An extremely well-presented 2D fighting game with a gorgeous aesthetic and slick fighting mechanics that’s been ported with extreme care by Code Mystics; while the learning curve is steep and content is light, the experience is well worth your time.

 

World-building & Story

The Last Blade 2 takes place during the Bakumatsu era in Japan, a period of great turbulence and change.  It’s an era of world-travelling warriors; fierce sword duels and little mythological flourishes which the game uses to its advantage (such as spirits possessing humans).  The setting is easily the most interesting aspect of the game, as it provides for some gorgeous backdrops; beautiful music and interesting character designs.

The actual story itself (from what I could understand of it) follows ‘Hell’s Gate’, a portal that allows evil to flow into the world.  A legendary warrior named ‘Gaisei’ who was killed seal to defend the gate has been resurrected by an unknown force, and it’s up to the cast of fighters (including three of his disciples) to kill him and re-seal the gate.

2016-08-09-190924At least, that’s what I got from browsing the internet and the snippets of information I picked up from the game itself.  Without outside knowledge, The Last Blade 2 tells a confusing tale through brief animated scenes scattered around the story mode and as with many fighting games, certain character’s arcs have much more relevance than others.  I’d imagine it would’ve helped if I had played the original game first, but even then there’s not quite enough exposition that I feel players will fully grasp what’s going on.

It doesn’t help that the game’s translation is spotty at best, with weird phrasing and word choices littered throughout, showing that it’s definitely a product of its time.

In spite of this, it’s the world-building that’s done through the character and stage designs that truly define the game.  Everything about the way the fights unfold paint a picture of the era the game is taking place in – a mystical, bygone time full of living legends fighting for their beliefs.

 

Presentation & Sound

2016-08-08-232014I’ve never really been one for 2D sprite-based games (probably as a result of growing up with the original PlayStation), but it’s difficult to deny that The Last Blade 2 is an absolutely gorgeous experience.  Right from the moment it boots up, you’re treated to a lightly animated yet stunningly atmospheric opening movie introducing some of the characters.

This care continues into the menus, which are basic yet beautifully drawn.  The character select screen gives us the first glimpse of the sprite work which is very detailed, with each character having little quirks that make them stand out.  In combat, everything moves smoothly and responsively – it helps that the whole package runs at a smooth 60 frames per second – giving a fluidity that’s almost a necessity in a 2D fighter.

2016-08-22-112911But it’s the backgrounds that are the star of the show for me – beautiful and well animated scenes across a variety of settings that really make the game come to life.  There’s an atmospheric quality to them (as with the opening cutscene) that often sets a dark mood for the game – combat takes place in burning houses, deserted fields and eerie forests; but equally there are some more cheerful stages such as an Indian street.  It all comes together to create a fantastic visual package that will remain memorable long after you stop playing.

It’s worth nothing that Code Mystics have included a variety of display options – you can choose to turn scanlines on; you can have your display stretched to fit the Vita’s screen or windowed to keep the original resolution etc, which shows a real level of care with the porting here.

Sound starts off strong – I keep harking on about this opening cutscene, but the music that plays during it is absolutely gorgeous and in general the soundtrack is fitting and addictive.  The sound effects are what you’d expect – a loud metallic crash when swords meet; lots of yells by the characters when executing special moves etc.  It goes with the tone of the game perfectly and cements the presentation as fantastic all round.

Soundtrack highlight – The flower that blooms in the moonlight

 

Gameplay & Content

If you’ve played any 2D fighter from the past 25 years you’ll pick up the basics of The Last Blade 2 fairly quickly – the game is a weapons-based fighter with some special attacks – but there’s a lot more nuance than first appears which helps to create a deep and layered title.

2016-08-22-184941As you’d expect, each character has light and heavy attack buttons as well as a separate kick button.  These can be paired with various combinations of movement to create special attacks, although there are fewer of these to learn than the average fighting game.  You hold back to block but this is where The Last Blade 2‘s first interesting mechanic comes in to play – you have a dedicated deflect button which, if used at the same time as an enemy’s attack connects, causes your character to counter attack and leaves the enemy vulnerable for a split second.  As such, a large part of the combat involves anticipating your opponent’s next move so you can make use of this ability.

In terms of how you actually fight, you’re actually given a big choice from the moment you select your character – power or speed.  Power makes your attacks much stronger but you’re unable to pull off long combos; while speed makes your strikes weaker but lets you chain attacks together to take off large chunks of your opponent’s health.  This adds another layer of strategy to the fighting but also allows you to play how you want to play – initially I used power as I figured I was bad at fighting games so it would be easier, but quickly switched to speed once I learnt how easy combos were to execute.

2016-08-12-201305That’s not to say the game is a particularly combo-heavy fighter, as most battles will see you scoping out an opportunity to launch your more powerful attacks.  In traditional fashion, you’re given a meter which fills up during battle allowing you to execute super moves, which are visually impressive and devastating if they connect.  If you find yourself on your last bit of health you’re allowed an unlimited supply of these, as well as access to super desperation moves which are even more hard hitting.

It comes together to make a cohesive package which is easy enough to pick up but difficult to master, which is likely why the game is so revered all these years after its initial release.

I have to admit that difficulty is one area where I felt the game could’ve used a little work – the default setting seems unfairly intense when you’re just getting your bearings, so you’ll likely need to knock it down a notch or two otherwise you may find yourself incredibly frustrated against the shockingly tactical CPU

2016-08-13-193803Content is the other area where The Last Blade 2 struggles – while there are 16 characters here (18 including hidden ones), each with different move sets and stories, the game doesn’t offer much beyond this.  There’s training mode; time attack and online but nothing else – no team battle; survival or mini-games.  Perhaps other fighters have spoiled me with this but it was a slight disappointment.

 

Conclusion

I never played the SNK fighting games when they were current and yet discovering The Last Blade 2 on Vita has been a joy.  The game is gorgeous with interesting fighting mechanics and despite some oddities in the storytelling mixed in with a rather difficult learning curve, the game is well worth checking out.

7.5/10

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