I have learned that I am here for the weirdos.
Samurai Shodown is not my franchise. I am a fighting game fan, and have been since I first saw a furry Soviet dude power slam some guy with too many skulls. But, by the time Samurai Shodown was appearing in my local arcade, there was already a myriad of options that more easily drew my attention. If I wanted a basic 2-D fighting game, I’d play Street Fighter 2. If I wanted to see a little super violence, I’d play Mortal Kombat. If I wanted to see a weapons-based fighter, I’d play Soul Edge/Soulcalibur. If I wanted to plug some quarters into a Neo Geo machine, I’d go with something along the lines of King of Fighters (Fatal Fury also qualifies there). Hell, even vaguely recognizable, possibly historical figures fighting was available in World Heroes, and that game had a mecha-Hitler you could pummel into the pavement. In short, Samurai Shodown held the unfortunate position of being a fighting game that looked pretty good, but was also popular at the exact same time some of the best fighting games of the era were receiving routine updates/players. Or, put another way, not only is Cammy going to grab my attention faster than Neinhalt Sieger, there are also a few more potential opponents crowded around her cabinet. Sorry, SamSho, I’ll get to you in another thirty years.
And… uh… here we are.
On my grand list of games I want to cover before this FGC project ends (I currently claim I am stopping at FGC #655… a full hundred articles past the last point I said I would stop…), I have a meager handful of fighting games remaining. Every title from that first paragraph has been examined and reexamined (sometimes ad nauseum), so now we are down to fighting games that are… let’s say… exploratory? Games wherein I do not have encyclopedic knowledge of ridiculous plots or muscle memory that will allow me to toss out down-downforward-forward-punch fireballs until three years after I’m dead. Some of these “unexplored” games on the list are amusing misfires, but I will admit I was expecting a lot of the Samurai Shodown franchise. After all, I had at least played this in the past, and, though these play sessions may have been tremendously shorter than any time I spent with Guilty Gear, they were enjoyable. And I always appreciated the Samurai Shodown characters that appeared in other games. That bird with the hawk? She seems nice! It should be fun and enlightening to play through the Samurai Shodown Neogeo Collection and see what this glorious franchise has in store.
And I found it… underwhelming.
To be clear, “underwhelming” is the exact word for this situation. None of the Samurai Shodown titles appear to be outright bad. The gameplay primarily seems to be focused more on defense than offense, but, make no mistake, you can attain a victory by going in with swords blazin’. Or maybe no swords! Characters in most of the games seem to have two distinct playstyles: with or without weapon. Be disarmed as the result of a button mashing contest, and you have to rely on your fists for a moment or two, which makes for a fun change in tactics. It’s like you’re playing as two characters at once! I am always down for that! And, while the “Engrish” and general story is simultaneously noteworthy and forgettable, there is definitely something happening here. Bushido and all that riot is great, but I am going to stand at attention when some nerd cuts down a pair of trees without even trying. Oh, and who doesn’t like some random dude running around in the background of battles tossing off powerups? There is good stuff here in Samurai Shodown!
But it all felt very… slippery. Not talking about the controls, mind you, those are perfect and responsive. Just, somehow, the whole experience felt forgettable. Like whether my chosen samurai won was going to be quickly forgotten. Or, perhaps, how my fighter won was what would be forgettable. I understand that, once again, this is not my game, so it is entirely possible I was missing something, but the general reason I won any given match seemed nebulous. And, in a fighting game, that makes everything feel unusually light. Across the multiple Samurai Shodown games, there are multiple ways to win a match… Or… More accurately, there are multiple ways to practically instantly drain a life bar. And, while slicing off the limb of an opponent feels like it should be remarkable, when you stumble on “I guess that special move just does that sometimes” it feels… wrong. Did I really win? Or was that more of an accident than my usual victories? Whatever the root cause of the issue, this made the various SS titles feel insubstantial in their gameplay.
But that does not have to be the be all and end all of a fighting game. A fun cast can completely rescue confusing gameplay. The previously mentioned World Heroes was not a great game by any means, but it did include a football player fighting Jack the Ripper, so it more than qualifies for gold status. Samurai Shodown’s cast meanwhile… Well, it is hard to judge some of these characters in 2021, as, like Samurai Shodown itself, there are clear examples of “this was done better elsewhere” through the decades. Like World Heroes already had a pretty good Joan de Arc analogue, so Charlotte is lacking. Haohmaru, the games’ marquee hero, feels like a lesser Mitsurugi of Soulcalibur. Hanzo the ninja could not be any more generically “this is our ninja” if he tried, and I’d rather pick up Red Earth if that is all that is available. Weller the American “I wanna be Japanese” character is so much more distinctive as Bang of BlazBlue, and I’m pretty sure Kyoshiro Senryo was one of the final bosses in that Simpsons beat ‘em up. It is no wonder that Nakoruru wound up as the persistent Samurai Showdown rep, as “has a bird” separates her from much of her fighting game sorority (though her general “fighting shrine maiden” thing causes her to blend into the anime trope ether).
