|Review by DuDe|
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The Last Blade 2 – Dreamcast
SNK is probably best known for its excellent 2D fighting games, released on the Neo-Geo arcade machine over the last decade. Games like Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, and Samurai Showdown are still claimed to be the best fighting games of all time. In 1997, SNK has decided to create a new franchise, one that isn’t connected to the storylines started in the games mentioned, and one that could drag SNK out of its financial problems. This decision brought us Last Blade, a game that while didn’t sell too well (even though it had a wonderful PSOne port), was critically acclaimed, and created quite a big and devoted fan base. In 1998, SNK has released the sequel, named unsurprisingly Last Blade 2, and in 2001, Last Blade 2 has been ported to Sega’s Dreamcast. Both companies were in financial difficulties at that time, and SNK was bought out by Playmore a few months later, while Sega has ceased to produce the Dreamcast. And while Last Blade may be one of the original SNK last products, it still kept the high standards set by the previous game, and the DC port proves to be the same.
The Last Blade 2 is a 2D weapons based 1 on 1 fighter, that takes place in 19th century Japan. At a glance, it might look very similar to Samurai Showdown, another famous SNK weapons based brawler, since both games present a diverse cast of oriental themed characters battling to death at pastoral locations in Japan. But if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find out that both games are quite similar in terms of art, style, and gameplay.
LB2, like all of SNK’s games, uses a 4 button control scheme: 2 buttons are assigned to weak and strong slashes, one button is for kicks, and one button is for the deflect move, which is probably what sets LB2 apart from other sword based fighters. The deflect allows you to reverse an opponent’s strike, and thus stun him, and leave him helpless for your own attack. It kind of reminds Street Fighter’s 3 repel move, and just like it, it must be done in an exact frame accuracy, because otherwise you are left unprotected from any move that your opponent might pull against you. On the other hand, when it’s pulled right, the deflect move can totally change the flow of the battle, and bring the momentum to your own side. Not to mention that it also looks incredibly cool to get out of an opponent’s combo with the deflect, stunning him, and going into a desperation move on your own.
LB2 has three battle modes: the Power mode, which lets you use powerful super moves, that cause a big amount of damage, Speed mode, that lets you string a big number of hits into a long combos and EX mode, that combines the benefits of the two modes, but you will take much more damage when you hit if you use that mode. All of the modes seem to fit different type of players; naturally, those that prefer SamSho’s strategy of building up your power gauge into a one big and powerful move would prefer Power, while those that prefer, say, Killer Instinct or even Street Fighter Alpha, would prefer the Speed mode, that lets you build combos that reach the double digits, when advanced players should try the EX mode. The modes also have different ways of executing desperation moves, so you should fiddle a bit with each one, and find which one suits your own style of play.
The Dreamcast controller, which is generally not the best choice for a fighting game, surprisingly fits that game just fine. While definitely not as good as one of the arcade sticks that can be found on the market, it is still quite responsive, and pulling special moves doesn’t seem to be that hard. But naturally, if you can afford one, I would still recommend getting an arcade stick, that fits great to other fighting games on the Dreamcast, like “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” or “Guilty Gear X”.
Overall, LB2’s gameplay can probably be described as a “faster and crazier” Samurai Shodown.The game is riddled with combo strings, big and flashy supers, colorful desperation moves, and it feels a bit of “happier” than the moody SamSho games. The cast, while still having some serious characters (like Setsuna, the white haired messenger of Hades, god of the dead, or Zantetsu, a Ninja assassin with a chilling voice), also has your typical telekinetic school girl, a Japanese Don Juan that wears a pink (!) kimono, and a little old man called Okina, who battles you with a ferocious fishhook, and whose special moves all somehow involve turtles.
Being a Neo Geo game released at 1998, LB2 still manages to look surprisingly good. While the animation is not as silky smooth as say SNK’s own “Garou: Mark of The Wolves”, or Capcom’s “Street Fighter 3”, and sprites aren’t drawn in high resolution like Sammy’s “Guilty Gear X”, the game’s graphics are nonetheless quite decent. The animation is solid, I would say about a step higher than Capcom’s “Street Fighter Alpha 3”, and is full with cool little touches, like clothes and hair that flow in the wind, and great looking idle animations. The backgrounds all look great, including a city market, a cool looking waterfall, and a burning house, that shows some of the coolest animated flames ever. The supers, like mentioned above, are colorful, and some are also very creative: Akari’s super for instance, involves a big weird creature capturing you inside a big bell, and then hitting the bell with its tongue, thus inflicting damage to you. There is no slowdown to be seen in the game, not even in the supers, and no frames of animations seem to be lost in the conversion, which is something that has to be noted, considering the fact that similar games on the Dreamcast did have some nasty frame cuts (Capcom vs. SNK comes to mind).
The sound, while not being too unique, is still well done. Unlike the PSX port of LB1, that had horribly muffled sounds, the sounds of LB2 are crystal clear, and each sword clash sounds exactly as it sounded on the Neo. The music, on the stages that have a theme, is somewhat epic and sad, while other stages only have ambient sounds, like a wind blowing through tree leaves, or a cheering crowd. However, the game’s sound biggest success is the voice acting. Each character sounds exactly like it should have, when the most notable ones are Mukuro, a half mad man that, well, sounds like a half mad man should sound, and Zantetsu, a Ninja assassin, who sounds like an extremely evil bad ass. It all should really be heard to be understood. There are a few small sound glitches (for instance, the music cuts off when a match ends), but they never really harm the overall experience.
So, is the game worth getting? Yes, definitely. The port is a perfect conversion of a very solid fighting game, it has tons of moves for you to learn, and a few characters to unlock, and while it doesn’t have the bonus card game that came with the original Japanese release, it’s still definitely worthy of the 20 or so dollars price tag that it has now. Hell, you can get a Dreamcast for 50 bucks, so you might as well go for a bundle. Anyway, it’s a highly recommendable, fun, and deep fighter, and it’s also about 10 times cheaper than the Neo Geo home cart, so go for it.
My score lowdown:
Presentation : 8.0
The menus are nothing to write home about, but the characters art, transition screens, and intro movie are.
Graphics : 8.0
While not the best on the system, they also don’t hurt the eyes. Great animations, great characters designs, no slowdown.
Sound : 9.0
Very high quality, although not quite original. The voice acting is top notch.
Gameplay : 9.5
Deep and diverse, and will take you ages to master every little nuance and quirk of the game’s wide array of characters.
Value : 9.5
It costs 20 bucks. Will Rock costs 30 bucks. Let’s see, a bland Serious Sam rip-off, or a deep and fun fighter? See my point?
Overall : 9.0
A must have if you’re a fan of 2D fighting games, a fan of SNK, or just want a cool game to add to your Dreamcast library.