The Finest Blades of Japan
by Tibe (2013)
Samurai Spirits IV is an opportunity to re-locate the saga chronologically for neophytes. The history of our samuraï warriors takes place during the late eighteenth century in Japan, through the Tenmei age. Samurai Zero is 'historically' the first part, telling the story of the general Gaoh's rebellion in 1786. Then comes the episode I, happening in the year 1788, with Amakusa himself struggling against the Tokugawa shogunate. Samurai Spirits III comes the same year, and this time our heroes are dealing with the repented criminal Minazuki Zankuro. It's just after these events that our SSIV takes place, in 1789. In this installment, we learn that Amakusa was resurrected into two entities, the evil one vowed to shut Zankuro's soul with a powerful spell, probably planning to use it for devilish purposes. It seems that in the best case, one has to face two Bosses at the end!
The story mode is well-crafted, cleverly putting in scene the characters according to their respective implications and rivalries in this dark story about the vile Amakusa. Time will be counted in the succession of battles: it will take players to quickly make their way to the castle and win duels against bosses, to see the successful ending: if they don't, the ending will be the bad one! A good challenge, especially considering the speed required while the game's difficulty is pretty high. The limited roster of Samurai III is significantly improved here with seventeen swordsmen: they are still available in Slash or Bust versions as before, including special moves and combinations specific to each version. It's a panel of thirty-four possibilities total, which is not too bad. Then you have to choose the class: 'beginner' offers an easier combo system, 'upper grade' suppress the block, and 'normal' is the traditional combat system. The options are copiously supplemented, since you can now set the number of rounds from one to five per battle, set a handicap to balance the fight for the versus, but also finely adjust the difficulty and play without time limit.
Samurai Spirits IV keeps the new - excellent - basics set by its predecessor, and provides substantial improvements on the gameplay. The double life bar appears and the power gauge is now filled by performing combos and special moves. A, B and C are still assigned to the weapon and D to different kicks, combining different directions on the stick. From SSIII are kept dodge (AB), bypass and guard breaker (CB). The Disarm Slash are standardized (identical manipulations for all) while SSIV inaugurates the 'Torso Blow' (BD), and the 'Rage Gauge Explosion': by pressing ABC at any time during the fight, this mode activates and allows more combos (ABC repeatedly) and the Fatal Slash by pressing BCD, a special move extremely powerful that can end the fight. The combo system is the major innovation: in addition to 'auto-combos' like those of Street Fighter II, the game now includes 'manual combos' à la Killer Instinct! Hitting an opponent with C+D 'initiates' the combination, but this may also be done with a special move, depending on the character you play. It's then all about hitting the buttons in a row within the right timing. These combos can also be canceled, or terminated with special moves. Here we are dealing with an ultra-technical and complete gameplay, pretty exciting to discover, providing a great room for improvement for every fighter.
The game includes a fatality for each duelist: a simple operation to perform during the agony of the opponent concludes the debate with a violent coup de grace. Of course, body divisions and sections of aortas are still included in the game, don't worry! To end this review, let's talk briefly realization. Overall, we regress slightly in comparison of what offered Samurai Spirits III, particularly in regard to the amount of backgrounds (ten against fourteen, but more homogeneous) but also on the aesthetic quality of the melodies, with a little less inspired ones -but still sounding good. The fighters gained some smoothness, whereas zoom-out during the combats became much less powerful. But let's be fair overall, Samurai Spirits IV is a real gem, exploiting greatly the Neo Geo capabilities. With such a realization, a roster more than decent and a gameplay that has reached its full maturity, no doubt we're facing here nothing else than the major episode of one of the series.
|New backgrounds are added to some taken from the previous episode (that have been slightly re-drawn), while a majority are left: game packs ten somptuous arenas and the majestuous new sprites of our warriors.|
|Zoom out is less powerful than before, but fighters gained considerable smoothness: great!|
|Once again, Neo Geo offers a mix of effects, musics and ambiances of premium quality. However, themes are less inspired and fewer than in the III.|
|Here's the main improvement since the past episode, with a seventeen characters roster still playable Slash or Bust, a nice story mode and new settings for the versus.|
|Combo slashes are appearing with many new other techniques. Game keeps the comprehensive basics brought by the past episode. All this constitutes the best, most complete gameplay in the series.|
|SNK is on the top of the world in 1996: in the Samurai Spirits saga, this fourth installment is the best one ever.|
VALUE FOR MONEY (2013)
The game regularly goes beyond one-hundred and fifty euros value, and despite its great quality, it's still a high price to pay. By comparison, the rate Samurai Spirits III offers (with its fifty euros value) is better. By cons, IV is the best of the saga.