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March 22, 2003
Sword of the Samurai - Review
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Swordfighting in all its glory.
Many, many years ago, the fighting genre was born and pitted 2 people against each other to see who could kick the holy bejeezus out of the other first. It began with simple karate, boxing and street-fighting styled games, and although the graphics may have been crude in hindsight, the moves and animations were relatively realistic (well, they seemed realistic back then!). Since that time however, the fighting genre seems to have gotten a little mixed up, and taken a step away from the realistic side, and more into the bigger-and-better side of things. Now it's less about fighting, per se, and more about throwing fireballs at your opponent, juggling them 10 times before they hit the ground, using your special bar to perform a super-mega-hyper-zero flaming dragon counter, and turning into your animal form, all before the second round. Fortunately however, in a time where less-realistic fighters dominate the market, there still exist some fighting games where a blade to the head means instant defeat, with Sword of the Samurai being one of them.

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Nice lighting effects.
Sword of the Samurai (or Kengo 2 as it is known in Japan and the US) puts you in the shoes of a samurai in a small Japanese village. You are taken under the wing of a samurai master who teaches you the controls and basics of the game, and then assists you throughout tournaments and challenges against other dojos. Continuing with the realistic theme of the game, all of the dojos used in the game existed at one time or another in Japan and many still do! Be successful in fighting in legitimate tournaments and challenges, and you can work your way up to the ultimate ranking of 'Kengo'. Fighting in underground tournaments however will lower your ranking and a wrong move can easily result in death…

The majority of the gameplay is played as a standard 2½-D fighter, fighting on a forward-backward plane with the ability to sidestep around your opponent. Because of the realistic nature of the game, the movement of the characters isn't lightning fast, and may strike the player as quite boring at first; but remember these are Samurai, not hyper-turbo anime characters. However while the characters don't move quickly, when attacks connect the results are very damaging; early bouts in the game can be over in as few as 2 or 3 connected strikes!

Sword of the Samurai strays from the standard fighting game, in that every bout you compete in does have an effect on later stages of the game. A RPG-esque stats system keeps track of all your samurai's attributes, such as strength, speed, styles, techniques, weapons, ratings and even health. That's right; between fights you must manually make your samurai rest, otherwise face your next bout with a minimal health bar! The stats system also introduces the need to 'level-up' your character, by where you fight successive bouts in training just to improve your samurai's individual statistics. While this is innovative in that you can't immediately fight major tournaments and experienced dojos without being overpowered, fighting the same dojo's students time and time again to boost experience soon becomes very monotonous and boring.

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About to be sliced up.
For a game which looks like a simple samurai fighter on the outside, Sword of the Samurai is a deep and complex game. Fighting styles, weapons, moves and stances can all be manually customized, which makes the game more flexible for the experienced player, however the majority of gamers will undoubtedly find it difficult to use and hard to use it to it's full potential. The experience and stats system seems like a welcome addition to the fighting genre at first, but improving your characters stats takes a little longer that you would hope. Repeating fights again and again becomes tedious, and when you couple that with an average collision-detection system, the game will test how long you can sit playing for before you feel the need to blow off some steam.

Looking at the graphics of Sword of the Samurai, one can't really help but think 'pretty PsOne game'. Yes, there are thousands of visually distinct characters one could create with the array of outfits and faces available, but the outfits are simple and lots of the faces have very little 3D detail with just flat textures overlaid on them. There has been considerable effort put into the myriad of moves for each of the stances also, but it seems that the remaining animations (such as when hit by an attack, or the very few dying animations) have been skimped on, with very little variety between them. Cut-scenes during the game show the faces of the samurai close up, but it would have been nice to have some animation or emotion (where has the emotion engine gone?!) put into these breaks between gameplay.

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Battle on the mountainside.
There is nothing exciting about the sound in the game, although the ambient sounds are solid (albeit mildly repetitive) and match the arenas or locations where the game is progressing. There is a nice distinction between the sounds used for different weapons during a fight, with different sounds again for parries, counters and standard attacks. The only major gripe with the sound is the sound effects used during in-game conversations. All the conversations that occur in the game are subtitled at the base of the screen; however a pseudo-typewriter sound effect plays for each letter that is displayed as the subtitles 'scroll' onto the screen (if you've played Golden Sun for the GBA you'll know what I mean). Not only is this the most annoying audio in the game, there's no way to turn it off, rarely can conversations be skipped, and given the repetition that you need to do to level up, you'll never want to hear a typewriter ever again!

Sword of the Samurai fills the gap in the market which seemed to be forgotten after Bushido Blade and Kengo on the PsOne, and whilst it may be far from perfect, fans of realistic samurai-style games may enjoy themselves here. It's an average game, with a steep learning curve that has many unlockable items if you are patient and persistent enough.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSThe visuals are far from Tekken-Tag, but they do the job.
SOUNDNice ambient sounds and a variety of weapon effects.
GAMEPLAYLoads of hard, repetitive fighting, if you last the distance.
VALUEOodles of weapons, characters and moves to unlock.
OVERALLOn the surface, Sword of the Samurai is a hard, average-looking game. However, for the persistent type who is willing to endure hours of practice and level-building, there's plenty to unlock.

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