"To have no fear, to slice and kill! To survive!"
Samurai Shodown III: Blades of Blood, known as Samurai Spirits: Zankurō Musōken (サムライスピリッツ 斬紅郎無双剣, Samurai Supirittsu Zankurō Musōken, the subtitle roughly translates to "Peerless Blade of Zankuro") in Japan, also known in Korea as Fighters Swords, is the third game in SNK's popular Samurai Shodown series of fighting games for the Neo Geo. While it is the third game in the main series, it is the first part of a two-chapter interlude between Samurai Shodown and Samurai Shodown II and the fourth game of the official chronology.
The Neo Geo CD version contained extra tracks featuring Nakoruru and Rimururu. These skits broke the fourth wall and advertised the upcoming RPG.
The official story, as given by SNK, is as follows:
They called him "The Demon." His real name, Zankuro Minazuki. From time immemorial he had indiscriminately attacked villages, slaughtering all who stood in his way.
Those who faced him shrieked their final gasps and sank into eternity, enveloped by a sea of blood.
No one alive could stop his evil deeds.
And then one day, it happened...
In a certain village, Zankuro failed to kill a single infant.
Some insist the evil one was unable to kill him-but why?
The truth remains a mystery.
But from then on, Zankuro marked all those who carried a sword for slaughter.
Several years later....
Twelve samurai and swordsmen are spurred to action by their own hopes and aspirations.
But all have a single objective: the head of the dreaded "Demon." The head of Zankuro Minazuki.
In keeping with their curious habit of using the third game in a series as a place to wipe the slate clean and start fresh, Samurai Shodown III was to be the start of a bold new direction for the franchise.
The most obvious difference between this game and the others in the series is the notably darker aesthetic. The more light-hearted characters (Earthquake, Cham Cham, and Genan Shiranui to name a few) from the previous games have been excised, and even the kabuki master, Kyoshiro Senryo, received a bold redesign, transforming him from a flamboyant stage performer into a grim-faced, muscular man. All of the characters have been completely redrawn, and impressively so. The animation is very smooth for all characters, another departure from the graphical style of the second game.
Perhaps most significant, Haohmaru's role in the story was diminished, in favor of the new main character, and the overall story was smaller in scope.
The first boss of the series, Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, was now playable, and not a boss.
In spite of the removal of several characters, new ones were added in their place. The new additions to the series include:
- Shizumaru Hisame, the semi-amnesiac, umbrella-wielding young boy, who was the focus of the game's story. He travels through Japan to find out about his origins and to understand the hidden strength that resides in him;
- Rimururu, Nakoruru's younger sister, who wielded the power of ice. She follows, in secret, her older sister, to help her;
- Gaira Caffeine, the large, brash and overbearing monk who is the nephew of Nicotine Caffeine;
- Basara Kubikiri, a yunrei (undead spirit in Japanese legends), who is seeking revenge for his own murder, and that of his lover, Kagaribi;
- Zankuro Minazuki, the new final boss of the game. He is a giant of a man, and a swordsman driven insane by his quest to perfect his skills. His murderous rampage sets the stage for everything else that occurs.
Along with the aesthetic overhaul came significant changes in the gameplay. The most obvious was the addition of two selectable versions of each character.
- Slash: Known to the Japanese as Shura (修羅), which means "fighting" or a "scene of carnage", and occasionally mistranslated as "Chivalry," and implies a regular fighter. This version tended to be the closest in style and moves to the Samurai Shodown II version of the character.
- Bust: Known to the Japanese as Rasetsu (羅刹), which is a derivation of the Sanskrit word, "rakshasa," in reference to a type of demon. It is occasionally mistranslated as "Treachery," implying a rulebreaking heel version of the character. This version typically differed considerably from its Slash counterpart in gameplay, though it visually did not look different beyond its color palette. The fighter Nakoruru is the only notable exception to this, likely taking after the portrait differences of her purple color swap, sporting the same haughty smirk in her Bust form. The "Slash" version of her character is accompanied by her pet hawk, Mamahaha, as in the two previous SS games. Her "Bust" version, however, is accompanied by her pet wolf, Shikuru. (Like with Mamahaha, she is able to hop onto Shikuruu's back and perform modified attacks.) Galford in his "Bust" version fights without his dog, Poppy for the first time in the game.
Also, the button layout was changed, mapping the first three of the four available buttons to weak, medium and strong slash attacks, respectively. The fourth button was used for kick attacks, presumably to de-emphasize kicks in favor of the sword strikes. Though controversial at first, this change was gradually accepted by the fanbase.
The pace of the game had shifted somewhat, as many basic attacks could now be canceled into special moves, something which was extremely rare in the first two installments. Most of SS2's movement options had been removed, in favor of the ability to dodge attacks by pressing the A and B buttons simultaneously. When close, performing this command would result in a quick switch-around to the opponent's back, which could then be followed up by other attacks. It was also possible to block attacks in mid-air. Items were also thrown onto the battlefield from off-screen as opposed from a delivery man running in the background.
