Samurai Shodown, known in Japan as Samurai Spirits (サムライスピリッツ) is the name of a versus fighting game series by SNK. It is considered to be the premier 2D (now 3D) white weapons fighter, and is one of the best-known video games created by SNK.
Despite the name of the series, most of the characters are not samurai in the true sense of the word. In Japan, the name of the series is officially in katakana, but is alternately written in Kanji (侍魂, Samurai Damashii), with the second character pronounced supiritsu, "spirits", to better reflect the game's setting.
The earlier arcade games are also notorious for their "Engrish", such as the word 'victoly' which appears at the end of each match. In fact, even the title is misspelled, although the recent additions of the series have since fixed this error. As with many game titles developed in Japan, Samurai Spirits had its name changed for other regions.
The stories in the series takes place in 18th century Japan, during the Sakoku or seclusion period of Japan (the first four games run across 1788 and 1789), with great artistic license so that foreign-born characters (including some from places that didn't exist as such in 1788) and fictional monsters can also be part of the story. The plot of each game is quite different, but they circle a central group of characters and a region in Japan.
Samurai Shodown consequently portrays snippets of the Japanese culture and language internationally with little edits. For instance, unlike most American versions of Japanese video games, the characters in the series (including the announcer) generally speak only in Japanese, with dialects ranging from archaic formalities and theatricalism to modern-day slang. Win quotes and other cut scenes provide subtitles in several languages, including but not limited to English, Portuguese, and German. Much of the music includes traditional Japanese instruments (predominately the shakuhachi) and later enka. Several characters are loosely based on real people from Japanese history.
There are two main artists responsible for the character designs and illustrations. For the early games (Part 1 to 4), the characters are created and illustrated by Shiroi Eiji. Her illustrations featured a distinctive, traditional Japanese calligraphy style. While she continues to design for a few of the later games, they are illustrated by another artist named Kita Senri until the fifth title. Early development team had about 20 people, later games had the team expand to 50 people. According to Yasushi Adachi, there are four games in particular inspired him when developing Samurai Shodown 
- Street Fighter 2, “because of the system’s collision handling”
- Mortal Kombat, “because of the moody setting in a serious battle”
- KLAX: “I liked the effects and impact from blows”
- Dragon Spirit, “the inspiration for the [Japanese] title Samurai Spirits”
The Samurai Shodown games are most famous for their "POW" or "rage" gauge, a super combo gauge that only increases as a player receives damage. Earlier games also have a referee in the background, officiating the match.
Here is the official timeline taken from the official Samurai Shodown V website. All the series' chronology takes place during the Edo period:
The series begins during the Tenmei famine in Japan, which lead to a severe depression and near chaos throughout the country. Upset by his country men's lamentations and the Shogun's indifference to their plight, the former Tokugawa general, Kyogoku Hinowanokami Gaoh, stages a rebellion in his land, Hinowa, against the reigning Tokugawa. He also hopes that his revolt will make the next Shogun in line, Yoshitora Tokugawa, realize his responsibilities to his country. The war caused by the conflict gains the interest from several warriors. At the war's end, Gaoh is defeated and Yoshitora is elected the new Shogun.
A year later, the entire country is beset by a terrible and looming evil. Fire, ruin and famine ran rampant throughout Japan. Meanwhile, as these events unfold, a sinister cloud envelops the air with a foreboding sense of dread. Shizuka Gozen (loosely based on the historical figure), the deceased spirit of a young woman who is possessed and trapped in Yomi, (labeled Eternity in the game itself) threatens to destroy Japan. Warriors from all across Japan and beyond the ocean, driven by their own needs and desires, converge to investigate these evil forces and vanquish them.
Amakusa Shiro Tokisada (loosely based on the historical figure), once leader to a Christian rebellion, made a pact with an evil entity named Ambrosia moments before his execution, resurrected as an undead specter. Amakusa defeated Haohmaru, a ronin, who recently left his tutelage from his master, Caffeine Nicotine. After absorbing amount of evil energy within Shizuka until her death, Amakusa took over the body of Shinzo, one of Hanzo Hattori's sons, and completing his resurrection two years after the events of Hinowa.
