It Came From Japan #9 – Bushido Blade
What it wasn’t, however, was just another run of the mill beat ‘em up along the traditional lines of the Street Fighters and Tekkens of the brawling world.
Released on the original PlayStation in 1997 (PAL regions got it the following year), Bushido Blade was – and still is in fact – one of the most intense, visceral and nerve-shredding gaming experiences you will encounter on any platform.
In fact, even in this the seventh generation of consoles, you’ll be hard pressed to find a game that demands such a commitment to patience, skill and, ultimately, mercilessness.
Legend told of a warrior from the east
It’s important to recognise just what type of setting Bushido Blade was released into. The mid-to-late 90s was very much the era of the fighter, much like the early 2000s could be called the era of the FPS. Fighting games were big business, with franchises such as Virtua Fighter, Battle Arena Toshinden (though by 1997 BAT was waning as a viable series, the third iteration generally seen as a swansong to what was an innovative and landmark game for its time) and Tekken splitting the gaming community into factious schisms much akin to the division we see today between the Killzone, Modern Warfare and Battlefield camps.
It’s therefore remarkable at all that Squaresoft would even dream of publishing a title that, ostensibly at least, spat in the face in every one of the existing games that made up the burgeoning (we’re not forgetting about Street Fighter (obviously), or Mortal Kombat, or even the emergence a little later of games such as Soul Cailbur and Dead or Alive) and exceptionally lucrative genre. Which is why Bushido is so special; a peculiar anomaly. A rare gem cut in a time when everyone expected the opposite, it was a game only the dedicated and open-minded could appreciate.
Ironically, despite its flagrant departure from the norm of that epoch’s other fighting games, Bushido Blade was greeted with a strong positive reception. To this day the game sports an impressive 83% rating on Metacritic.
Your technique is magnificent
What makes Bushido Blade so unique – apart from the large 3D environments on offer; areas fighters are encouraged to explore and, in some cases, even interact with, is its main selling point: realism. Tired of games such as Soul Edge depicting characters getting sliced, diced and shish-kebabed seven ways to Sunday, only for them to shake these life-ending blows off and stupidly come back for more? Bushido Blade is for you. The game supports a blindingly obvious game mechanic: getting hit with a sword hurts. In fact, coming into contact with deadly weapons usually more than just hurts – it quite often literally takes your life away.
Players choose from an armoury of differently balanced weapons from katanas to sledgehammers. After you have picked your instrument of death and one of the few playable characters on offer, it’s time to then go at each other one-on-one. Leave yourself open, and you’re likely to receive a definitive slash across a vital body-part which, in most cases at least, literally ends your game.
The concept of “one-hit kills” might be more commonplace these days in genres such as online multiplayer shooters, but, back then, the idea of matches potentially being over within seconds of their starting was an alien construct; almost an affront to the very fabric of fighting games. Surely one mistake shouldn’t leave you dead, bleeding from a realistic wound while your victor parades around triumphantly having barely broken a sweat. That’s Bushido Blade, and that’s why it’s so criminally endearing.
It rewards bravery yet also admonishes against recklessness. It’s also, despite its renowned affinity with terseness, a game that can produce the exact opposite of these brief, devastating encounters – matches that can last for much longer than any other fighting game’s most brutal of contests.
With two players of similar ability, Bushido Blade becomes an exercise in strategy, skill and forbearance. Two masters, stalking one another, waiting for that sweet moment to pounce and exact a perfect kill. Of course, it’s not all about death-strikes as, during these tense encounters, players can also wound their opponent with a strike on various limbs etc. Carrying an incapacitating hit, however, is a lot easier said than done. Many a time you could be crippled by a merciless warrior, limping around the multi-leveled environs, gradually being worn down by an unscrupulous Samurai hell-bent on your demise begging for a quick death. A stricken arm can also be catastrophic if it means you can no longer even swing your sword. Like an animal backed up against a wall, however, some of the greatest victories came when, injured to the point of shambolic defencelessness, you lure your cocksure opponent in and then, in a final fatalistic flurry, you strike and kill your overconfident adversary with a move he barely knew you were still capable of.
You must choose the sword, or the ball … I can not make this choice for you …
Bushido Blade was followed up by the shockingly entitled Bushido Blade 2, also by Light Weight. Not ones to mess with a winning formula, its sequel was pretty much an extended version of the original. The fact that it came out a mere year after the first game also supporting the theory that the studio were more keen on keeping the fledgling series in the minds of its adoring public with a competent second helping, rather than taking their time and hence risking oblivion due to the never-ending onslaught of new fighters entering the industry. So, it wasn’t anything special, with most people preferring the first game, probably purely due to the memories associated with trying something so fresh and daring for the first time.
Bushido Blade received the PSOne Classics treatment on the Japanese PlayStation Store in late 2008, though we’re unlikely to ever see such a welcomed repeat publication outside of its homeland. Much like the illustrious Samurai Bushido Blade celebrates so well, later games connected with the series quickly fell out of favour with the masters of the time.
Due to a dispute between Squaresoft and Light Weight, we never saw a Bushido Blade 3. We did, however, get Kengo: Master of Bushido; a spiritual successor to the more popular Bushido series after Light Weight was absorbed by the larger Genki studio. Unfortunately the game failed to spark the same interest as the titles that inspired it. In fact, the latest in the Kengo series, “Legend of the 9” (which even saw a release on the 360) was universally lambasted. (38% on Metacritic)
A PS3 Bushido Blade title was probably as likely as snow on Mars up until a few months ago, but with the upcoming Sony Motion Controller seeing a release this year, it’s at least plausible that Genki – or any other studio with an eye for innovation for that matter – would take another stab (pun intended) at a game that champions intelligent stratagems in the fighting genre.
After all, as much as we love the Street Fighters of this world, there’s just something sublimely satisfying from walking up to a deadly swordsman, weighing your options, and then – just as he has begun to underestimate you – spraying his life-force into the cherry-blossom trees the second he makes the smallest – and fatalist – of mistakes.
It Came From Japan is a weekly column discussing past titles originating from Japan that have enjoyed a release in the west on the PS1, PS2, PSN or PSP but have yet to see a PS3 outing. We discuss the title from three separate perspectives: its pedigree and how it performed upon its original release, the game in general with a view towards game-play and plot, and, finally, the probability of the game finally making a PS3 appearance outside of Japan. The column covers all genres, with games of varying quality and popularity given equal standing.