I love looking at handheld versions of console games, as it is fascinating to see what such transitions result in. You cannot simply port a project designed for a stronger hardware onto a weaker one without compensating, which is why we have gotten so many interesting titles out of this. Be it the neat card game Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories or the surprisingly faithful adaptation of Max Payne for the GBA, it is always captivating to see what dedicated developers can do with smaller systems. Then there are titles like The Last Blade: Beyond the Destiny. It is an impressive game with unique content included, yet there is nothing special to it.
Ancient scrolls with typos
We are set in the 1860s, during the Bakumatsu. The gates of hell have been opened and this is enough reason for fights to take place. I am sorry for sounding shallow, but I am grasping at straws here for context already from the start. There are barely any text or even a plot included for elaborating upon what is going on, to the point where even the manual does not acknowledge any story or the characters’ backgrounds for that matter. It is almost like there does not exist a plot in this entry.
You might then be confused to why I even have a segment dedicated to this aspect of the game. While not a focus, The Last Blade-titles for the Neo Geo had interesting characters, setting, and stories, providing great amounts of personalities to them that were hard to not praise. This is brought over to the Neo Geo Pocket decently, despite the lack of any story or intriguing events at forefront. The characters still have lines and physical movements to give them clear characteristics, such as the drunken Hyo Amano wobbling around or the cocky fighter Kaede who mocks his opponents, carrying over the wonderful charm of the console versions.
Sadly, the ending to each of the character’s campaign is quite shallow, making beating the ironically named story mode with any of them a letdown. While it is a disgrace that the game cannot even provide an adequate conclusion to each of the fighter’s journey, there is a hefty amount of lore you can read up on. Even if this is not a good way to present more insights to this world and its characters, all of the lore is easily digestible by being short and interesting. Unfortunately, the translation is all over the place and can make it hard to be fully invested in what information these scrolls hold.
What keeps this universe from being only average, is the game’s adorable charm. The chibi take on the characters still provides great amounts of personalities to the cast, and makes sure their characteristics are still intact and admirable. However, by having their stories being hidden behind unlockable lore that is poorly written and no introduction to their adventures, it can make the whole experience forgettable. It does not help either when the fighters comment to each other with repeated lines of dialogues. If you do not need any reason to fight, the style will definitely win you over.
Story Score: 6/10
The Last Knife
Fighting games for handhelds are always a fascinating experiment to me, when we are dealing with systems that are incapable of fully replicating the arcade/console experience. Neo Geo Pocket was no stranger to this genre though, and even with only two buttons to work with for actions besides movements, Beyond the Destiny does a great job at making this work well.
The Last Blade series has a lot of unique mechanics to it that makes it stand out from other fighters. One of these elements being the deflect button, which is clearly used for parrying high and low attacks. This is one of my favourite inclusions in any game, as it makes it possible to play much more defensively and harder to be cornered with a barrage of attacks. This move is still in this title, but in a quite different manner. You can either set it to be executed by hitting forward and B or A and B together, but it will only deflect high attacks. Since there are no other options to deflect low ones, blocking normally by moving backwards for high hits and down for low hits are going to be more utilised. Parrying is still a helpful move, but not a core aspect to the combat anymore.
Instead, I believe the kick was enhanced to accommodate for this. While it was a supportive feature with different forms of it in the other The Last Blade games, it is more powerful in this instalment and used to get the opponent all the way to the opposite side of the screen. It is strange how a core aspect is made into a much less important concept of the game, and then improve another element so much that it becomes a significant mechanic to the fighting. Although, the most important change is how this entry deals with the use of fast and strong attacks.
Because of the limited amount of buttons, B is used for deflects and kicks, while A is used for attacks with weapons. A light tap makes the character execute a fast hit, while a normal press will make them use a strong one. This is a neat setup, although Beyond the Destiny has a hard time recognising the quick attacks as they have to be severely light on the presses. It will take a while to get the hang of this, but it works decently and the game has fewer attacks to make the hardware’s restrictions manageable. There are still enough included for making you have to learn different quarter circle motions and holds for special moves, thus little is lost in the transition to this handheld device.
If there is one thing the developers managed to replicate almost to the teeth, it is the use of speed- and strength modes. Every character can choose between either one upon starting a fight, with speed being about combos and fast attacks, while strength makes the fighter hit hard. This concept is still a fun addition for tweaking the combatants slightly, and the modes are balanced enough to make the fights fair and entertaining. Sadly, it is here where someone clearly wanted to include more content to this handheld game, and also where its biggest drawbacks enter.
You have multiple modes to play, such as the traditional story for taking on a handful of matches and get (vague) context for why your character is fighting, survival that tests how long you can stay in combat until you die, time where the clock is ticking down, and training for practising your moves. With the exception of the last one, all will reward you with points depending on how well you did it. These act as currency that you can spend on unlocking lore, endings, profiles, and status equipment for tweaking your characters’ stats even further.
