Originally released for both arcades and SNK's Neo Geo system several years ago, Last Blade 2 is finally coming to the US Dreamcast, courtesy of Agetec. Despite the game's complex release history, it in itself is a fairly straightforward experience--in the spirit of Guilty Gear, Street Fighter 3, and perhaps Samurai Showdown, Last Blade 2 blends high-end character sprites with a relatively solid fighting system for a nice overall 2D diversion. The characters you'll fight as are usually armed (swords, pole arms, huge clubs, and the like), and the game is set in 19th century Japan.
The game is the sequel to the original Last Blade, upon whose fighting system it builds and refines. Basically, the game uses an elegant four-button scheme--there are weak and strong weapon attacks, a kick button, and a "repel" command. Repel acts like parrying does in any other fighting game; if you time it correctly, your attacker will bounce back and remain stunned for a moment, open for counterattack. Finally, the right trigger allows you execute your super attacks, whose effects vary depending on what fighting style you use.
Much of the game's depth lies in the ability to choose from three different fighting styles. Called "power," "speed," and "EX," these styles dictate how your normal, special, and super attacks behave during matches. If you choose power, your attacks will do more damage by default, and even your normal attacks will inflict some damage if they're blocked. Also, you'll have access to more-powerful versions of your supers when your life meter is low, and you'll be able to link supers into most combos. Speed is a more combo-based style; your normal attacks will chain more easily, and you'll be able to perform special combos when you're super gauge is full. Finally, the EX mode serves as a powerful amalgamation of both power and speed. Its drawbacks are fairly harsh, however--you'll take twice as much damage as normal while using it, and your super meter will advance half as quickly.
Our time spent with the game indicates that it seems to focus on the sort of heavy, deliberate fighting we've come to expect from games in the Street Fighter 3 series. The game's visual dynamic--meaning, the way the characters are animated and the nature of their attacks and supers--is highly reminiscent of that of the Guilty Gear series, but it really lacks said series' pacing. The visual style is very reminiscent of the Guilty Gear series, however, although the sprites are nowhere near as full and detailed. The character designs are fairly interesting, though, often feeling a tad more inspired than Sammy's fare. The game's largest wart is its musical production; the orchestral score that seemingly permeates every match does much to sap you both of your desire to play the game and, largely, your will to continue living.
Agetec plans to release Last Blade 2 in July. Look for our full review then. For now, check out these shots and movies.