Released in 2000 and 2001, the game is playable in PlayStation 2. It has three modes, the single player mode, tournament mode and VS mode. Characters are unlocked in the tournament mode when you play the single player mode.
The player gets to pick one of the three characters (Taketsune Nakayama, Shozaemon Hyuga and Yasutomu Yoshimura). Each character has his own story and purpose of pursuing the way of the warrior. Their stories however have little effect on the game itself. At the start of the single player mode, each have individual stats showing their strengths and areas to improve. After choosing a character, the first goal is to pick a dojo and train until he is able to complete all the tests. The set of tests include basics like attack, defence, stances and ki. These tests are in the form of matches wherein the player gets opportunities to use all those mentioned. When the player is able to complete all the tests, he can now move on to challenge other dojos.
In between matches, he has to do the self-training exercises as well. There are six training exercises that include striking posts, bamboo grove, waterfall, zen meditation, illusion and helmet splitting. Meanwhile there are eight dojos to choose from. Each dojo specializes in certain techniques. The dojos are Hirata, Moriya, Kasukabe, Ooishi, Tanbara, Udagawa, Tsubaki, and Kadokura. Beating the dojos will give the character a new sword. Each sword has a secret technique.
The player increases his stats including fame by defeating the opponents. Losing also gives some points. Every win or loss increases the character's stats. The player can also gain new moves and additional points every time he is successful in the matches.
Every time a dojo is defeated, the character acquires new attacks. These attacks can be combined to form a new combo. Four combos make up a form. Combining and making the most out of the new combos will be the key in the next matches. The more opponents you defeat, the more possibility to get new attacks. The player will meet opponents with different skills and therefore the same tactics do not always necessarily work on others. To prepare for this, you have to constantly experiment with different forms.
When your character is able to defeat all the dojos, the imperial match is next. The conditions are basically the same with the dojo matches. What happens when you succeed in your first set of imperial matches? There's more but that is for you to find out.
There are some secret special bonuses that can be triggered when your character has high skills and fame. Some cutscenes are also triggered by certain opponents.
|Shozaemon Hyuga, one of the three characters to choose from at the start of the game. I picked him in my first playthrough.|
|This is the dojo I picked for my character.|
|The striking posts training. The difficulty increases after a successful attempt.|
|Probably the trickiest training, illusion.|
|A dojo match. The characters use wooden swords.|
|The cutscene at the start of the imperial match.|
|In imperial matches, the characters use swords.|
The animation is not so bad in my opinion. There is some attention to detail that I was able to appreciate. An example is the split bamboo (bamboo grove training) which shows the joints in the stems after you split it. The ambiance of the game is something you would also easily recognize for its sound effects and voice acting. There are very few opportunities to witness a conversation however and only the opponents have a chance to speak.
Tedious though the dojo training and matches may be, the rewards are satisfying. The game is not easy at all. Sometimes defeating the same opponent in another match is tricky. You could almost say that you're facing intelligent opponents who can anticipate your next move. The NPCs with unique names in particular are skilled and unpredictable. It's a prerogative to look at all the possible combos before starting the matches. In most of these matches, the player has to defeat five or more opponents to complete a dojo challenge or match. When you're defeated within one of those five or more, you'd have to start again. Because it is important to train in between matches, the game is understandably time consuming. Training in necessary to have more room for points but it is repetitive. This might be the only setback in the game, apart from the difficulty of timing the attacks and parries. You might think attacking is easy just because you're using one button, but I guarantee that it's not.
Training and fighting are fun however once you know how things work. One thing I can also guarantee is that you cannot fall asleep playing the game. You can't relax when you're in a match. It requires time, attention and patience. It can be frustrating at times when you're stuck or you can't decide which combo will work, but that's the beauty of this game. The challenge makes it much more interesting and fun.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10