More than a decade before the series begins, after taking over Shinzo's body, Amakusa begin his plan to get revenge on those who reigned against him, intending to resurrect Ambrosia into the mortal realm upon his release. He steals the sacred item, the Palenke Stone, from Green Hell to gain the necessary power he needs for the ritual. The sorcerer’s activity stirs evil phenomena across the globe, stretching from Japan to China to Europe and America, drawing several brave warriors to their calamities’ source. Amongst these warriors is Haohmaru, who wants a rematch against Amakusa. He sees the foe as a chance to sharpen his swordsmanship. An Ainu priestess, Nakoruru, though a pacifist, takes up her blade to save Mother Nature from further pain. Though several fighters attempt to slay the fiend, these two are successful in defeating him, apparently killing him in the process.
Months later, another "demon" rises in Japan. However, he is not related to Amakusa or Ambrosia. He is a man named Minazuki Zankuro, a powerful warrior who has earned the label "demon" for his merciless slaughter of innocent people, village after village. Zankuro eventually finds the error of his ways and retires to hermitage, only agreeing to kill skillful warriors in duels. One of the victims he spared was a child whom Haohmaru finds and raises. The child's name is Hisame Shizumaru Hisame, who seeks revenge for his family's murder under Zankuro's hands. He sets out with Haohmaru to test their strength against Zankuro, challenging other fighters along the way. Eventually, they meet and duel, Shizumaru being the victor. Though Zankuro was heavily wounded, he tries to deliver a final blow only to be struck down by the heavens. He dies complementing the victor and his body is entombed.
The grave doesn't last long, as Amakusa revives his efforts for revenge and steals the fallen warrior as an implement for destruction. This time, Amakusa's spirit is split into two halves; the original, good and just; the other, corrupt and ambitious. As the evil half brings destruction to Japan from Shimbara, the good half struggles to restores it. The evil Amakusa kidnaps a young kunoichi named Kazama Hazuki from the Kazuma ninja clan. Hazuki, adapt with ki and welding a special life force inside her, is used by the sorcerer to control Zankuro's bloodlust. Her elder brothers, Kazuki and Sogetsu, race to her rescue. Though several outcomes of this battle are interpreted, Kazuki is officially successful in slaying the evil Amakusa and Zankuro is finally put to rest by Sogetsu. Labeled nukenin, or rogue ninja, by their clan, Hazuki and Kazuki go into hiding while Sogetsu lets them escape. So that the clan won't go after them, Sogetsu pretended to kill Kazuki.
Six months after this conflict, a priestess possessed by the evil demon, Rashojin Mizuki, emerges to send the world into chaos again. Mizuki, as a loyal servant to Ambrosia from 1000 years ago, is awakened by evil from Amakusa's malevolent half. Her awakening causes several worldwide disasters, and though her spirit is awake, she has yet to ascend to the human realm. She preys on unlucky warrior's souls and uses the fallen to strengthen her and Ambrosia's powers. The good Amakusa saves Haohmaru and other virtuous souls but he too falls to her bane. Warriors travel to Hell itself to battle her soul before it resurrects. Haohmaru and Nakoruru are able to make the journey to Hell and stop Mizuki, sealing her into the Makai (demon world) after her defeat.
Yuga the Destroyer, another being originating from the Makai realm, moves to conquer the world half a year after Mizuki's defeat. Twenty years prior to Amakusa's resurrection, it enters the human realm and steals various babies from mother's wombs and using its power, bestows superhuman abilities upon them. It silently re-inserts the unborn children, and waits for them to grow into superhuman warriors. Upon their adulthood, it appears before all of them and brainwashed all of them to become its loyal slaves through a magical puppet show. One of its victims is a mysterious woman named Shiki, the perfect female counterpart for Yuga's vessel. Yuga orders Shiki to find the perfect male counterpart, intending to merge the two for its eventual resurrection. Haohmaru is selected but Yuga underestimates him in their battle. Haohmaru defeats it and frees Shiki from its mind-control.
