I feel as though I should immediately point out that the tagline on the front of the box art for this game actually reads ‘Beyond the Distiny’ and a little notice on the back of the box says ‘works excuisivery with NGPC. Not works with other hardware.’
Back when I was about 16/17 (the time I properly played obsessively with this system), I used to find this quite laughable. How could a gaming company really not proof read this or get it checked beforehand? And then I remember that at the helm of all the best Engrish translations are SNK themselves. Their loving usage of twit, ninny, and sap as insults in their fighting games is pretty legendary. And then there’s the hilarious ‘What a nice person! You kindly give the palm to such a crock!’
One of these days I won’t laugh so much at that one. TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY, SNK. BE DELIGHTED BY THIS FACT, YOU KIND PERSONS FULL OF HAPPY!
But now that little Blimeyboyo has grown up into bigger Blimeyboyo, I’ve come to realise that the English language is a pretty difficult language to truly master and as such, I do forgive them slightly more than I probably used to. On one hand, SNK weren’t exactly masters of English translation but on the other hand, they ought to have at least had it checked beforehand. I mean, some of those win quotes in the old games are pap, you ninny.
SWISH FORWARD IN TIME to SNK’s next fighting franchise on the Neo Geo console, after Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown and Art of Fighting and they dabbled with setting this game in ancient Japan. Specifically, they chose to set it in the Bakamatsu era and lavishly designed it to fit as such. On the Neo Geo, the end result was a beautifully drawn, highly-animated fighting game that pretty much showed just how good SNK could be at fighting games, as if we didn’t know already.
And strip it down to the Neo Geo Pocket Color and actually… they managed to do a really good job of porting it.
So what’s the Roger in terms of story then, eh? Well it all stems from something called Hell’s Gate where a sealing ritual has occurred and the whole idea of life and death begins.
Stick with me here.
With four guardians guarding the gate, you’d think everything would be super happy and dandy and whatnot. Alas, fighting game lore is not kind to random people and a hefty crew of fighters are drawn into battle to stop Hell’s Gate from closing and causing the potential destruction and merging of realms and another sealing rite is demanded to stop the world being devastated.
BECAUSE OF COURSE. OF COURSE.
There are plenty of sub-plots here and there, mostly involving the main trio of characters Kaede, Yuki and Moriya, all of whom have some connection to the final boss and one of whom SPOOOOOILERS dies for the cause to seal the gate up.
DEPRESSING PLOT POINT IS DEPRESSING.
Starting up the game, there’s a great deal of thought gone into the presentation. It feels like a faithful port of the original games, from the backgrounds to the set-up to the style across the board… it just feels really clean and actually rather beautiful.
And much like the Neo Geo version, all battles are prefaced with a screen like this:
These are pretty much cut and copied from the original game, only scaled down and whatnot. It’s fucking glorious though. They give a real sense of atmosphere to the game in a way dumping you into the fight wouldn’t. I’m looking directly at you, Fatal Fury Fist Contact. You and your MASSIVE SCREEN TEXT intros that cheapen the whole experience. But then again, The Last Blade had a lot more to prove as it was a new franchise. You don’t win friends with new franchises without a little bit of effort. Fatal Fury First Contact was on its ninetieth iteration by then so of course they had the fans. WHO NEEDS INTRO SEGMENTS WHEN YOU HAVE A GAME PEOPLE ALREADY LOVE?
Lazy fuckers. DO YOUR JOB PROPERLY, DEVELOPERS. THIS SHOWS YOU CAN. DO MORE OF THIS. ALWAYS.
Character-wise, we have a rather mixed bag though. And that might be one of the game’s only major downfalls. Kaede’s a rather weedy main character who’s rather underdeveloped as a whole. He has a secret DARK SIDE whereby he is possessed by one of the four guardians of the gate and turns into a massive tit because of it. This fails even harder at trying to endear us to him. Beforehand, you have him being all brooding and going ‘why must… we fight?’ (says the swordsman character who learnt how to fight with swords AS A CHILD) before turning into SUPER KAEDE complete with blonde hair, spouting ‘WHY AM I SO GREAT?’ statements.
Way to go, Kaede. You just bought yourself a punch to the face for both of your personalities. Would you like them both now or one at a time?
Moriya’s the silent, mostly thoughtful character who basically feels like the Japanese samurai version of what Square Enix ended up doing to Cloud from Final Fantasy VII.
Yeah. I know.
And then there’s Yuki, who seems all sweet and innocent and likes to flit between cries of ‘Sorry, but I must be going’ and ‘now buzz off!’ because no reason.
And when she slays the opponent, she says THAT load of shit. I mean, are you fucking serious? You just laid him out on the ground with probably half of his arm missing and blood pouring out from several wounds and you’re standing there saying it’s DESTINY? YOU WIELDED THE WEAPON, YUKI. DON’T FUCKING TELL ME THAT YOU DIDN’T FUCKING WELL SWING IT TOO. WAS THAT DESTINY SWINGING YOUR ARM AROUND TO CHOP HIS LUNG OUT?
