due to the nature of the game, once you're good at it, you'll be ending fights in literally about five seconds. If you suck at it, you'll lose in about five to ten seconds. Really, there's not a lot of middle ground here, unless you've got a second human player on hand of about equal skill. It's a game that's designed to be over really quickly, and playing against the computer soon gets monotonous whether you're good or not.

The story mode needs to be played to unlock some of the arenas for multiplayer, but it's incredibly vague and thus really uninteresting. It's also highly frustrating in that you can get booted out of it about halfway through if you've done anything "dishonorable" in battle up to that point. Apparently some rather innocuous things are considered "dishonorable", and you're also not given any indication by the game what you did wrong - you just get suddenly kickbooted with some stupid haiku and have to start single-player mode all over again.

Another selling point of the game was that the battle environments are huge and you can run around them freely. There's a couple of problems with this. One is that there's absolutely no strategic advantage to doing so. The second is that the Playstation chokes on these huge environments and has to pause to load as you run around. Really, it ends up being better to just stay in your starting position and fight it out from there, making the "huge environments" kind of a waste. And while the characters are fluid and fairly appealing for the time, the backgrounds are just low-detail and mostly either boring or ugly.

I think there's only two cases where this game will really be liked - if you're jonesing for a samurai swordsman sim for some reason, or if you have another person around to consistently play with that is about the same skill level that you are. It's definitely very hit-or-miss, and for me it was a miss.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video