Photo taken in Tokyo, Japan

Game Recs

25 years later, Square Enix needs to remake this underrated fighting game

Live by the sword.

Aleksandr Grigor'ev / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

When gamers consider the many iconic collaborations between Squaresoft and Sony Interactive Entertainment, chances are the bulk of that discussion starts and ends with Final Fantasy. But what if I told you one of the most potentially valuable partnerships between these two historic brands has been sitting dormant for nearly 25 years? Modern takes on beloved classics in the vein of Final Fantasy VII Remake have served as a path for assured success in recent years, but why not aspire to something a little more unique; something that’s so old and untouched it could be new again in today’s internet-connected, live service landscape?

Enter Bushido Blade.

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment and Squaresoft as part of a joint venture, the 1997 sword-combat release served as a showcase for the new types of experiences that were possible on the fledgling PlayStation console. Despite appearing unapologetically polygonal in its presentation, its gameplay was completely unlike anything its contemporaries had attempted before. And, perhaps most important for a remake, its concepts still aren’t being mined today.

At a time when the likes of Tekken and Battle Arena Toshinden established the nature of 3D fighters through the same life bar mechanics popularized earlier in the decade, Bushido Blade dared to be different by relying on the full weight of its vision to attempt something fresh. If blades were to be the primary means of an altercation between two players, why shouldn’t these sharp objects be as instantly deadly as they are in real life?

The removal of health bars made Bushido Blade a brilliant game.Squaresoft/Sony Computer Entertainment/mfa rec @ YouTube

This central question spawned an experience in which life bars were deemed irrelevant and replaced by a full range of target areas on a character’s body. Open yourself up to a downward strike towards the head or back and you’ll instantly perish. Take an unnecessary stab on the leg, and your character will be hobbled in their movement for the rest of the match. Mirroring real-life swordplay, the tides of a fight could turn in an instant, offering new players and veterans alike equal opportunity to feel the reward of a well-placed blow.

If you’ve made it this far into my diatribe, chances are you might already see where this unexpected call for a remake might lead. Using its own proprietary engine tech, Sucker Punch Productions crafted a swordplay masterclass in 2020’s Ghost of Tsushima.

Both in its gameplay depth and obsessive attention to accuracy, it’s perhaps the best representation of sword combat seen in recent years. Whether you’re fighting like a samurai or stalking as a ghost, the game’s various weapons feel weighty, powerful, and deadly relative to their real-world counterparts. That said, true Bushido Blade fans know such a mastery of mechanics may not have been achieved if Sony hadn’t dipped its toes into these waters once before.

Ghost of Tsushima could be the bedrock behind a new Bushido Blade.Sony Interactive Entertainment

With this strong base of gameplay mostly established, a large part of what a Bushido Blade remake could be is largely already done. Just like the source material, duels would feature two players in an enclosed space, each one battling with a bladed weapon of their choosing. Take the life bars featured in Tsushima out of the picture, and let the high-stakes combat play out naturally. If developers were feeling exceptionally bold, you could also introduce a series of honor-based restrictions that prevent cheese methods and ratchet up the skill ceiling even further and open up esports avenues.

The scope of the concept sounds simple, and I think that’s fine given that we live in a world in which games can be sold digitally in all shapes and sizes. Offered at a budget price of $40 or less, a new Bushido Blade could feature a basic story mode, with cinematics resembling 1998’s Bushido Blade 2, as well as local and online multiplayer in a team and single-match fashion.

Characters could be a central strength of a new Bushido Blade.Squaresoft/mfa rec @ YouTube

While not everybody adored the second installment, the one thing BB2 absolutely nailed was its memorable cast of characters. Feeling a little groovy? Why not fight as Tony Umeda, a man ripped straight from the ‘70s disco scene. If you’re a traditionalist, maybe ninjas like Red Shadow and Nightstalker seem a little more appealing. If this formula were to be remade, I’d want Square and Sony to go Kojima-level nuts with their characters, offering up weird designs and equally outlandish personalities to match.

Not only would this make the experience more broadly appealing, but establishing a willingness to get strange from the start also offers an endless well of possibilities for live service support and microtransactions. The obvious Jin Sakai crossover is a must, but what about having a character that’s a shameless influencer or one that has Wolverine-like hands? People become attached to games with expressive rosters, and I think Bushido Blade offers outlets for those emotions whether you’re a traditional samurai nut or something else entirely. Then, of course, there’s plenty more to be added beyond characters in the form of weapon and stage packs as well.

The satisfaction of outsmarting your opponent still holds up after 20 years.Squaresoft/mfa rec @ YouTube

All told, while a Bushido Blade remake as I see may not be as monumental in scope as something like Final Fantasy VII Remake, it could occupy a similar space in Sony’s arsenal to something like Ghost of Tsushima Legends. Whether offered for free or sold at a low premium price, this could be a boutique title that exemplifies the hardware maker’s commitment to polished products that put skill-based gameplay at the forefront. Especially as SIE continues to express its live service ambitions, a product like this would be a unique experiment that’s relatively easy to network and support for as long as the audience is there for it.

With new events, characters, and gameplay tweaks to be added, there is no better time than the present to see what a 2022 Bushido Blade could accomplish. With a dash of Elden Ring energy to establish its depth, zany Metal Gear characters to anchor it, and the one-hit accessibility of Super Smash Bros., Bushido Blade could be the surprise free-to-play hit that nobody saw coming.

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