Bushido Blade

Forget Final Fantasy Remakes, I Want A New Bushido Blade

Square Enix remaking or remastering past Final Fantasy games: it is the subject of constant speculation, and judging by the number of stories that pop up regarding this very matter, it is safe to say that the demand is there. For good reason, too, because if any franchise could use a shot in the arm through re-releases, it’s Final Fantasy—a much beloved franchise that, unfortunately, has seen better days.

An HD remake of Final Fantasy VII has been swirling in the rumor mill for quite some time now, and joining those persistent rumors is the news that Square Enix plans to release an HD version of Final Fantasy X.  Given the recent success and current trend of HD collections, it is probably in Square Enix’s best interest to recapture past magic.

OK, I understand and am excited about the prospect of older Final Fantasy games being made available for everyone to enjoy again (or for the first time), and the two titles that have been bandied about recently, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy X, are reminders of when the franchise was at its pinnacle. These titles represent the very best in the video game industry. Hell, if Final Fantasy VII ever gets a proper HD remake and when this supposed HD version of Final Fantasy X comes out, I won’t hesitate to open up my wallet and purchase both.

But if I’m going to wax nostalgic, I’d rather see something from the long dormant Bushido Blade franchise rather than something from Final Fantasy. Call it Final Fantasy fatigue, but I am seriously suggesting that Square Enix focus on some long forgotten fighting game instead of an RPG behemoth.

Now I probably just lost half of my readers, and the rest of you are probably saying “Bushido what?” If you are one of many who has not heard of this franchise, it really is a telling example of how criminally underrated Bushido Blade is, and how it deserves an update.

So what is this magical game that has me longing for it over a redone Final Fantasy game? Well, back in the fall of 1997 when Square Enix was just Squaresoft, they released Bushido Blade: a 3D fighting game for the Sony PlayStation.

– – A brief aside: 1997 was evidently a good year for Square with titles like Final Fantasy Tactics and Einhänder (another little known/forgotten/underrated title that deserves to be brought back) gracing the PS1 along with Final Fantasy VII and Bushido Blade. Together these releases kicked off a new golden age for Square, the PlayStation, and gamers—a time during which I came into my own as a gamer.

I will admit right now before going any further, I’m not fan of fighting games. But there is so much that Bushido Blade did differently in order to separate itself from more traditional fighting games. Reflecting on these differences has fueled my yearning for a new Bushido Blade.

Gone were fighting game staples like a health bar, small stages, and an emphasis on quick paced hand to hand combat. Instead Bushido Blade featured combat centered around eight difference weapons (katana, nodachi, long sword, broad sword, rapier, saber, naginata, or, my personal favorite, the sledge hammer), with three different stances per weapons, larger 3D stages complete with varied terrains, and a body damage system that made it possible to damage limbs or register fatal blows at any time. While these features made Bushido Blade slower-paced, they also added enormous depth to the game while still remaining accessible to new or inexperienced players.

Take, for example, the absence of a life bar paired with the possibility of limb damage or even a one hit kill. With just that, you wound up with a game that was always intense and exciting; you also ended up with the kind of fighting game that everyone could grasp and enjoy.

For me, that’s what made the game so appealing: it inserted an element of randomness, a bit of chaos into every match, and it always made the outcome unpredictable. You could pit a Bushido Blade newbie against a seasoned vet and know that the new player, having grasped the fundamentals of which button does what, had at least a puncher’s chance of winning.

Besides adding accessibility, one hit kills and limb damage also added strategy and depth, making Bushido Blade the furthest thing from a simple button mash-hack and slash fighting game. This may sound contradictory, but it’s true because no two matches were the same.

What worked one match to kill an opponent might only have worked to wound or might not have worked at all in the next match because the variables that allowed for the kill were changed. Your opponent could have changed stances with a weapon or changed the weapon itself, thus changing the angles that enabled the fatal strike in the first place. These variables forced you to rethink your strategy and to mix up your approach for each new match.

It wasn’t only weapon or stance choice that had an impact, the larger 3D stages Bushido Blade employed also heavily influenced strategy. Even having three-dimensional stages added an extra wrinkle, as it meant that players could evade attacks by simply side-stepping them. The possibility of a sly side-step shuffle meant that there was always the chance that your opponent could sidestep your attack, leaving you open to a fatal counterattack.

Next, you had to take into account how the actual size of Bushido Blade’s stages would also sway the match. Say you found yourself at a disadvantage—one of your arms was wounded—you could have used the size of a stage to your advantage by simply running away. This would have given you just enough time to regroup and formulate some plan of attack… maybe try to take the high ground and even the odds. And while the larger stages made some matches last longer, I like to think that that was balanced out by the fact that a match could end at any moment (plus it made up for matches that were shorter than the time it took to load them).

Perhaps I shouldn’t downplay the knowledge, appreciation, or the general level of fandom that people show for this game. I mean, it was released to positive reviews, and was successful enough to spawn an equally awesome sequel a year later. So, surely, I am not the only person longing for another Bushido Blade.

I don’t think there has been another game quite like Bushido Blade, well except for Bushido Blade 2, and it’s kind of a shame. Square was one of the most recognized and respected publishers when Bushido Blade was initially released—their brand was in fact one of the reasons that I first played the game (ironically because of Final Fantasy VII). Unfortunately, that respect and admiration is dwindling. While it would be straightforward for Square Enix to recapture some of that respect and admiration by remaking Final Fantasy VII or remastering Final Fantasy X in HD, I just don’t think it’s the right call.

Although I and many others wouldn’t hesitate to revisit these classic titles, there weren’t many people who missed out on either Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X. Bushido Blade, on the other hand, strikes me as an opportunity to introduce or reintroduce people to a unique fighting game that’s accessible and extremely fun, a game that has been unduly forgotten.