Kengo: Masters of Bushido Hands-On

The team responsible for the first two Bushido Blade game has made a vaguely similar sword fighting game for the PS2. We got our hands on a final copy of the game to see if Kengo lives up to the Bushido Blade legacy.

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Light Weight, the development house responsible for the first two Bushido Blade games, has just finished its first PS2 game - Kengo: Masters of Bushido. The development team is no longer affiliated with Square, and Kengo isn't an official entry in the Bushido Blade series. And, while there are certain similarities between Light Weight's latest offering and its previous games, it's obvious that Kengo: Masters of Bushido was not meant to continue the Bushido Blade series.

Kengo has three gameplay modes. The single-player mode has you pick a lowly dojo apprentice and make him into a famous swordsman. The tournament mode has you pick one of the game's 20 characters and fight a seemingly endless string of warriors until you either defeat them all or drop. The versus mode allows two players to battle it out on the field of your choice.

The single-player mode is the meat of the game. First you choose one of three budding warriors and one of eight dojos, and then you train your character in the ways of the sword through training minigames and practice lessons with the dojo master. As you complete the practice lessons and training minigames, more will be opened up to you. Your fighter has six pertinent stats: attack power, attack speed, agility, insight, spirit, and fame. These stats represent how well you can fight, and they have a significant impact on the development of your character. Each stat has two numbers - the actual value and the value limit. Training raises your value limit, while actually fighting in your dojo raises your actual value. Additionally, fighting in your dojo allows you to learn new sword techniques. These moves can be strung together to form three-move combination attacks. You'll be able to edit your sword combos between matches, and you can store up to 16 different combinations. These techniques take the place of the stances in the Bushido Blade series, and they are activated by pressing different combinations of the shoulder buttons. After you've learned a few lessons, you'll have to challenge all ten of your dojo's students in order, after which you'll face the dojo master himself. After you've defeated everyone in the dojo, the dojo master will award you with an actual sword. The swords are important in the game because they carry your special attack - a furious combo attack that can be activated once your ki meter has peaked. Once you've earned your sword, you'll be able to travel to the seven other dojos and challenge their masters. But before the other masters will fight you, they'll make you fight five of their students. After you beat each dojo master, you'll be awarded with his sword and you will learn some of that dojo's sword techniques. This sequence repeats itself until you've defeated all of the dojos in the game. Once you've defeated all the dojos, you'll be invited to an imperial tournament, which is the first time you'll use an actual sword in the game. After the tournament, you'll be able to go back to the game's various dojos and fight an endless string of lookalike students until you've touched up your technique. Unfortunately, there seems to be no actual quest mode in the game - your samurai never leaves home to search for worthy opponents, and he's never given any motivation to fight beyond merely improving his skills. And while the game's intro sequence shows a weathered swordsman sleeping under the moonlight and fighting ghost warriors, this doesn't appear to actually be a part of the game.

Actually fighting a match is fairly simple. Your stance will dictate which one of your custom sword technique combos you'll activate when you hit the attack button three times. You'll also be able to perform basic sword techniques by pressing a direction and the attack button. You'll be able to block by hitting the X button at the right time, and you'll be able to parry by hitting the square button at the right time. The triangle button controls your ki meter - an important gauge of spirit that increases or decreases depending on the honor of your fighting style. You'll be able to recover ki by hitting the triangle button, and when your ki meter is full, the triangle button will launch your special attack. You move your fighter with the analog stick, which takes full advantage of the analog support. Moving the stick slightly will make your fighter back away slowly, while moving the stick fast and hard will make your fighter dive or roll out of the way of an attack or charge at the enemy. Unfortunately, the fighters seem very inaccurate. The game makes full use of the all three planes - fighters circle, strafe, and roll about each other, but lining characters up to make a slashing attack is often difficult. Fighters will often stand close to each other but miss their attacks because of the difficult control. The game has done away with the realistic kill factor of the Bushido Blade series and now features a life bar. When fighting with a sword, certain hits will cause the character to bleed profusely, and his life bar will gradually decrease. Still, it takes several major hits to down a foe, and the fighting is often long and drawn out. This, combined with the tedious amount of survival-style battles in the game, makes Kengo a fairly frustrating and boring game.

The graphics in Kengo are slightly subpar in terms of the current PS2 standards. The characters look only mediocre, and the animations are sometimes a bit unconvincing. While there are plenty of characters in the game, you actually spend most of the time fighting the same character model over and over again. The game only seems to have one actual sword model, as all of the weapons look exactly the same. The bleeding animation is poorly executed, and the fact that physical damage isn't carried into the next round really kills the realism of the game. The backgrounds are the one nice aspect of the graphical presentation. The dojos all have a unique look and feel to them, and the backgrounds are rendered very well. The game features no in-game music while you're fighting, and the sound effects are a bit trite. Your average sword and shuffling-feet sound effects make up most of the audio, with the exception of the horribly repetitive birdcalls that ring out painfully often in every dojo level.

Light Weight has really made a drastic departure from the formula that made the Bushido Blade games so popular. Kengo's gameplay simply doesn't compare to that of the previous games, and the game is really an uninspired and tedious title that is obviously trying to cash in on the success of the Bushido series.

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