A year passes, and Yuga, better prepared, revives itself. With its second appearance, Asura, a destructive being (which wreaks havoc in order to bring about "the unification of this world and the Netherworld...") escapes from his prison from the Netherworld. Yuga, realizing the strength of Asura, clones him and creates its loyal servant Hanmen no Asura. His orders are to reclaim Shiki and return to Yuga with her. However, he falls in love with Shiki and turns against his master. Both Asuras defeat Yuga entirely and merge together, leaving Shiki with a child. She leaves the child to Haohmaru's care, feeling unworthy of motherhood.
Twenty years pass, with the age of samurai and swordsmen drawing to a close. Those not abiding to the peaceful change of era are outlawed to a prisoner island. Zealous inhabitants rise up and try to create a "new world exclusively for the chosen ones", whom are intent on destroying the shogunate. The group they form is called the "League of the Three Blades of Domination" and the island becomes known as Ritenkyo. Their leader is an old man named Oboro. A member of the Shogunate, Seishiro Kuki, is ordered by his superiors to assassinate the ones responsible for the uprising. An older Haohmaru goes to find his "niece", Mikoto, and to free her from her torn past.
Dream Match Games
NeoGeo Pocket/Color Games
- Samurai Spirits ~Makai Rinne Ki~
- Samurai Spirits ~Shimensoka~
- Samurai Spirits Tenka Musō Typing ~Makai Tenshō no Shō~
- Samurai Spirits Kizuna
- Samurai X (KALKALKAL) for Kakao
- Samurai Shodown Slash for Kakao
- Samurai Spirits OL
- Tenkadaiichi Kenkakuden
- Samurai Spirits: Oborozuki Densetsu (Samurai Shodown M, Samurai Spirits Online - Oborozuki Den)
- Tiny Samurai Shodown
In Other Media
- Samurai Shodown (manga)
- Samurai Spirits (manga)
- Samurai Spirits - by Kazuhiko Shimamoto
- Samurai Spirits: Shimabara Jyusha - by Ken Ishikawa
- Seikenshi Densetsu: Samurai Spirits
- Samurai Spirits: Haohmaru Jigokugyo - by Shirou Ohno
- Shin Samurai Spirits: Haohmaru Jigokuhen
- Zaniku no Natsu
- Shiroiki Miko no Densetsu - by Aoi Nanase
- Samurai Spirits Shinsho - by Takashi Kujira
Additionally, various manhua have been printed for the series. One of them is currently being released in Hong Kong.
- Samurai Shodown (Dengeki)
- Samurai Shodown II (Dengeki)
- Samurai Shodown III Arranged Soundtrack
- Samurai Shodown IV Arranged Soundtrack
- Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits: Bushidou Retsuden Drama CD
- Samurai Shodown 64 Drama CD
- Samurai Shodown 64-2 Drama CD
- Samurai Shodown 64-2 OVA Soundtrack
- Samurai Shodown Warriors Rage Drama CD
- Samurai Shodown - The Best Selected Characters
In December 2006, Sabertooth Games released a Samurai Shodown V collectable card game set along with King of Fighters 2006 for it's Universal Fighting System (UFS) game. UFS is meant to be a universal system, as other games like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur III are also included into the series. Featured character starter decks were also released for Haohmaru and Ukyo Tachibana. STG staff favorites from the Samurai Shodown side tend to favor towards characters Nakoruru and Hanzo Hattori.
The series also had a hanafuda deck printed with the series's characters.
SamSho 64: Warriors Rage (A.K.A. 64-2)
SamSho Warriors Rage
Crossover Characters (Only as DLC)
SNK Original Character
Crossover Guest Characters
Participation of the characters in the mainline games of the series, either they canonical or not.
Mascots & Pets
- The first seven mainline games of the series were produced and released by former SNK (the 64 series before the company's bankrupty), and the latest entry of the series, by the current company. From Samurai Shodown V until Samurai Shodown Sen, the production and release was in charge of SNK Playmore.
- This series, the Fatal Fury series, the Art of Fighting series and the Metal Slug series are the only SNK non-crossover series to receive characters from other franchises, whether from the company itself or from other companies.
- In the series, this occurs in Samurai Shodown (2019), with four DLC crossover characters (one of them free).