As for the rest of the cast, you have regimented Washizuka who likes to charge at opponent in a fit of rage, Akari the teleporting sorcerer who feels like a bit of a joke character given her stature and jovial attitude in the games, baldy Lee Rekka, the Shaolin Monk who just LOOOOOVES him some justice, Okina, a very small, old fisherman who attacks with snapping turtles – which now ups the joke character count to 2 – and Amano, a flamboyant romantic who fights because the petals are falling from the trees.
I am NOT fucking kidding you.
Joke character count: 3.
Bang on, guys.
Amano’s best attack appears to be the CUDGEL THE FUCKER TO DEATH move that can be achieved merely by pressing the A button a lot. However, he looks so serious when he does it that it distracts from his usually whimsical appearance. He’s the most fun character to get to know, even though he’s a massive womaniser. He loves the ladies. His endings involve talking to ladies and telling you to fuck off if you tell him you’re a man. What a nice person! He kindly gives the palm to such a crock, it seems.
Anyway, outside of these characters, there’s also Zantetsu, who’s shit and uninteresting, and Hibiki, who’s shit and uninteresting, and Kojiro, who’s shit and uninteresting.
(In reality, they’re not all shit… apart from Zantetsu who really is shit and uninteresting… Hibiki’s just a bit dull and Kojiro is basically Washizuka, only female… and in disguise as a man…)
And then you have the bosses in the form of Hell’s Gate spawn Kagami who’s SO UP HIMSELF, his head’s actually come back out through his own mouth from his own arse, and Setsuna, who’s the typical emo one. He has an owl. I’M GETTING MISSED MESSAGES OVER WHETHER TO LIKE HIM OR NOT. HE’S EMO. BUT HAS AN OWL.
WHAT DO WE DO? DOES THE OWL MAKE HIM COOL ENOUGH?
He has a ponytail.
FUCK. He’s not cool now.
There’s also Kouryu, Kaede and Yuki’s master who was killed and resurrected into an evil force… but remembers who he is as well… which is… confusing. Is he evil then or is he just evil in guise but actually not evil? WHO KNOWS. IT IS A FIGHTING GAME. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO MAKE SENSE.
Gameplay-wise, you’re not going to be too surprised to hear that this is your typical SNK fighter. Essentially, it’s a something of a spiritual successor to the Samurai Shodown series in that it’s weapons-based, there are two character types (Power and Speed) and the action is pretty quick. Whereas there was always an element of danger behind Samurai Shodown in that you always thought your character was basically going to cark it at the end of the round with a well-timed slash of the sword or a mashing of buttons. It FELT much more serious. The Last Blade, while heavily reliant on serious story moments, doesn’t have that same feeling and can actually play all the better for it. It’s FUN to play, despite that story, and there’s enough depth in there to keep ALL players on their toes. I mean, one minute, you could be romping away to victory, a slash or kick away from glory, and then your sword is deflected and you find yourself with the boot on the other foot, a slash or kick away from losing. The deflect idea works well in sword-based games as it adds a sense of realism to the battles in a way that a snapping turtle being thrown at you mid-battle can’t – I’M LOOKING AT YOU, OKINA.
And what’s REALLY good is that the Neo Geo Pocket Color has pressure sensitive buttons for its fighting games so that a slash attack could be quick and jabby with a simple press, whereas pressing it down with more force would do more damage. It alleviated the idea of needing all of the necessary buttons that the Neo Geo had and this machine doesn’t.
Bravo, SNK. It’s just a shame the machine sort of died a rapid death for no reason other than lack of support.
Because for some reason, you couldn’t get support for it. You couldn’t get support for a system that was NIGH-ON AMAZING. What does that tell you, SNK? What? What does it tell you? JEEZ, SNK.
At the end of it all, what do we actually get? It is your typical SNK fare and that’s not a bad thing all in all. It’s quick, easy to get into has enough hooks and whatnot to grab your attention. There are also two mini-games, even though they’re both a bit on the pap side, featuring characters that they couldn’t quite fit into the games (Mukuro and Juzo, the former being quite clearly one of the worst characters ever and the latter who was probably way too big a character to really do justice to on the small screen – which might also be why they also forgot about Shigen with his massive rock fists). At least these characters are represented in some way.
There’s also a lot of depth in terms of added bonuses. Points are accrued to obtain gallery items for posterity and as a way of showing off what you’ve done in the game too.
One thing it doesn’t have? The kick-arse soundtrack. Because the NGPC sound is basically like a high-pitched squealing Gameboy that’s been trapped by bees. But that’s not the game’s fault. You can only do with it what you can. If my sound system was made up of beeps and bips, I’m fairly sure I’d only be able to compose an ear-piercing version of Sandstorm by Darude.
Altogether now: D-D-D-D-DUH, D-D-D-D-D-DUH, D-D-D-D-D-DUH, D-D-D-D-D-DUH DUH!
Number one this time next week. Guaranteed.