Bushido. An honor system devised by cowards who were upset because they kept getting stabbed in the back. Do you have it in you to be true to the code? You’d better, because otherwise you’ll never progress in this game. This is one of the best fighting games out there, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever played.
To start with, one strike is all it takes to kill in this game. Why? Because you’re using deadly weapons, genius. Video games are unrealistic these days in that everyone can be shot in the head, stabbed, and set on fire multiple times without sustaining any real damage, but reality is different. Trust me, the court system saw to it that I learned that. My point is, weapons are incredibly dangerous and this is reflected in Bushido Blade. Many of your attacks will be blocked and there are non-lethal attacks that can use to cripple your opponent and make the match somewhat easier, but you (or your opponent) taking advantage of an opening is all it takes to win or lose. There are no health bars, points, or on-screen messages; everything you need to know can be determined based on the movement of the characters. Fights last as long as they need to, and can range from only lasting a few seconds to going on for several minutes as you wait for the perfect opening. One match may require five minutes of awkward shuffling, while the next can be as easy as running straight toward your opponent and stabbing them in the stomach.
The challenge in this game doesn’t come from stringing together endless combos with complicated button mashing (though you can string together some attacks), but from finding the best way to approach each character you come up against. While one character may be vulnerable to an upward slash, the next will likely have completely different strengths and weaknesses. There aren’t many characters in Bushido Blade, but they’re each unique and require you to think tactically to get past them. Random mashing will get you nowhere—much like on the internet, spamming opens you up and is the quickest way to get yourself killed. Seriously, internet spammers. Quit sending me mail or I’ll f***ing kill you with a shovel.
In addition to each character having individual strengths and weaknesses, there are also several different kinds of weapons. Some are faster, some are slower, some have better/worse range, and the timing for each is different. You’ll quickly find your favorite character and weapon and find that switching to another character/weapon, while vaguely familiar, is a very different kind of experience.
The story in a nutshell: There’s basically a group of assassins and one of them sneaks out of the dojo, so the others are sent after to dispose of him/her. Each playable character has a different reason for leaving, all tied to a central story revolving around the assassin leader. The whole thing is pretty thin, honestly, but all you need to know is that the dojo leader dude is dishonorable. Being the Bushido-following wannabe-samurai-ninja or whatever that you are, you set out to do something about it.
Speaking of Bushido, this next part is kind of important. You have to fight each opponent fairly, or the game will end suddenly. I’m not joking—if you strike an opponent before they’re ready (like when they’re talking, though it is incredibly fun to do), while they’re lying on the ground, or when they’re facing away from you, the game will end and you won’t be able to move on. Not even if you win. It’s kind of a dick move that the game pulls, and it’s hilariously awesome: If you beat your opponent using dishonorable means, a black screen will pop up and chastise you rather than allowing you to continue. My absolute favorite one says, “Cowards can go no further.” This only happens after a few fights, so if you beat your first opponent by running around and stabbing them in the back (totally effective), you’ll reach a point where you can’t progress no matter how honorably you fight from that point on. Now that’s hardcore.
Playstation games all look fairly similar, with their awkward 3D models and blocky textures. At the same time, many games for the system compensate for this by having the art design and overall aesthetics tied together so strongly and done so well that the actual graphics don’t matter. This is definitely one of those games. Everything feels authentically Japanese, from the music (complete with shamisen) to the art. All of this is then juxtaposed with a story that takes place in modern times in a surprisingly effective way. Even when fighting against a guy with a gun, you still feel like a samurai inclined to follow the Bushido code.
Here’s what you should do: