Bushido Blade came along a year ago and tweaked everyone's perception of what a fighting game could (and perhaps even should) be. It was light on characters but heavy on depth, with weapon selection, huge fighting areas, and a free range of movement that had never been seen before in a 3D fighter. This year's model comes equipped with sharper character graphics, a simplified, yet more complete fighting system, and best of all, many more characters to select from.
The single-player mode received more enhancements than any other mode. The game now revolves around two feuding clans. Instead of just fighting a few of the game's other characters and a boss or two, there are now various stages, each of which requires you to slice and dice a few ninjas (in a throwback to BB1's slash mode) before facing a character from the opposing clan. Along your journey to the enemy clan's compound, you'll meet friends and get the opportunity to make them selectable from the main screen. These support characters show up, and you play the next stage as the support character. If you die, you simply revert to your main character and advance as before. But if you complete the stage as the support character, he'll be unlocked for play in all modes. The cool part, which shows that the developers put a lot of thought into the single-player mode, is that there are cinemas for all the support characters as well, all with individual voices and motions. The cinemas, which use the game engine, look great and tell the game's occasionally twisted story. The voice-over work, however, leaves more than a little to be desired. While the title screen and intro remain Japanese, the in-game speech has been done in English, and done, well, poorly.
The gameplay is pretty much the same, yet it feels quite a bit different. The controls have been changed and slightly simplified. There are now two attack buttons and no block button. To block attacks, you simply need to attack back to get your weapon in the way of your opponent's. The stance changing has been reduced to one button, which is somewhat troublesome at times, since you can't just switch between high and middle and back to high without cycling through your low position. Also, the damage system has been revamped. Arms can still be rendered unusable, but leg wounds result in slower motion, instead of BB1's hobbled legs. Strikes to the torso cause attack speed to slow down quite a bit. Avid Bushido Blade 1 players may find this new setup a bit confusing, but once you get used to it, it's actually superior to the old configuration. All of the old moves are there, as well as quite a few new ones. There are even a few throws in the game to help mix things up.
The character graphics have been improved quite a bit, but the backgrounds have suffered in the transition. There's a lot more pop-up, which is extremely noticeable at long ranges. The backgrounds are also solitary areas. There are no areas that connect together as in BB1, which may disappoint players who like to wander around the environment instead of just fighting. Also, some of the death animations have been lifted directly out of BB1, which is fairly disappointing, considering the quality of the rest of the motion. With the exception of the terrible voice work, the sound is really terrific. If a character is sporting a spear or other wooden weapon, it will sound like wood when it bounces off anything. Weapon clashes, screams, and strikes have all been improved.
When I first popped in Bushido Blade 2, I was surprisingly disappointed with the game. The controls seemed totally foreign, and it really seemed like they made a few small improvements to the original and shoved it out the door. But once you give it a few hours, you too will come around and realize that the things missing from this version were taken out to better the overall gameplay. The additional characters and stances really make Bushido Blade 2 a winner. It's taken quite some time to come out in the US, but the game still holds up after seven months as a Japan-only title.