The fighting game genre often goes through peaks and troughs, some console generations see the genre at the top of the pack, whilst others see just a handful of new IP’s release to little fanfare and mediocre reviews. At times, it’s easy to feel that the genre is a little stale – and lacks innovation. One of the most innovative fighting game IP’s, unfortunately, has laid dormant for over two decades, and today we will be taking a look at the legacy it left behind.
Bushido Blade, 1997
On March 14 1997, renowned publisher Square released Bushido Blade in Japan. A 3D weapon-based fighter, the game was dropping into a highly populated corner of the market. Releasing in North America that September, and in PAL territories in early 1998, the game released to positive reviews, and sold pretty well, landing the 25th spot on Japan’s best-selling games of 1997 list, among other awards.
Developed by Light Weight, the game was praised for its realistic take on blade combat, with body damage and the potential to bleed out being innovative mechanics rarely seen then, and even now. It’s a strategic parrying system and one-hit kills were also simple, yet fun takes on the genre. Bushido Blade also allowed for another layer of strategy via its selectable weapon system. Facing a character with a short-range weapon could be made much easier through selecting a long-range weapon such as a Naginata, and the rapier proved excellent for parrying.
It was a great little fighting game and one that still holds a place in a lot of people’s hearts, even if it’s a title many have forgotten in the two decades since the game’s release. People still yearn for a modern remake, a current-generation port or even a sequel, but all is quiet on the Eastern front.
Bushido Blade 2, 1998
This wasn’t the end for the Bushido Blade series, at least in Japan and North America. Almost exactly a year after the game’s Japanese release, Bushido Blade 2 hit store shelves. It built on top of its predecessor and ended up receiving multiple 5-star ratings from gaming publications. The follow-up added new characters, new weapons and a new plot involving warring factions, it took on new gameplay mechanics for the story mode, and even threw in a character with an M16. Unfortunately, Square didn’t see fit to bring the game to PAL territories, and the series ended up falling into obscurity not long after, following developer Light Weight cutting ties with Square in late 1998.
The series would never see another entry, to this day, and although fans have been clamouring for years, Square Enix have remained silent on the matter. It is speculated that Square Enix felt the game was too much of a risk, and too niche to be as successful as their current output of commercially impressive JRPG’s. Whilst this would be the end for most franchises, and technically it was for this one – it didn’t stop a pile of spiritual successors from trying their hand at the incredibly addictive formula.
Kengo (JP), Kengo: Master of Bushido (NA, PAL), 2000
After cutting ties with Square, Light Weight set to work on creating their next project. In April 1999, a 40% stake in the studio was purchased by Genki, and in 2000 – Kengo released to the public. This was touted as a spiritual successor to Light Weight’s prior series, and ultimately that caused its downfall.
Kengo did away with the one-hit kills, it brought in health bars – it did away with multiple attack buttons. It was met with sheer dislike from the mainstream gaming press, and died a very quick death. Kengo was actually the first Bushido Blade-related title I played, and this was due to its bargain bin price point.
For those willing to look a little deeper into the early PS2 release, Kengo had just as much depth as its predecessors. The one attack button approach was actually a very deep route to take, with the other face buttons allowing the player to choose stances and direction of your attacks before you strike.
The single-player was a deep blend of training and dueling. The training consisted of various minigames, almost like the career mode in EA’s Fight Night series. These training exercises grew stale quickly, but patience and repetition do a samurai make.
This is the last time the series would be released in North America until six years later, but the rest of the world saw the Kengo name a couple more times before that.
Kengo 2: Legacy of the Blade (JP)/Sword of the Samurai (PAL), 2002
It was likely thought that dropping the Kengo name in Europe would give the game a bit more of a fighting chance following the poor reception of the first game, but this proved to be rather untrue.
Although Sword of the Samurai improved in many ways over Master of Bushido, featuring character creation and over 100 different weapons, it lacked the marketing push to make any real splash in the West. Famitsu gave the game a 30 out of 40, and it seemed that the series was on the rise critically, but unfortunately this would be the last game to hit Europe for four years, by which stage all enthusiasm for the spiritual successor series had died off.
Kengo 3, 2004
Released only in its home country of Japan, Light Weight’s penultimate entry in the Kengo series is relatively hard to come by. A PS2 exclusive, Kengo 3 strived to simplify the series’ combat system and serve as a better entry point to the IP. Unfortunately, the game failed to generate much buzz in Japan, and never saw a release in North American or PAL territories.
The series third entry looked to be a lot more plot-focused than its previous iterations, and the trailer showed some awesome settings such as a burning dojo and an old Japanese village. It’d be interesting to give this one a go, but it’s so incredibly hard to come by that emulation might be your only hope here.
Kengo: Zero (JP, PAL), Kengo: Legend of the Nine (NA), 2006
Released exclusively for the Xbox 360, a quick Google search will show a result titled ‘Games Nobody Played’, and for Kengo: Zero, that isn’t too far from the truth. Legend of the Nine was the first game in the series not to be developed by Light Weight, and was instead developed by Genki themselves. Light Weight had been bought out earlier in the year, and were instead working on titles for the Nintendo DS under Index Visual & Games Ltd.
Published by Majesco, the fourth entry in the Kengo series holds one of the lowest Metacritic ratings on the Xbox 360, with a page woefully adored with terms such as dull, boring and repetitive. One reviewer even went so far as to call the swordplay ‘annoying’. There is one positive user review on the site, but it seems like it was only given such a high rating to try and fight the lower scores given by others.
