Reviewed in 2013 by Tibe

THE REVISITED BAKUMATSU, A LA SNK

by Tibe

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SNK is one of the few editors who had the talent(s) required to diversify its achievements, and among others, its versus fighting sagas. Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters... Able to harmonize a certain quality to this diversity, they have earned an impressive reputation among arcades' aficionados. But when The Last Blade arrives on the Neo Geo, it's still a big surprise for most players. Not satisfied with its outrageous domination on weapon-based fighting games since a few years (Samurai Shodown, with the first one released on 1993), SNK renews the genre in 1997 with this brand new emblem. Offering unprecedented fourteen fighters plus a brand new realization and gameplay, the title is particularly awaited by fans.

Each stage of the game is like a masterpiece.
Each stage of the game is like a masterpiece.

Right from the first game played, one understand that nothing was left to chance. The concern for detail is impressive and ubiquitous: if the superb presentation sets the tone, the animated intros, the fighters' artworks, the multitude of details on the backgrounds and characters should conquer any esthete who discovers The Last Blade for the first time. Fourteen beautiful landscapes are featured, one for each warrior, and it's great art. The draw is fine, reliefs sublimely made and colors perfectly chosen, as well as the visual themes: mystic cave, merchant port at sunset, residency adorned with sublime liquidambars, evening with the lanterns on a red bridge ... if reading this make you feel like we're talking about painting masterpieces, be aware that it's a bit what it feels like when seeing the game in action. In addtion, the whole is homogeneous, and provided the quality of every background, let's say that we're coming close to the perfection of 2D graphics. The animation was also pretty well groomed, with nicely decomposed and smooth characters moves, a precise and wperfectly timed zoom system during action, and stages full of animated details.

Lee packs some great combos that are easy to master.
Lee packs some great combos that are easy to master.

Ultimate part of the realization: sound. Cartridge contains 474 megabytes packing hundreds of high quality voice samples, very well interpreted, and as much (if not more) awesome digitized sounds, honoring the Neo Geo. As for the musics, those are like the graphics: refined and classy, in addition of being divinely compounds. SNK didn't made things by halves with this worthy successor of Samurai Shodown. And if this is true about visuals and sound, the gameplay also fulfills its part of the contract. Yes, one will complain there's only fourteen selectable warriors, but what a treasure! Each one packs a impressive panel of moves, ans is available in two different fighting modes: Power or Speed. The first gives more strenght to your attacks, and gives access to Hidden Desperation Moves and Super Cancels (cancel a special or Super into HDM); the second mode, focusing on speed, allows more combos as well as a Special Speed Combo, triggered with 2x down+AB when gauge is full. You have to find your own style, as all the heroes can be played quite differently with each one being interesting to master, as the roster is pretty well balanced.

Okina reminds inevitably Nicotine from Samurai Shodown.
Okina reminds inevitably Nicotine from Samurai Shodown.

Speaking about the controls, the four buttons of the sticks are used: A and B trigger a weapon attack, C perform different kicks, and D is for counter  (Deflector). This last option is a way to play by itself, but requires lightning-fast reflexes. The combos are legion in the game, but The Last Blade is clearly not made for beginners. Timing and precision are essential to improve and appreciate the game for its true value. The players who'll fall in love with TLB will have to spend hours of practicing to master their favorite character. In the end, this "elitism" had the two episodes of the saga becoming rare games, little known to the public... sounding like a legend sometimes heard about, but rarely seen. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of playing these videogame wonders, I highly recommend everyone to give it a shot.


GRAPHICS

99%

Fourteen stages absolutely sublime, characters drawn with finesse and talent, fantastic artworks: it seems we are dealing here with the most beautiful Neo Geo game.
ANIMATION 96%
Fluid, smooth, and perfectly decomposed: here's what comes in mind when looking at The Last Blade.
SOUND 98%
The soundtrack provides an unique atmosphere to the game, adding a dramatic and romantic note to the Bakumatsu era, marvelously retranscribed here.
REPLAY VALUE 92%
There's fourteen characters to choose from (12 basically + 2 Bosses to unlock), with Speed or Power versions for each: whatever you're playing Story or VS mode, discovering TLB will be a long and flavorful pleasure.
GAMEPLAY 95%
Mixing skillfully Samurai Shodown and KOF, The Last Blade's gameplay blossoms into a remarkable and unique symbiosis. Technical, precise, rich: it's a blast.

NEOGEOKULT

RATE

95%
SNK provides here an incredible title, both for realization and gameplay. A masterpiece!

VALUE FOR MONEY

The Last Blade is cheaper than The Last Blade 2, and frankly speaking, it's almost as good as its successor. In terms of value/money ratio, it's even better (130 euros against 200+)!

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