So how do you follow up one of the strongest fighting-games ever? Do you try to improve upon what was already created or focus on simply expanding the original setup with more content? I believe this was something the team considered, since while more was added in The Last Blade 2, it is a rather different game due to small changes that drastically alters the mechanics. Thankfully, it doesn’t just make for a fantastic title on par with the first game, but also a unique experience once again.
Deja-vu has never been this good
Taking place just half a year after the last game, we are still in the era of Bakumatsu. Hell’s Gate was sealed, but the underworld is still linked to ours thanks to this portal, causing disturbance to our world. Warriors familiar with this cause of chaos, and new ones, take on the journey towards this gate, be it for the good of all or their own egotistical desires. Just like last time, the plot is simple with mythologies from ancient Japan sprinkled in. It does provide enough spice to be interesting, while not forcing anything down your throat. Really, the overall plot is good as it is and the game knows how far to go with it, like in the previous instalment.
The fantastic variety of interesting and intriguing characters are back with some slight changes caused by the events of the last game. You will come across familiar faces, such as the lighthearted and clumsy giant Juzoh, humble martial-artist Lee, and some new faces, like the psychopathic killer Setsuna. The cast has been heavily expanded from before, and everyone comes with unique personalities, stories, and even tone to the story, again working in both serious and humorous approaches to the setting.
I will sound like a scratched record if you have read my previous review, but none goes over-the-top to be on an offbeat level, only just enough to gain a strong reaction from the player. Adding to the characters, are the comments they have after they have won a fight, animations that complement their characteristics, and the returning rival-battles that includes dialogues to flesh out their stories. It is also nice to see them comment on the fights themselves.
The game is still set in the era of Bakumatsu and the influences are still as strong here as in the last game. This modern Edo-Japan provides a style unique for this game (with the exception of the previous instalment), due to areas and attires taking inspirations from the inventions from America and France due to their interventions. Through this, we get a colourful cast of characters with some keeping close to their traditions, others using clothing inspired by western civilisation, and some are a clearer mix of both world’s styles.
I could basically write the same thoughts here as I did for the last game, but really: it goes as far as last time to make the player as immersed as possible and nails it. It does not try to be any grander than what it is, but focuses on the concept it goes for and I cannot help but praise it for its devotion. Again, just like the last entry.
Story Score: 10/10
Sharpening the blade and skills
Like with the last entry, I am only going to talk about the fighting without going too much into detail about modes, as the original arcade-version only had the campaign and versus. There are plenty of other versions that add more modes like time attack, but a fighting-game does not need so much content in my eyes, as the fighting itself, and maybe an arcade-mode, is enough. The mechanics and button-layouts are very similar to the previous game. A will do a quick attacks, B is for stronger ones, and C kicks, with inputs on directions affecting certain swings, like C+forward will make a kick so strong that the opponent will fall back. However, there are some small changes that affect this game tremendously. Throws are now done by pressing B and C together, making it easier to do, and D for deflecting attacks, can now be done both on the ground and in the air.
Because of this, The Last Blade 2 is a faster-paced game, with more opportunities to be aggressive. Defensive play is highly recommended, with of course blocking backwards being important, but now that jumping can also deflect attacks, fights become more action-packed. Characters have different weapons and fighting-styles, like Zantsetsu’s short mantis-blades, Hyo’s long stick, and Keichiro’s sword. All, even if they use the same weapons, comes with their own fighting-style and power-moves. This has also changed, as all characters have gotten a bigger amount of special-moves and attack, and since moves requiring to hold a direction only needs barely a second, it adds to the aggressive tone of the game.
However, should you want to tweak a character’s playstyle, you can once again choose between power mode which makes the character able to perform stronger attacks, or speed which provides more combos. Both modes come with a gauge that can be filled up for a special attack, which can be performed when full, with the exception of stronger ones, which can only be performed when you are low on health. This is still a fantastic way to make a playstyle slightly different, and super-moves are easier to perform but are also easier to dodge if you are careful, adding a great risk vs reward system.
New to this entry, is a mode called EX which combines both speed and power modes’ strengths, but will make you incredibly vulnerable and decreased the amount you gain in the special-gauge. This mode is hidden behind a code, however, and it is only for those who really want this, and the same goes for the secret characters. Though with the roster being boosted from 12 to 18, you will have enough characters to experiment with.
The Last Blade 2 still provides the tension that made the first The Last Blade so fantastic, but is a more aggressive shift. It makes it interesting, though not necessarily better or worse than the first one. The Last Blade 2 is just different, with more combos, characters, experimentation, yet still holds true to the original with the modes that are engaging, deflecting being incredibly important part of the game, and setting you on the edge in each fight.
Gameplay Score: 10/10
Highlighting the strength and speed visually
The game continues to deliver the stunning visuals of the last game, with highly detailed characters that all have diverse attires and stances, representing both their sides of the cultural inspirations, and their fighting-styles. How they are holding their weapons, their choice of comfy or tight clothing and even their walking-cycles, are different because of this. Just like last time, I love Hyo’s loose attires and drunken movements.
The most impressive animations, are within the fights themselves. The swings of weapons are all impressive, and the added effects of elemental attacks are strong and consistent, adding to the action-packed tone of the game. All characters have also nice taunting-animations, with even the victory-portraits being highly detailed. Not to mention, the scenes between stages are still interesting for their authentic quilts and animations, as well as the intro being stunning and incredible for the time.
Though there are fewer backgrounds than last time, they have even more animations and minor details apparent, making up for the lack of quantity with clear quality. The fights can take place inside a burning building falling apart, outside on a mountainside with gorgeous waterfalls, or in the middle of the town with a huge crowd watching in the background. All areas are interesting and diverse, with plenty of animations in the backgrounds to make them beautiful and immersive.
However, what is the most noticeable upgrade for me is the audio. The swings of weapons are much more apparent, such as the blunt weapons crushing skulls, blades clashing, and elemental attacks being performed, adding a lot of diverse sound-effects that emphasises the impact of each hit. Complementing the more action-toned gameplay, is also the shouting of the announcer, who emphasises the speed with quick and loud announcements in his native language.
Many areas let the ambient sound enhance the atmosphere with small effects of wind and water being noises in the background. Others, implement amazing musical scores using violins, flutes and/or piano, with diverse tones that fits this era. Some melodies are darker, showcasing the serious tone, while others are faster for creating a more intense setup, which works great due to the higher speed the game offers. The only exceptions are those moments of calm settings, such as when a cutscene appear. It creates a diverse atmosphere that emphasises the danger you are about to embark upon.
Presentation Score: 10/10
When it comes to The Last Blade 2, it is on par with its predecessor in quality. It offers a stylish take on this era, with fantastic audio, wonderful visuals, stories that are intriguing, and plenty of ways to play. It is simply more aggressive in its approach, with visuals enhancing the strengths and the mechanics offering more opportunities to be offensive with plenty of characters to choose from. Though whichever you pick, The Last Blade games will offer a unique and intense experience. Really, get both for different takes on the fantastic fighting-mechanics. There is a Neo Geo CD version that includes an extra quiz mode, voiced cutscenes, and a gallery section from both titles, but go with the version for the console of your choice.