Graphically, Kengo: Zero didn’t really bring much to the table with the more powerful hardware – and it instead seems like switching development from the PS2 was a last-minute decision. Kengo 4 does have some justifiable qualities, with 9 individual storylines to complete along with a decent versus mode. Due to the poor reception, this was the final Kengo game to be released, and the series had laid dormant ever since.
Deadliest Warrior: The Game, 2010
Seeing a bit of a gap in the market, and coming into the genre with a well-established cross-media property, Pipeworks Software set out to make their TV show tie-in act as a love letter of sorts to the Bushido Blade games. Featuring a Slice Mode that allowed for brutal one-hit kills, as well as a projectile system that could create the same outcome in a standard match, Deadliest Warrior: The Game was a pretty worthy successor to the series.
Featuring an assortment of warriors from throughout history, including Spartans, Pirates and Ninjas, Deadliest Warrior had some pretty interesting mechanics. The game also featured a choice of weapons, armours and projectiles and a load of unlockables to keep players entertained. This one is a real hidden gem on the PS3 and 360 – and even received a physical release in a compilation with its sequel, under the title Deadliest Warrior: Ancient Combat. If you go away and buy one of the games from this list, Deadliest Warrior should be that game.
Deadliest Warrior: Legends, 2011
Deadliest Warrior: Legends took everything that made Deadliest Warrior: The Game good, and multiplied it by ten. Improved, more fluid combat. A wider variety of characters, all famous warriors from throughout history. A zombie mode! Legends was set to kick the series into the spotlight, yet somehow ended up being the final game in the series.
Deadliest Warrior, and its sequel were passed over by the fighting game community as being too gimmicky, too derivative. This combined with the decline of the TV show it shared its namesake with meant that the series was dead in the water, and no amount of Alexander the Great vs Vlad the Impaler would fix that.
Kiai Resonance, 2015
Two ancient Japanese warriors, duking it out across a painting? It looks just as beautiful as it sounds. Unlike the previous games in this list, Kiai Resonance is two-dimensional, and being exclusive to the PC means it can be bought for pennies. You won’t find a story mode here, but the versus game modes and training mini-games should keep you entertained, especially as it has local multiplayer options and a very simplistic control scheme.
Kiai Resonance might not have a lot of depth, but it makes up for that with its beautiful visuals. This is a well-made quality title well worthy of your attention. It’s doubtful that you’d find many people still online for this game, so you’ll need to bring a friend if you want to get your money’s worth here.
One Strike, 2017
Another 2D title, One Strike boasts a beautifully retro aesthetic reminiscent of the Super Nintendo era. Unlike Kiai Resonance, One Strike features a variety of different game modes such as an arcade ladder and a ‘one life only’ mode that equates to completing the arcade ladder with one health bar throughout.
The game is very good looking, and also cheap as can be on Steam. One Strike is definitely one to keep your eye on.
Slice, Dice & Rice, 2017
One of the few titles I feel is worth getting on current generation consoles is this indie title from Dojo Games. ‘Slice, Dice and Rice’ features a heavily exaggerated art-style and a bowlful of humorous personality.
Released in 2017, this game features 8 vastly different characters with a variety of different combat styles. Slice, Dice and Rice is one of the bloodiest fighting games out there at the moment without ‘Kombat’ in the title.
This is a game that is fired up almost every time I visit my friend’s house for some multiplayer mayhem, and it should be that way for you as well. A very well-made, simple yet strategic experience. I’ve found that this really lives up to its muse, and is one of my favourite Bushido Blade-likes to recommend to people.
Shinin’ Blades, 2018
Shinin’ Blades is about as Indie as you can get. An Itch.io project that took a team of two guys 48 straight hours to create, Shinin’ Blades isn’t as graphically advanced as the other games in this list, but does feature a variety of blocks, dashes and strikes.
Being a very rapidly-made project does mean that the game is a little light on game modes, but being exclusively on Itch.io means that its 100% free to play, and less than 20MB of data is needed to download it. This is the modern Bushido Blade-like to play if you have a potato PC.
It’s worth noting that Shinin’ Blades is local multiplayer ONLY, and does not feature any AI enemies. You’ll need a friend for this one, or else you won’t be able to do anything with it.
First Cut, 2018
A beautiful pixel-art indie project, First Cut is another Itch.io project that is currently in a prototype state. Clocking in at a teensy 16MB, you’d need a very good excuse not to download this one. Being an Itch.io project, Drasnus’ title has a pay what you can approach, and the superb quality of the game should help your decision to fund future projects by the developer this way.
First Cut is incredibly bloody, and will leave your PC monitor dripping long after you’ve stuck your final opponent with the pointy end. First Cut only features local multiplayer, or player vs CPU battles – so you’ll need a friend to make the most of this one. Get a friend over and download all of these – You’ll have fun, I promise.
Originally set up on Steam Greenlight, Hatashiai has been in development for almost half a decade now. On multiple occasions, interested parties have thought the project to be dead, only for another trailer to drop with little to no information a few months later. This is exactly what happened prior the developer’s August 2019 trailer was posted to YouTube, along with zero information about the game, and an adjusted Steam page showing the release date as simply ‘2020’.
This appears to be a passion project for the developer, and the amount of time and care that has gone into creating an excellent-looking combat experience will surely amount to a fantastic product, should it ever see completion. Hatashiai is one I am absolutely keeping an eye on, and a game that I hope will bring the one-hit-kill fighting genre back into the spotlight.
Know of any other games that wear their Bushido Blade influence on their sleeve? Let me know, and I’ll be sure to dig around for a copy!