Bushido Blade is the most prominent evolutionary dead-end in fighting game history.
One fun aspect of the FGC has been playing videogames from all over gaming history, and experiencing the various quirks and signs of the games’ respective times. It’s easy to say that “fighting games” have been practically unchanged since Street Fighter 2 first hit the arcades, but, depending on the console generation, you can see the exact fluctuations and gimmicks that have grown over the epochs. Combos started as practically a glitch, but then dominated the late 16-bit/early 32-bit era. The emergence of the “super bar” and “rationing meter” became more important as time went on, and the main trait of 2-D fighters just a few years ago seemed to be “all teleportation, all the time”. Even items on the backend of fighting games seemed to evolve, from codes to access hidden characters, then insane unlock conditions, and now season passes and microtransactions. So now, whether you’re playing Blazblue, Mortal Kombat, or Street Fighter, you can expect to see many of the same “moves” and “features” across franchises, and half of those innovations didn’t exist a few years ago. Fighting games have evolved, but it’s only through playing old and new side-by-side that one sees the differences.
And Bushido Blade influenced exactly none of those games.
I guess Bushido Blade is a 3-D fighting game, so maybe I should be comparing it to the likes of SoulCalibur or Tekken… but Bushido Blade seems a lot more 2-D than its theoretical 3-D contemporaries, at least in the “fighting” department… Maybe that’s the first problem. Bushido Blade is truly 3-D, and allows the fighters to completely explore the wide open arenas of its stages.
And… there’s never any reason to that. This is a fighting game, not Zelda. Climbing vines should only ever be a last resort!
Even if this were Zelda, though, at least that franchise has the decency to provide a heart meter. There is no fight timer or life meter in Bushido Blade. Conceptually, this is interesting. Rather than constantly scanning the top of the screen to interpret an abstract bar that is meant to represent the accumulated damage of a thousand jabs to the face, the fighters wear their wounds on their sleeves (literally, in the case of arm attacks). Limbs may be damaged, so the big bruiser might get stuck crawling around on dummy legs, or the favored samurai might wind up with unusable arms. Of course, that will never happen, because it is really easy to land an instantly mortal blow. And I do mean instantly.
The thing everyone seems to remember about Bushido Blade is that the weapons work like, well, weapons. This is not Battle Arena Toshinden, a game where you can soak a few chainsaw blows; no, a well-placed sword strike well abruptly end a match with the tiniest nick. Sorry, dude, kinda chipped an artery there, and now you’re bleeding out before the match even really began. Hell, you can literally end the battle before it begins by metaphorically lobbing your opponent’s head off while the sucker performs a welcoming bow. Never show your neck to a guy brandishing a sword.
But don’t worry! A “dishonorable” player will be punished for sneaky actions. Bushido Blade, as one might expect, holds true to the Bushido Code, which I’m moderately certain wasn’t something invented after the fact to make samurai movies more interesting. Even though you can kill your opponent instantly, you shouldn’t, because it is far more honorable to drag it out and maybe suffer a debilitating injury for the sake of everybody playing fair. It’s the Bushido way. If you’re playing the one player “Story Mode”, you’ll find your journey cut short by a chastising message should you recklessly manslaughter your way through the game. A samurai should be noble and…
Dammit. Bushido Blade doesn’t actually tell you the Bushido Code at any point, nor does it offer any immediate “you weren’t supposed to do that” messages when you’re playing the game. So, while this morality system is fun an’ all, it’s kind of inscrutable without a FAQ or manual. Why do I even have the ability to throw dirt in a dude’s eye if I’m not allowed to use it!?
And there’s a Beat ‘em Up mode! Hey, that got used by a lot of future fighters! Does this qualify? Well, no, because everyone involved is just as fragile as ever, so it’s less Final Fight and more Survival Mode, a thing that has existed in fighting games practically since Dhalsim breathed his first fireball. Good try at relevance, though.
Finally, there’s the most bizarre artifact of them all: 3-D First Person Mode. Perhaps in an effort to ape the First Person Shooters of the time, Bushido Blade offers a First Person Fighting Mode. It’s not mandatory (thank God), and it plays more like a “tech demo” than a full-fledged “mode”, but it is there if you want to experience a fighting game from the perspective of the fighter. Even though the mode itself seems limited, the actual second-to-second of it seems well considered, as you have a little “dummy” in the top right displaying your character’s current stance and movements. Considering this thing would be completely impossible without such a guide, it makes sense that such a visual concession is there… but considering the rest of Bushido Blade, I’m kind of surprised this FPF works as well as it does.
And that’s basically Bushido Blade in a nutshell. It works… but only on its own terms. You must follow the code of Bushido (even if you have no idea what it is), you must explore the open arenas for secrets (even if there doesn’t immediately appear to be a reason to do so), and you must survive the onslaught of potential instant kills (even if some of the fatal blows seem completely arbitrary). It’s not hard to see why future fighters didn’t follow in Bushido Blade’s footsteps when the average player probably never had any real idea what was going on.
Wait a tick, you explained why the game was an evolutionary dead-end, why was it the most prominent evolutionary dead-end?
Oh, right. Because hitting your buddy with a sledgehammer until he can’t stand up is always going to be fun.
FGC #206 Bushido Blade
- System: Playstation. It apparently had some rereleases digitally in Japan, but I can’t find any evidence that that was released in America. And by “evidence” I mean “I searched the Playstation store once”. We all know that really means nothing.
- Number of players: Two samurai enter, one samurai leaves. The other one leaves, too, but there is probably limping involved.
- Favorite Character: I feel like there isn’t a lot of distinction between the characters in this game, which is a serious black mark for a fighter. I’m going to choose… Red Shadow? That sounds right. It doesn’t really matter, because…
- Favorite Weapon: Here’s where all the distinction in Bushido Blade lies. Yes, the sledgehammer is the most… murder-y weapon, but it does feel the most like cheating. So I usually try the broadsword, which offers all the heft of the sledgehammer, but at least it’s an actual sword, and not masonry equipment.
- Did you know: Unlike some games, blood was actually added to the NA version. A fatal blow just creates yellow whatsits in the Japanese version, but us bloodthirsty Americans get a healthy spritz of body goo. Maybe this was because Mortal Kombat was and forever will be a thing, but whatever the reason, I vastly prefer the bloody version. Makes everything more… visceral.
- Would I play again: As a novelty between friends, yes, but I’d much prefer it to be available on a modern system. Hint hint, Sony/Square/Whoever!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past! Good job, ROB! Don’t be late to the party with this link to the past! Please look forward to it!