Samurai Shodown
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Samurai's Review
Sega Saturn SS3

Reviewed by Mark Patraw

***Note*** In order to play this game, you must have a Japanese Sega Saturn or a Saturn capable of playing Japanese games. Like many SNK fighting games on the Saturn, you also need a special 1 MEG cartridge to play this game. Samurai Shodown III will NOT work without this 1 MEG cartridge. I used an American Saturn and an Ultra Madness 1MEG/4MEG converter to play my copy of this game. With that said, on with the review:

      This is the Sega Saturn conversion of SNK's third arcade installment of the Samurai Shodown series. SS3 got a lot of bad reviews from Samurai Shodown fans and video game magazines alike. The two main complaints were that the game play had changed too much and that too many of the older characters had been taken out and replaced. These are valid complaints, but I'm going against the general consensus; I think this game is the best in the series, not the worst.

      The graphics in this game are absolutely beautiful. In my opinion, this game has the best graphics out of Samurai Shodown I-IV. The whole game has a more mature and Japanesque feel to it than any of the other 2D SS games
      The backgrounds in particular are stunning. While you fight, many of them go through changes. There are often interactive elements too, like background objects you can destroy. It's little touches like this that help bring the environments in SS3 to life for me.
      The characters themselves are all distinctive, well-animated sprites with the usual assortment of crazy special attacks and exaggerated movements and poses.

Music and Sound Effects:
      The music in this game is so good; I would have bought it for just the soundtrack alone. In fact, I spend more time listening to the game's music in my CD player than actually playing the game !
      Most of the music consists of Japanese wind and string instruments accompanied by drums. If you don't like this type of sound, you probably won't get as much enjoyment out of the soundtrack as I did.
      Also, there's a special vocal track with Rimururu singing, and some extra tracks with voice advertising Samurai Shodown RPG.
      The sound effects are what you'd expect, steel clashing and ringing, grunts, shouts, and slashing effects. Nothing too spectacular, but it does the job nicely. Saturn games usually have slightly muffled sound effects in fighting games, but it isn't bad at all in this game.

Game play:
      This is where a lot of Samurai Shodown fans had problems with this game. It plays significantly differently than SS and SS2, although SS4, which is based on SS3, plays almost the same (and curiously, few people complain about how that game plays). The programmers added a lot of new stuff. I for one, appreciate these changes, it's boring if programmers keep releasing the same game over and over, I like seeing innovation, and SS3 is innovative.
      Some of these new control features include:

  • · Air blocking.
  • · A different button scheme (three slash buttons and one kick button instead of two slash buttons and two kicks, which makes sense, as these warriors use their weapons more than their feet ).
  • · The ability to choose between fighting levels (this gives you free blocks, no blocking, a fully charged POW meter, etc., depending on what level you choose).
  • · Throwing has been replaced with a flip-your-opponent-around-and-disorientate-them move (A prime opportunity to unleash a devastating combo or a deadly power slash!)
  • · Sidestepping like in KOF
  • · The ability to charge your POW meter (also like in KOF)
  • · Top-down unblockable attacks (die turtles!), etc.

      Also, SS 3, introduced the Slash and Bust personality system. Basically, "Slash" is the good version of your character, and "Bust" the evil version. Each version has unique moves, but in all reality, the two versions usually aren't too different from each other. In effect, this was just a "cheap" way for SNK to say there are really 24 playable characters instead of 12.
      As far as the actual fighting goes, I find the fighters to be very responsive to your commands. Some of the special moves and desperation attacks are harder to pull off than others though, but they can all be done with practice and persistence (however, due to the extra buttons on the Saturn controller, you can also do desperation attacks with a simple button press if you like). The Saturn pad layout works very well with fighting games.
      SS4 on the Sega Saturn suffered from some annoying slowdown; this isn't a problem in SS3.
      Also, this game is fairly tough, even on the easiest setting. Novice gamers might have a really hard time with the difficulty. The computer is sometimes cheap, and on higher difficulty settings, death comes fast and often. You definitely need some skill to master these samurai.
      The game play has a real "arcade" feel to it to me. I can't really explain it, but this game just invokes the "Samurai Shodown" mood like none of the other games do; it's an intangible quality, but I know it when I experience it

      Haohmaru, Genjuro, Nakoruru, Galford, Hanzo, Kyoshiro, and Ukyo return from SS2. The new playable characters in this game are Rimururu (Nakoruru's younger sister), Amakusa (the boss of SS), Caffeine Gaira (Nicotine's Grandson), Kubikiri Basara, and Hisame Shizumaru. Minazuki Zankuro is the new boss character. Kuroko, the judge, also returns as a "mirror match" character.
      If Charlotte, Sieger, Cham Cham, Caffeine Nicotine, Tam Tam, Wan Fu, Jubei, Gen-an, and Earthquake, are your favorite fighters, you're out of luck (However, Tam Tam, Jubei, and Charlotte do return in SS4).
      Sure, it'd be nice if there were some more characters in SS3, but I like the roster as it is. Remember that the original SS only had 12 playable characters too…

Loading Time:
      Well, loading time sucks, no matter how you look at it, but it's not too bad in this game. How long it takes a match to load in any fighting game can have a very direct effect on how much fun the game is. Think about it: Even if you have the greatest fighting game in the world, if it takes 20 seconds or more to load between fights, your mind is going to start wandering and you're going to get frustrated and bored while it loads. I'd say it takes about 8 seconds for a match to load in SS3, which is pretty reasonable, due in part to the 1 MEG cartridge. It's nowhere near as bad as the horrendous loading time you'll find in games like Mortal Kombat Trilogy.

Instruction Manual:
      You might think of this as an odd category to rate a video game on, but it's my review, right? One thing about Saturn games is that the American and Japanese manuals are vastly different. American manuals are big, ugly black and white things, while the Japanese manuals are the size of normal CD book inserts and are in color. Don't ask me why this is, but obviously the Japanese ones are of much nicer quality (even though I can't read a word of them )! There's a lot of really nice SS artwork in the manual, and even if you can't read the Japanese, all the commands for the special moves are easy to see and use, 'cuz they're just arrows and letters for the buttons on the control pad.

      You can customize the game in a number of ways, including changing the difficulty, the amount of damage your attacks do, the time limit, etc.
      Once you beat the game, the boss, Minazuki Zankuro, becomes playable in Vs. mode, and you can also start on any stage you want, or even go right to the ending.

      Simply put, this is the best Samurai Shodown game I have ever played. The beautiful artwork, music, and challenging game play really draw me into the fictional world SNK has created.
      The only thing I would do to improve on this game would be to add an option to play the game in English, something SS4 for Saturn has.
      Fans of Samurai Shodown who don't mind the game play changes from SS2 and the loss of some of their favorite characters should enjoy this game, as well as the casual 2D fighting game fan that likes a good battle.

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