The latter of these is what can damage the entire experience. Despite that they will provide both strengths and shortcomings to specific stats, they are severely unbalanced and some can break any mode in half. This holds especially true for the multiplayer, as it will then be about who grinded the best equipment instead of relying on skills and carefully reading your opponent. Thankfully, this does not change the fact that the core fighting is still enjoyable and largely intact, despite some clear setbacks. The speed of the overall game is also a solid mix between the first title’s more patient setup and the sequels’ more aggressive take, making Beyond the Destiny a neat middle ground.
This is the diet version of the main entries, and while not an interesting adaptation, it is still a strong one that packs in enough characters and mechanics to be engaging and tense. Even if I miss Juzoh and question some changes, Beyond the Destiny is a fun fighting game. However, that is pretty much it, as the extra content can be forgettable or even worthless. An entertaining title, just not an intriguing one.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
A cute change
Going for a different art style to make the characters still expressive, was a common occurrence for SNK-titles on the Neo Geo Pocket. Beyond the Destiny follows this trend with chibi models, and it makes everyone iconic and unique in their stances and motions. All of the combatants are easily recognisable through how their personalities and fighting styles are visualised, such as Lee Rekka being a serious monk who is always upright in his posture and serious in his facial expressions. Giving each fighter one colour to them in order to be distinguished from the background, is also a nice detail that works beautifully. Even if I wish they could have had more diverse colours to them.
This 8-bit game is quite mesmerising with its backgrounds that are directly taken from the console versions and barely tweaked on, be they the destroyed harbour, inside the burning house or on the cliff by a waterfall. All areas are lovely recreated with some subtle animations, making this an interesting century coming to life from different perspectives. However, I always found the characters’ animations to be unfinished, due to them lacking frames. It is not bad, but the Neo Geo Pocket could do better and it makes the battles feel slower than what they actually are.
One touch that I absolutely love for compensating this, is how the sprites are used to simulate motions, such as the coloured swings of weapons or the quick flashes for hard hits. These are nice visual effects that make the attacks feel fierce and magical, and everything is accompanied by strong sound effects. The blades swiping the air, thumps from hard kicks, and the clashing of steels are all surprisingly immersive. It is to the point where I would have been happy to mute the music for creating a stronger atmosphere.
This is not to put the music down, as the compositions are beautiful and memorable. All the tracks are varied by containing the long notes to signify loneliness from the first game and the faster scores from the second title for making the fights intense. However, because of few units being used to play the audio, there are no solid bass or added instruments to give the songs the strength they originally had. These melodies can only get you so far on their own, as there is a reason for why there was a bombastic amount of diverse instruments utilised originally. To not rework them for this system, makes this soundtrack downright underwhelming.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Forcing extended content
There are seven hidden characters to unlock, giving the game some nice replay value to figure out how to achieve them. Although, this is strangely enough not the core reason for fighting more opponents. As mentioned, you can get points to unlock scrolls and add them to your gallery, such as endings, profiles, lore, and stat equipment. It does take many battles to actually achieve everything, which is why the original version had the option to trade these scrolls between players. This was a decent idea, but since the equipment only made fights unbalanced and the extra content is just more information, I am not surprised that this got omitted from the rereleased version for the Switch.
As a nice change, you can play versus mode using the same unit in the Switch version, instead of needing two copies of the game and two Neo Geo Pockets. However, even if the multiplayer is why you would play this title multiple times, the other modes are just more fights against NPCs and they can eventually drag. Survival mode tries to add missions that you can take on, which will reward you with more points or make you lose some if you fail, but that is about it. It seems like the developers also noticed that this could be repetitive, and decided to include unlockable minigames.
Yes, there are minigames in this title and they are severely minimalistic. One is Juzo Kansaki’s Home Run Competition, which is a baseball game where you try to hit the ball within a three by three grid, and use B to increase the power gauge. That is it, and it is an average distraction at best. It is neat that it can be played in multiplayer with a pitcher that gets a similar layout and setup, but it is nothing compared to the actual versus mode.
The other one, Mukoro’s Great Escape from Hell’s Gate, is a vertical flying game where you avoid obstacles by moving left and right. You have to annoyingly tap the A button to fly faster, with B helping you to glide, and there is nothing else to say about it. This one is not terrible, but definitely dull and both minigames feel like shallow additions. At least, there is one secret that I will not spoil besides saying that it will provide the characters with an extra ending, and the returning EX mode.
Extra Score: 5/10
This title is hard to recommend, as the console versions are more readily available and it does not have enough of its own substance to stand on its own. It is not an interesting entry in The Last Blade series or for the Neo Geo Pocket overall. However, this is still a fun game that is worth playing, but it should not be chosen over any regarded fighting games SNK has provided. Even this handheld system has much better options to offer.