On a tiny island off the coast of Japan, two assassins, one male and one female, face one another. Both had trained for years at the same dojo and became close friends. But now, having broken an oath of loyalty to their clan, she is trying to flee the island, while he has been ordered by his superiors to murder her or face death himself. As both stare into the other's eyes, they silently bow before charging at one another, their blades reflecting the torchlight in the darkness. In the ensuing exchange of frenzied slashes and parries, the loyal swordsman loses his balance and falls to the ground. Seeing her window of opportunity, the traitor grants her former friend a swift death to spare him the shame of utter defeat. She cries out in sorrow just as the world around her cuts to black. Then, these words of wisdom appear:
One may follow a damned path, but this is not the way of the Narukagami.
In another world, in another place, there is a different cry, this time of frustration. What's a Narukagami? Who the hell is Kannagisai? And most importantly, why must I follow the ancient code of a noble warrior caste when I'm playing as a fair-haired Russian ninja named Red Shadow? That's Bushido Blade's story mode in a nutshell. There are many ways to win, but they all have one thing in common: honor. You can die a thousand deaths, but the only thing that sends you back to the title screen is a win earned cheaply. It's a glaring shot of frustrating unrealism that I would count above any "Press X to not die" event in the world. In a game that simulated realistic sword fighting, it ruined my typical perceptions of winning and losing. No one ever gave me a Game Over for spamming fireballs or air juggling hapless victims for an entire round - yet that's exactly the kind of behavior Bushido Blade discourages.
Despite my initial misgivings, I couldn't help but fall in love with Bushido Blade. Its fighting interface is so simple and uncluttered it's a circus-freak sideshow next to today's standards of complex tag teams, power meters, thousand-hit combos and over-the-top super moves. There is no music, no life bars, no time limits and, for the most part, no real boundaries to the game's "arenas." It's always a delight to drag your would-be murderer into the bamboo forest or the snowy mountaintop where harsh winds hinder both you and your opponents' movements. I can't help but get dragged back in.