A while back on 1up before I started MultiPlatform I did half an LTTP post on Garou: Mark of the Wolves – one of a couple of late 90’s SNK fighters that I’d been waiting over a decade to play. The other was the Last Blade franchise, the first entry of which just showed up on Virtual Console.
The first time I even heard of these games was when I randomly saw a Last Blade 2 arcade machine at a barbershop in Germany. The anime intro looked cool (this was around 1999 when anime was still “fresh” to western audiences), the gameplay looked slick, and barely any of it was in English. I never got to play too much of it though. When the Dreamcast version came out shortly after that I always considered picking it up but never got around to it – the same as with Garou.
When the first game showed up on Virtual Console last week I got curious, and someone told me that it was basically the weapon-based combat of Samurai Shodown mixed with the graphics and gameplay crafting of Mark of the Wolves. After messing around with the training, arcade, and story modes I’m inclined to agree. It also seemed like an excuse to finally get some use out of this Wii fight stick I got a while ago.
I was pretty shocked to see how detailed and fluid Garou’s 2D sprites looked even today, having been made on roughly 20-year-old hardware. The Last Blade’s graphics look about as good (the game came out two years before Garou), complementing the stylish character designs typical of the era for SNK fighters. The game is apparently set during the Bakumatsu, so the cast is mostly Japanese Samurai archetypes with some oddballs thrown in. As is my custom, I went with the Chinese Kung-Fu guy – who in this case was the one dude in the game who only uses his fists (or at most, a fan).
From the start I knew I had to go into the instruction manual and training mode just to get the basic feel of the game down (part of which the single player modes actually explain to you). I could immediately feel a level of craft and precision similar to Garou and even the recent HD King of Fighters games. Last Blade has some crazy mechanics unique to it, but what separates it and seemingly other SNK fighters from a lot of today’s fare is that it doesn’t depend on those systems too much. At its core the game is good old-fashioned fighting based on skill with precise control. After the initial hurdle of learning one character’s moves in training mode it was pretty easy to slip into Last Blade’s unique takes on dashing, jumping, parrying (much easier than Street Fighter III and actually sort of similar to Dead or Alive), and super moves. It wasn’t too long before I was able to at least reach the final boss on the default difficulty.
While Last Blade is probably no 3rd Strike, it might be worth the $9 to people who are looking for something more in the clean fighting style of SNK games, or if they’re looking for a good weapon-based 2D fighter. It’d be nice if the sequel and maybe even Garou made it to Virtual Console.