The first thing I do when digging into a new fighting game is play random characters searching for the core concepts that form my arsenal for victory. Things like sweeping and jump in for Street Fighter 2, or horizontal and vertical attacks for Soul Calibur. Something every character can do, and need to either use or guard against to guarantee victory. I played and played, but never found the core of Samurai Showdown Sen.
Blocking is done by pushing back, which in itself seems a poor choice for a 3D fighter, but here the block stun is so short that only fighters with the longest reach can close the distance in time to take advantage, provided they didn't slowly back into a wall where they can be smacked around with impunity. Character movement and more than half of the moveset are modeled around Soul Calibur, but there are traditional 2D fighter motions crammed in there that just end up clashing with this system. This makes it too difficult to get out the right moves when you need them. It's great that the game has frame buffering, which lets you store up move inputs for better combos, but in most games this buffer is canceled when you take a hit. Not here, so if you double tap the slow as molasses unblockable move and get hit out of it, you'll just end up repeating the move for an easy murder. Hit boxes aren't ideal either, as I've had rare moments when attacks and grabs pass through a character model without connecting. The overall speed of the game is too fast, making matches feel like a random flurry of attacks with no real skill involved. A lucky hit can sometimes be all it takes to win.
There is an impressive roster of fighters here, most drawn from past games, while the few newcomers fit well into the mix. All except the shotgun wielding mid-boss Draco who brings to mind the broken SNK bosses of old. The music is incredible, full of powerful rhythms in a style that evokes a heroic version of ancient Japan. The graphics resemble an original Xbox game, not helped by the poor lighting and cheesy fountains of blood. Ninja Gaiden II did gore so well it's hard to take these weak dismemberments seriously. Online works well enough if you can get a game going. Hard to find people willing to wait in a lobby for an hour or more on the off chance someone else is up for a game. The achievements are typical for a Japanese developer, running from the very easy (beating story modes with specific characters), to the deranged (winning a pile of ranked matches or winning a thousand matches overall).
I wish this game had been more focused, with less characters having less moves, but stronger core concepts that could be later built upon. Instead, you have a hybrid of Virtua Fighter and the 2D Samurai Showdown games, playing looser and faster than either one. The contrasting elements have been mashed together without much care to make a game that's hard to enjoy for long.