Samurai Shodown Zero

Before the Tranvestite

     It was made clear in my SNK feature I wasn't all that fond of the Samurai Shodown games. Something about hacking and slashing away at Haohmaru's leg like an over stylized terrier, only to be slashed in half in one blow turned me off to it. Not to mention the Dr. Wily-like persistence of a certain cheap, effeminate Christian sorcerer from game to game. Well, SS Zero is different. It takes place before the other games, when a General Gaoh was plotting to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. Forget all those demon subplots, it's almost totally straight samurai swordplay. Excusing the fifteen foot cannibal monster who fights with a detachable arm with splintered bone sticking out of it.

     Things are a lot simpler right off the bat. Instead of Slash and Bust versions of every character, we get 'dark' counterparts to some of the more popular characters. For instance, Nakoruru's 'dark' side is Rera, who fights with the wolf by her side and is supposedly another being who surfaces when Nako is unwilling to fight. The water and fire brothers are joined by Enja and Suija, the spirits trapped within their swords. Then of course, there's Rasetsumaru, your garden variety Evil Twin, who's obsessed with killing his original. But there are new characters too, and they're not bad at all. Mina is probably about the most questionable since she's an archer, and as such is almost totally projectile-based. Even more so than Bao from KOF. She's also constantly followed around by a bizarre little imp that yammers in Osakan. The hulking Kusaregedo is the aforementioned cannibal demon, who was turned into a demon when he died for eating too many children while alive, which is something I like to think we can all relate to. He's in the tournament to track down and devour Rimururu, which might be an attempt to commit suicide by diabetic shock. By far the coolest is the new hero Yoshitora Tokugawa, sort of the black sheep of the shogunate who wanders the countryside with an entourage of girlfriends. He carries seven swords on his back and makes good use of them all. He's also kind of a 'special guest star' in the ilk of Necrid/Spawn/Link/Heihachi from SCII, as he was designed by the artist of Rurouni Kenshin; unlike the aforementioned Soul Calibur fighters he's actually part of the storyline. He's got crazy hair too, sort of a daimyo style cut minus the loop back, so he kind of looks like Iori with upside-down bangs.

     The game feels about the same as ever, but the combat system's been simplified a bit. Or maybe I just was too busy getting massacred by Ukyo to pick up on it before. There are only two Slash buttons now, C has become the Kick button, and D is now sort of an all-purpose evasion button. The Shodown equivalent of the KOF C+D attack is A+B now. You can do Rage Explosions, and the hari-kiri moves were brought back (you have to tweak the settings to get them), in addition there's a 'Meditation' skill that drops your Rage but makes it possible to enter some sort of 'trance' state and deliver a stupidly powerful attack. All of the supers have the same command, quarter circle forward+CD. And like any good fighting game, these vary between massive, relentless onslaughts to, well- Mina's. She apparently fires herself into the air with her bow and lands on the other side of the screen, followed shortly by her weapons. I've never seen it connect. Maybe it's cool, maybe, probably not. But she's cute enough to inspire dozens of nasty fanzines before the game was even released, so I suppose she fulfilled her purpose.

     The one thing that kills the game for me is the stupid boss fights. The mid-boss is a bandit type named Sankuro who fights with a hammer, a flintlock pistol, and most aggravatingly, his trio of sidekicks. The girl slides in from the side and hits low, the nerd grabs you and leaves you open, and the worst by far is the huge-armed guy who drops from the sky and can hit anywhere on the screen. The one thing making this even more annoying and sadistic than the fight with Original Zero and pals from KOF 2k1 is that at any time, Sankuro can eat some sushi and regain upwards of 50% of his life at any time, usually while you're getting up from one of the Jumping Guy's attacks. All you can really do is keep the pressure on this guy after landing a solid hit, and he won't be able to recover or call his idiots.

     A few rounds after that annoying fight comes a female swordsman named Yumeji who shapeshifts and copies the signature moves of other fighters. She's not necessarily CHEAP, just extra strong, fast, and likes to corner you. So yeah. She's cheap. The final-final boss is Gaoh, who uses a cross-spear to great effect and starts randomly becoming an invincible demon in the second round. Yes, invincible demon. As in you can only try to dodge his insanely damaging charge/throw combinations. Especially nasty is when he shoots you out of the furnace on top of his head.

     This SS prequel is definitely a good one, and my favorite of the series. It's still not as well-rounded as King of Fighters, or as cool as Guilty Gear, but it can rest soundly in its chair made out of hands and skin (check out the story faq at gamefaqs- there's some messed up stuff in that backstory) knowing it outdid the others.

    Also: They spelled "Victory" right again. Go SNK!

Samurai Shodown V: The mispelling continues.

Yoshitora and his bitches. Ah-ha-ha-ha.

Yoshitora kicking ass in a way that makes Haohmaru feel inadequate.