The year is 1863 and history's hidden secret is revealed. During the age known as the "Bakumatsu", 135 years ago, CHAOS rules! After the Ohnin Rebellion, Japan faced an age of furious tumult. The Tokugawa Shogunate was breaking apart faster than three-day old makeup on an over-the-hill geisha. It came to be known as "Bakumatsu," an age where people selfishly endeavored to live by and die by their own will. The world was silent, full of fear that we would never again see a series of 2D fighters to rival the quality of the Samurai Shodown series. The skies cleared and the storms went away and brought forth something amazing through the light: The Last Blade.
This is truly an incredible fighter. The Last Blade ("Gekka no Kenshi in Japan) is a work of art, and delivers in all areas with the ferocity and power of any Samurai Shodown game. This game specializes in details in all areas. From character animation, backgrounds, sound effects, to even stage presentations, this game delivers what very few 2D fighters have been able to capture. How SNK was able to get this much goodness in 474 megs is beyond me.
When I first received that game, I popped this cartridge in my NeoGeo and was greeted by a very soft and relaxing intro that told me that this game was going to kick. You are first introduced by the small trailing of lights going up across a black screen with the famous words, "The Future is now. SNK." The intro is narrarated in Japanese, explaining the history of the characters and the time they live in. Following are portraits of the starring characters, with Kaede & Moriya crossing swords in an amazing finish.
The one feature which has been seen in exemplar fighting titles are the vast degree of options which are included and this game is no exception. Last Blade includes several modes: Arcade (or Story Mode as it is called), Short Mode (which is simply a four stage, novice level mode against the computer), Versus mode (which needs no explanation), Time Attack (where you see how many foes you can defeat within the given time limit), Training Mode (which is naturally the only way to perfect your secret slice and moves of mayhem) and Option Mode which allows users to adjust the game's settings.
As with any fighting game, it's important to have solid skills controlling your fighter, a recommended must as this is the mark of a great fighter who is able to successfully utilize a characters moves. Last Blade combatants each feature a wide arsenal of attacks, all which are generally easy to execute. The controls are consist of: A (weak slash) B (strong slash) C (kick) and D (repel). While the game system is broken up into 2 different styles in which you can select. Unlike Samurai Shodown III & IV, where you could choose Slash or Bust (which in turn gave you different moves), Last Blade offers it in the words of "Power" and "Speed". Power is the setup for players who wish to inflict maximum damage on their foes. In this mode, You have two types of attacks or levels of Supers (similar to Mark of the Wolves) from your standard arsenal of moves. You can normally pull off Level 1 Supers when either your power meter or your life gauge is flashing. In order to perform Level 2 Supers or hidden 'secret slice' moves, your life and power gauge both need to be active. Speed, on the other hand, is for players (myself included) who enjoy doing combo moves. In this mode you can chain all of your regular moves together allowing for some impressive attacks. You can still use Level 1 Supers, but your 'secret slice' moves are replaced by the 'Furious Fandango Secret Slice' attack, which can be executed only when the same requirements for the Level 2 Supers from Power Mode are met. To use this move, tap down twice and simultaneously hit A&B. This activates a meter similar to the "Custom Combo" meter which debuted in Alpha 2. During this time, you can chain almost any string of regular hits together.
This is my personal favorite out of the modes, seeing as once you finish with regular moves, you can link it into your Level 1 Supers for some serious damage. Something that was new for SNK was the added feature called Repel. By simply pressing the 'D' Button you can knock back an opponent who tries to strike at you and return with a counterattack of your own. I found the control effectiveness to be tight and responsive, though not as accurate as Last Blade 2. This game is so well laid out, it is something new and hardcore fighters can equally enjoy.
Graphically this game is awesome and is a visual treat for the eyes. The game comes to life like an intricate animated painting. Perhaps the most impressive graphical aspect is the backgrounds. This game gets major points for having my all time favorite backgrounds, with Mark of the Wolves or Pulstar coming in at a close second. The detailed backgrounds really add to the excitement of a battle. For example, you really get pumped up when you face off with Zantetsu in the hull of incredibly drawn and animated 19th century galleon, or the real time effects in Yuki's stage: picture the storm becoming heavier in each consecutive round, opponents being k.o.'ed and snow leaving imprints, only to beging graudally filling up again. Furthermore, more extensive details such as the degree of leaves, rocks and the rain drops hitting the blood-flled puddles in Shikyo's stage make for the most surreal atmosphere which is nearly unmatched. The character animation is equally wonderful as well. Twelve very unique fighters grace this game - very well balanced and thought out. Unlike the style of other SNK fighters, characters appear to be less abstractly and thus truly stand apart from the norm, not to mention the animation is also impressive. Some of my favorites include Akari, who motions with hops back and forth) and Kaede with his lightning-induced alter "Super Saiyajin" blonde haired ego). Suffice it to say, all the characters in this game rock.
The musical scores are very dynamic as they give the game intrigue and suspense; even orchestral to some degree. One particular track posseses a very serious and almost fearful tone to it, which has you truly absorbed into the scene. Sound effects and speech are equally well executed. At the forefront in the sound effects department will you hear the clanging of swords, keeping in line the clarity seen in the Samurai Shodown series. Furthermore, as with the SNK tradition has bared, every movement possesses its individual sound sample. Whether it's the shuffling of feet, or the blowing of bamboo in the wind. Once again, attention to detail rules. Notably, the voice samples for each character are well acted; filled with enthusiasm and style that draw you in.
Overall this game is something of wonder. I just wish that more companies would follow SNK's example, and realize what a killer 2D weapons fighter should be all about. I cannot stress how often I just kick back on a quiet day and play some Last Blade alone or with some friends. You can thankfully enjoy this game in either the Arcade, NeoGeo home cart, NeoCD or import Playstation format. Even though the NeoCD and PlayStation versions are plagued by load times, this game is still worth a look on those systems, if it is your only option.