Inspired by the Dororo anime series that dates back to the '60s, Blood Will Tell is a third-person action game in which you assume the role of an unusual samurai named Hyakkimaru. "Unusual" is something of an understatement, actually, given that the focus of the game's intriguing storyline is Hyakkimaru's quest to regain 48 body parts that were stolen from him by demons (known as fiends) as an infant. Accompanying Hyakkimaru for much of his quest is a young thief named Dororo who can be given simple instructions and, at certain points during the game, can become a fully playable character. The late Osamu "Astro Boy" Tezuka's storyline is arguably the best feature of Blood Will Tell, but the gameplay is certainly good enough to ensure that reaching the story's conclusion--which you will want to do--is a pleasure rather than a chore. Another of the game's most notable features is that it contains around 60 boss-style battles, although the game's often erratic camera system is undoubtedly the enemy that will give you the most trouble.
At the start of the game, Hyakkimaru's body is largely man made and, as such, comes with some pretty impressive extras--sword arms and a knee-mounted cannon, for example. You won't lose any of the abilities that these modifications afford you as you progress through the game and as Hyakkimaru becomes more human, but you will gain a number of additional ones. Each of Hyakkimaru's missing body parts is being held by a different fiend, and the only way for you to get them back is to defeat the fiends in boss battles that are dotted throughout the entire game. Every body part you collect will improve Hyakkimaru's attributes in some way (he has ratings for health, attack power, regeneration rate, luck, speed, endurance, and so on), and a number of them will actually grant him new abilities.
One of the first body parts you'll retrieve, for example, is his left eye--which allows you to see the game in color for the first time. Other missing body parts worthy of note include: ears, which improve balance and allow you to land on your feet after you're attacked; the left leg, which grants you the dash ability; and the nose, which causes the PlayStation 2 controller to rumble when Hyakkimaru senses that one of the 48 fiends is nearby. The character progression in Blood Will Tell actually works very well, and it is made more interesting by the fact that it's nonlinear (you can't help but miss one or two fiends on some levels the first time you play through). The more that you play the game, in fact, the better it gets--the storyline twists and turns like an upchuck-inducing roller coaster, Hyakkimaru's attack combos become longer and more powerful, and the lesser demons that try to hinder your progress through all seven of the game's main chapters (it's possible--and definitely worthwhile--to unlock an eighth chapter) become much more varied.
In addition to his built-in arsenal, Hyakkimaru is able to employ various swords that you'll find as you progress through the game. All of your melee attacks and combos change when you choose to use a single sword as opposed to the sword arms, but all are executed using just two attack buttons. New swords will invariably allow you to deal out more damage than you ever could with the basic blade you start out with, and they can also offer additional benefits, such as: protection against poison, fire, ice, or lightning attacks; improved luck; occasional one-hit kills; or increased speed. Many of the swords (and other desirable items) in the game are quite well hidden or, at the very least, will require you to go out of your way to find them. For this reason alone, it's well worth taking the time to explore each area, to smash open any crates and urns that you find, and to kill all of the demons that you encounter (even if you don't find anything great, you'll notice that your combat skills level up pretty frequently). At the very least, you can expect to find a bunch of health-restoring rice balls and temporary power-ups when you stray from the most obvious route through a level. You'll also invariably find small quantities of medicine scattered throughout each level, and while these do very little for the most part, you'll be rewarded with an extra life (up to a maximum of three, depending on how far through the game you are) each time you collect 100 of them.
Perhaps the easiest way to collect items when your health is running low is to make use of Hyakkimaru's slice attack. By powering up for a moment before attacking an enemy, you'll be able to deliver a paralyzing blow that gives you an opportunity to perform some particularly devastating combos without fear of retaliation--although any other enemies nearby can still attack you. During slice attacks, you have to enter randomly generated button sequences within a time limit before you hit the triangle button to finish your assault. There's no minimum or maximum number of blows that you can land, but the number of items surrendered by your enemy when its ordeal is over with is directly proportionate to how well you do. Your enemies in the game, incidentally, come in well over 100 different forms, and they include 48 fiends and 60 demons. You'll fight skeletal warriors, ravens, specters, guardian dogs, soldiers, rock golems, demon foxes, Sasquatch, death otters, zombie moles, and undead frogs, to name but a few. The enemies are a mixed bunch, for sure, but unfortunately the tactics you need to employ in order to defeat them are far less varied.
In addition to the regular attacks and combos at his disposal, Hyakkimaru is able to employ spirit attacks, which can only be performed when his spirit meter--which fills up every time you hit an enemy or collect certain items--is full. You'll start the game with only one spirit attack available, but if you make a point of exploring as you progress through the game you'll find scrolls that unlock additional spirit attack options. We finished up with five the first time we played the game through, but while each had its uses, none of them were really any better than the one with which you'll start the game.