But there was one character that seemed tremendously less forgettable than his contemporaries: Genan Shiranui, aka the little green guy with a claw.
Arguably, this is another example of “done elsewhere”, as Genan and his obvious spiritual brother, Earthquake, both resemble SNK/King of Fighters characters Choi Bounge and Chang Koehan. And if you wanted to claim that it was a coincidence that there was a King of Fighters influence, please note that Genan’s surname is Shiranui, the same as Mai Shiranui, heroine of Fatal Fury and King of Fighters. And, oh yeah, Mai (or at least her identical, historically appropriate ancestor) outright appears in Genan’s Samurai Shodown (1) ending. So, ya know, wearing influences on their sleeve there.
But Genan is memorable all on his own. He is green. He is wearing torn clothing that tells more of a story with visuals than Jubei can hope to muster with an entire story mode. He is constantly licking a metal claw, which is probably unsanitary. His background involves implied cannibalism. He apparently has a pair of kids that hide in his sack-clothes. This is the exact kind of eccentricity I want from a fighting game character, and it was clear right from the first Samurai Shodown that Genan was gonna be my guy.
And then the franchise dropped him like a rotten potato as of Samurai Shodown 3. Dammit! Only two games for my green meanie!
While I tried to soldier on with some pale dork with blue hair… it just wasn’t the same. I have to assume that Genan was nixed in an effort to make Samurai Shodown slightly more realistic (in a universe where people routinely, graphically die before being revived by a quarter), or to pad out the roster with slightly more distinctively “Samurai Shodown” characters (there was that brief period in the 90’s when crossovers and/or homages were considered bad). Whatever the cause, Genan was gone before we truly knew ye, and, in his absence, everything about Samurai Shodown became slippery again. Oh, build up a rage meter to do super moves? Ho-hum. I don’t want red skin. I want it green, dammit! And, given how the franchise seemed to drift into generally more serious settings over time, I was convinced Samurai Shodown was never going to have an entry that was “for Goggle Bob”. Not the end of the world, there are plenty of fighting game franchises that I can enjoy; but it would be a hard confirmation that this wasn’t “for me”.
Then I got to Samuri Shodown 6. Then I got to this nonsense…
That appears to be some manner of ancient puppet automaton, and it is fighting… a dog. Just a dog.
I am here for that.
Samurai Shodown 6 is a “dream match” title that includes a playable version of practically every character that had appeared in Samurai Shodown up to that point. Genan is back. Earthquake is back. That big red guy that was a mix of Genan and Earthquake is back. The flag dude hidden character is back. And speaking of “hidden” characters, every pet and animal is playable, too. Are they effective? Not remotely. But sometimes you just want to play as a monkey. It worked for Eternal Champions (no it didn’t). And the new characters of Samurai Shodown 6, like a swan-turned-maid and a chubby guy who really likes fireworks, all exude a noticeable air of levity. Ocha-Maro Karakuri, that mobile puppet up there, seems positively mundane in a roster that includes an anime pretty boy that is based on historical jackass/president Andrew Jackson.
And it wasn’t until I hit Samurai Shodown 6 that I realized that this kind of nonsense is exactly what I want. Who have I always gravitated towards in other fighting games? Blanka. Tung Fu Rue. Cyrax. The misfits. The absolute last fighter I ever pick is your typical Ryu or Bruce Lee clone du jour. My favorite fighting game is a title wherein you can have a multi-tentacled god team up with a teeny tiny robot servant working alongside a member of S.T.A.R.S. This is why the other Samurai Shodown titles seemed boring to me! I simply cannot enjoy a videogame unless the character select screen includes a healthy number of people that have absolutely no business being in any sort of polite society, left alone a videogame (sorry, Dr. Faust, you know it is true). Apparently I do not care if there is an amazing combo system, intuitive gameplay, or the best netcode in the universe. All I want is some dork cosplaying as Freddy Krueger (and, no, actual Freddy doesn’t count).
Is Samurai Shodown ever going to be “my” fighting game franchise? No. But does it remind me what I actually want in a fighting game? Absolutely. Give me a little green weirdo any day of the week, and I’ll give your game a fair shake.
And if you want to have a brand new, modern edition of your franchise, and you choose to drop said weirdo? Well, don’t expect me to buy a season pass anytime soon…
FGC #610 Samurai Shodown (Franchise)
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Misadventures of Tron Bonne! We’re going to go on a misadventure, Miss Tron! Please look forward to it!