Reviewed in 2011 by Tibe

THIS IS THE END. . .

by Tibe

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Samurai Spirits Zero Special is a flagship title for various reasons, but mainly because it's the latest official game released on the venerable Neo Geo. It's also the first episode, including fatalities -call'd Zetsumei Ougi - offering a level of violence never seen before in the series. The game's AES release was wrapped in an amazing but true story, that led to the existence of two versions: "fixed" and "unfixed"... The official home release is scheduled in September 2004. Meanwhile, an infamous murderer's execution is planned just seven days after SSZS' release. Mamoru Takuma (!), a janitor who lived in Osaka, slaughtered eight students in the city, three years ago. Takuma used a sword for his vile work, and he was finally sentenced to be hanged on Sept. 14, 2004 in Osaka. SNK, probably to avoid any confusion with its series, decided to censor the game: the violence is toned down and the famous Zetsumei Ougi are simply deleted.

SSZS' roster is the biggest ever seen in the series!
SSZS' roster is the biggest ever seen in the series!

The first feedbacks came very quickly: it's a scandal in the gamer's community, especially palpable through the active neo-geo.com forum. SNK eventually offered fetching cartridges for a fix: the company propose to include new fatalities, less violent than Zetsumei Ougi, but it's still better than nothing. A vast majority of players involved in the operation, and then recovered a 'fixed' version of their Samurai Spirits Zero Special. Time goes by, and that's in 2008 we see the Universe Bios  emerging. This special bios that functions as a super action replay, provides access to a lot of parameters and hidden content in the Neo Geo games. The version 2.3 in particular was the first able to 'fix' the Zetsumei Ougi of 'unfixed' SSZS games... In other words, only the original unfixed cart owners were finally be able to play with the original bloody fatalities, such as SNK had wanted it! In consequence, value of the original version have skyrocket. It's obvious that it offers additional content compared to 'fixed' one, and it's precisely this 'unfixed' game we will use during this test. 

To perform the Zetsumei Ougi, your life bar has to be low.
To perform the Zetsumei Ougi, your life bar has to be low.

Samurai Spirits Zero, the previous episode, showed some good qualities and new feats, but in the end proved to rank way below Samurai Spirits IV, one of the best SNK's episodes. This special version includes the four historical Bosses from the saga that now can be played, the Zetsumei Ougi are emerging to balance the powerful Concentration Attacks, and the new controls of the previous episode are refined. The list of possible moves is consistent: three levels of slash, a single kick (against three before), dash, jumping-dash, dash-slash, cancel, deflect, roll, guard destroy, sword-clash, various techniques of dodging and sham, bare hands combat ... the list goes on, and the fighting in Samurai Spirits -and not only in this Zero Special - is far more complex than it looks, at least if one is a certain level of play. Don't expect to find hundreds of combos, the game mechanics are based more on strategy and timing than on technical execution sequences. Character's side, Yumeji and Sankuro from episode Zero have been removed, while Amakusa, Mizuki, Zankuro and Gaoh are now present. The roster goes from twenty-six to twenty-eight and increases in quality. 

Yoshitora appeared in the last episode, and he's a tough one...
Yoshitora appeared in the last episode, and he's a tough one...

There's not much to say about the realization. It contains few new content (a few musical themes, stages and slightly retouched sprites) and uses the graphics of previous episodes, as well as the soundtracks. The atmosphere is one of the most gore ever seen in the series, with lots of slicing and liters of blood in addition to the fatalities, weird and unhealthy at will... The animation of the game still uses powerful zooms, appears well decomposed and the sprites are large, even huge for some characters. It's not as beautiful as Samurai III, not as melodious as the I, not as well settled that the II, not as homogeneous as the IV... but it's indeed the most violent episode of the saga, which will delight fans of Mortal KombatDespite its 708 megs, we come back little impressed from this Zero Special experience, except for its Zetumei Ougi and their incredible violence. Here we still have a good Samurai Spirits episode, but for sure not the best. The gameplay has evolved in a way that won't appeal to all players, while the musical or aesthetic choices are not always the best. Still, overall the game is way more than decent, featuring an impressive roster and range of moves.


GRAPHICS

84%

Backgrounds come from previous episodes. Sprites have little or not changed. It's good overall, featuring nice artworks.
ANIMATION 91%
Powerful zooms, rivers of blood, cuts and Zetsumei Ougi are well realized. Fighters' animations are well decomposed too.
SOUND 89%
SSZS doesn't pack that much themes, and these aren't too inspired. Anyway, effects still offer good sensations.
REPLAY VALUE 93%
Twenty-eight characters, it's the greatest roster in the Samurai saga. Despite some imbalances, it's rich and taking!
GAMEPLAY 87%
Controls are a bit stiff, despite the many dodges and feints, leaving more place to tactics than technical play. Zetsumei Ougi with other specials are adding great fun to the action.

NEOGEOKULT

RATE

88%
There's a world between SNK's Samurai Spirits and the Playmore episodes. That said, this SSZS is a good installment, with fatalities, many special moves, and a nice roster.

VALUE FOR MONEY

'Fixed' version without fatalities comes around 500 euros, while the legendary 'unfixed' flies to 800-1000 euros! Here's a good advice: go for any of the previous episodes, it's a way better fun/money rate!

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