When Dororo is at your side, you're able to have him/her (the gender is up for debate for most of the game, but we'll go with male for the remainder of the review) perform one of three different tasks for you: collect any nearby items, attack enemies with you, or search the area for anything that looks unusual (which is invaluable when you're looking for well-hidden fiends). The fourth command you can shout out has Dororo rejoin you if and when he gets sidetracked or if he is unable to follow you because of an obstacle. Dororo will also fight alongside you during many of the battles against fiends, and while the rocks he throws and his childish punches and kicks don't do an awful lot of damage, he's very good at drawing the enemy fire away from Hyakkimaru. It's actually possible to have a second player take control of Dororo if you're into cooperative play, but since the camera pays no attention to the second player's position or movement at all (it focuses on Hyakkimaru, just as it would in the single-player game), the feature can't be considered a positive thing.
The levels that you play as Dororo tend to be slightly less combat based than the levels in which you play as Hyakkimaru, and they often involve sneaking into areas that are only accessible to him. The Dororo levels aren't stealth based as such, it's just that they have you jumping between platforms and solving the occasional simplistic puzzle rather than battling against hordes of demons. When combat is unavoidable, you'll find that Dororo's rock throwing can actually be pretty effective (he can throw other stuff too, but the rocks are the only ammo that he has an unlimited supply of)--especially against slow-moving enemies. Dororo is also able to stun most enemies by dashing and then diving into them headfirst. As you've probably guessed, playing as Dororo isn't nearly as much fun as playing as Hyakkimaru, but none of the little guy's levels are very long, and they can actually make for a welcome change of pace.
One thing that both Hyakkimaru and Dororo have in common--aside from their ability to communicate telepathically, and a passion for swords--are that their levels are, unfortunately, plagued with camera problems. Blood Will Tell does allow you to push a button and have the camera swing around behind you, but that option (which is really intended for keeping an eye on enemies and it causes you to move differently) isn't available in the countless areas of the game where it's needed. Jumping between platforms, battling with multiple enemies, and even just walking in the right direction are things that are made much more frustrating than they should be by a camera that, in places, seems to be awkward by design rather than by accident. When walking along long paths, for example, the camera will occasionally decide that it needs to show the action from in front of you rather than from behind you. The switch will be instant and without warning, which either has the effect of reversing your controls for a moment (so you're still pushing up on the thumbstick, but effectively walking down the screen) or having you backtrack without even realizing it.
Worse still are the occasions when the fixed camera prevents you from seeing bottomless chasms or enemies that would, under normal circumstances, be directly in front of you. The camera issues don't render the game unplayable by any means, but they're irritating enough that it would be wrong for us not to warn you about them. Ironically, the camera is far less problematic during the quite frantic boss battles--defaulting to a special boss mode (which can be switched on and off with a single button press) that does a reasonably good job of always letting you see where you are in relation to your adversary.
The fact that Blood Will Tell features a camera that doesn't work against you too often during the game's boss battles is actually quite impressive, because the 48 fiends (other boss-style battles tend to be against humans) come in plenty of different shapes and sizes. There are bosses no bigger than Hyakkimaru, and there are bosses so big (well one, anyway--and it's not the last, so don't worry about that being a spoiler) that you need to defeat different parts of it in different areas of the map. There are bosses that rarely move, and there are bosses that can fly around so quickly that it can be hard to keep up at times. The only thing that all of the bosses in the game have in common is that they all follow quite predictable patterns, which, once you've figured them out, really aren't terribly difficult to work around. As we mentioned previously, it's unlikely (impossible, actually) for you to locate all of the fiends on all of the levels the first time you play them through. You have the option to return to an earlier level at any time to search for the missing fiends, and once you've beaten the level and been told how many fiends you missed, you'll find that their locations are actually marked on your ever-present map. That still doesn't necessarily mean that they're easy to locate, though, or that you'll have leveled up sufficiently to take them on without any difficulty.
By the time you beat the game's seven main chapters, you'll have spent approximately 15 to 20 hours battling demons, sitting through beautifully rendered cutscenes, cursing the in-game camera and frequent loading screens, and wondering whether or not Dororo is really a boy, a girl, or neither. You'll also most likely have made good use of the save points that are scattered liberally throughout the entire game and you'll have discovered which ones can be used as many times as you like. Both of the previously unavailable menu options will have been revealed (only one of them is playable), Hyakkimaru's quest to become human will be nearing its conclusion, and you'll be eager to unlock the game's final chapter--which we're going to tell you nothing about whatsoever.
At the end of the day, Blood Will Tell is a game that falls short of greatness by a fair margin. The visuals look quite dated, some of the character animations (check out Dororo's jump) are strange to say the least, and the gameplay can get so repetitive and dull in the early stages that you might find getting to the better stuff later on to be a test of your patience. The game's audio, on the other hand, is quite impressive. The English translation and voice acting are both of a high standard, the narration during many of the cutscenes is excellent, the sound effects are adequate, and, while the effect isn't subtle in the slightest, the way that the soundtrack changes to reflect the onscreen action is appropriate.
Osamu Tezuka's storyline alone makes Blood Will Tell worth playing, and while the game has its fair share of problems, none of them are so severe that they should dissuade you from checking the game out if you have any sort of interest in the subject matter.