|Yet another licensed anime product from Bandai translates into a well-executed mediocre game. Of course it isn't exactly every day that a new 2D fighter comes out on the PlayStation... or on any home console for that matter, not to mention one that takes a good deal of stylistic inspiration from Last Blade--the pause and voice that begins the rounds, the medieval Japanese backgrounds, the well-animated weapon-fighting characters all remind one somewhat of those oh so dapper SNK fighters.|
If you look close of course SDK doesn't quite stand up: the characters, though animated well with flowing hair and clothing, are pretty small onscreen, the music fits but is completely forgettable, and a few of the backgrounds look like they've been dithered down to 32 colors in a cheap GIF creation utility. Bleh! Not quite sure what happened with those--I think maybe they had to reduce their color depth to get some additional sprite layers in for drifting fog effects, but it wasn't worth it. Other backgrounds look nice but don't animate much, and only a couple are actually memorable.
The cast doesn't seem huge, unless you count the non-playable striker characters, which I don't. They like to have little conversations before and after a match, which is dandy, though like everything else the character art and voice acting are decent but not impressive, and in fact I can't say most of the characters really stand out as interesting individuals (I've never seen the anime) except for one "black widow" woman with flowing black hair and a blood-red spider tattoo on her left inner breast. Hey hey! She's got some fun moves where she throws spiders and cobwebs around, and she can throw out a spider on a web, catch the opponent, and pull them back for an easy combo setup.
"Easy combo setup" sort of summarizes the gameplay as a whole in fact as it largely revolves around lengthy chain combos with or without striker assistance. It's pretty easy to chain into or out of a super move too, which is fun when you're the one doing it, and the supers look pretty nice too. It all makes for pretty button-mashing gameplay and the default "auto" control scheme assists this greatly by putting your special moves on each of the four face buttons, so you just press a button to do a special move and don't worry about those dull old regular moves. This is a little too cheap even for me, and switching over to "manual" helps a bit but not all that much since you've now for the most part got special moves on two buttons (you may need to combine a button with a *gasp* d-pad direction though) and regular moves and chain combos, or chain openers, on the other two buttons--and you can't remap these buttons either, boo-oo!--and supers just a double-button-press away.
This sounds kind of dull but the special moves have been done well and offer some decent gameplay variety, and of course you can always throw in a striker or a super (these charge up pretty quick) for spice. Unfortunately the AI (at least on the default difficulty setting) doesn't put up a very interesting fight and for the most part you can just chain-combo them into oblivion without too much trouble--with of course the notable exception of one of the bosses with his ultra cheap and repetitive attack pattern. On the other hand Story Mode puts you through enough battles that you feel somewhat satisfied to finish a play-through, and in a nice touch it auto-saves for you after each battle so you can continue later where you left off.
Another touch I like comes when time expires: instead of just handing the victory to the guy with the biggest health bar, the game resets you both in the middle with a pixel of life and full super-meters (which recharge in about a second) for a sort of super-move quick-draw. This prevents you from just turtling to get a cheap win unless of course you're playing against the AI who sort of sucks at the quick draw, hehe (they ate a spider swarm from my black widow chicky almost every time :d).
It's a good thing that there's a lot to Story Mode because *shock* that's the only mode aside from Vs. Will this be enough to keep your interest? Well, probably not, and it doesn't help that most of the menu screens (and of course the story text) are kanji. And yet it's certainly not bad and I can see myself spinning up Story Mode once in a while to try the other characters and to enjoy some cheap chain combo samurai fun.