Character Available in All Versions (Expect in Korean Version)
Character Available Only in Korean Version (Fighters Swords)
Available in All Versions
Available Only in Game Boy
- Note 1: Each stage has a special version, that appears when a character pops the rage bar (except the Boss Stage).
- Note 2: The Bamboo Forest, Cherry Blossom Forest, Village Street, Volcanic Battlefield, Shrine and Temple of War's stages also can be seen in Samurai Shodown IV, with the names of Kushiyama, Arie, Kuchinotsu, Obama, Koga and Dohsaki, respectively.
Bamboo Forest — Shizumaru: A bamboo forest in a sunny day. Features bamboo shoots and sunrays.
- Special Version: The leaves are covered by a vast and lush green mist.
Cherry Blossom Forest — Haohmaru: A sakura tree forest, in a nighty day. Features petals in the ground and lamps, besides a fine mist.
- Special Version: Only a pink mist, besides branches of cherry blossoms and a rain of petals, can be seen.
Mountainside Pool — Nakoruru: A mountain next to a river. The fight takes in the water. Features vegetation, trees and butterflies flying over the stage.
- Note: This stage has two versions: one autumnal, with orange leaves in the trees, and one vernal, with green leaves.
- Special Version: In both versions, tree branches and a water mirror can be seen.
Village Street — Genjuro: The main street of an abandoned village, in a windy day. The fight takes next to the wooden houses. Features a wagon, red curtains and a white flag.
- Note: in the 1st round, the clouds are static, and in the 2nd round, start to move; from the 3rd, can be seen childs playing.
- Special Version: A gust of wind and red light can be seen.
Death Swamp — Ukyo: The Sanzu River, in an evening. The fight takes in a wooden boat. Features a mist forest, in the background, a lamp, a rope and native vegetation. Can be seen the boat sailing over the stage, besides birds flying.
- Note: According to Buddhist legends, the Sanzu River is a portal that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead.
- Special Version: Just beams of light, fireflies and the boat can be seen.
Bridge by the Waterfalls — Galford: A wooden bridge next to the waterfalls. Features rockies and some vegetation, beside a bird flying over the stage.
- Special Version: The stage turns blue and a stormy sky can be seen.
Volcanic Battlefield — Hanzo: The rocks of a volcan and a geyser, in a windy day. Features crows flying and gases coming out of the rocks, making them shake from the second round.
- Special Version: only the ground and a red and black sky can be seen.
Kabuki Stage — Kyoshiro: In this version of the stage, can be seen a wooden floor, sakura trees, red decorations and a toggle painel, that alternates between a geisha drawing, a drawing depicting a Japanese war and a portrait of other Kabuki dancer (possibly Kyoshiro's father). Also features butteflies flying over the stage and a crowd. This stage can be seen in Samurai Shodown (2019), in a new version.
- Special Version: The stage is partially dark, and drawings like a sun, a crescent moon, Kabuki dancers, a snake and a spider flash across the stage.
Himalayas — Kuroko: The main salon of a dojo in the top of the mountains. Features Yin Yang signs, dragons, Asian religious figures and men dressed like Kuroko.
- Note: In Arcade Mode, the player fights against his clone, which is actually Kuroko transformed. When Kuroko is chosen, he turns into any fighter that he faces.
- Special Version: the stage turns white and frozen and the big Yin Yang earns two new colors: red and white.
Kamui Kotan, Winter Day — Rimururu: The same stage of Nakoruru in Samurai Shodown II, in depths of winter. Features fewer animals than the first version, and can be seen Rimururu's family from the 2nd round, leaving out the house. A similar stage can be seen in Samurai Shodown (2019).
- Special Version: Only snow and a mist with snowflakes can be seen.
Shrine — Basara: The terrace of a destroyed shrine. Features a candle, doors, trees and a temple, in the background. Also features two versions: in the 1st, it's sunset and the candle is lit; in the 2nd, it's night and the candle goes out, giving a dark air to the stage.
- Special Version: Now can be seen various candles, besides drawings of Kagaribi and some Japanese legends.
Temple — Gaira: The stair of the Koka-in temple, in a new version. Features lamps, trees and some vegetation.
- Note: In the 1st round, a strong mist can be seen in the stage and the lights of the lamps twinkle; from the 2nd round, the mist dissipates and the temple can be seen.
- Special Version: The stage turns blue, and religious figures and flames can be seen.
Mid-Boss & Boss Stages
Ritual Monument: A field of monuments, in a cloudy day and a red nighty sky. Features giant stones, some with Zodiac signs symbols (Aries, Pisces, Aquarius and Capricorn, respectively) and in the ground and grass. Associated with Amakusa.
- Note: Until the 2nd round, the stones is floating and emananting a blue light; from the 3rd round, the stones are static.
- Special Version: the stage turns dark and yellow, and balls of energy are coming to the blue light.
Temple of War: A dark temple in a cloudy. Features Asian statues, fire pyres and fences. Associated with Zankuro.
- Special Version: The stage is partially destroyed, the ground is cracked and can be seen flames, besides the red sky. Available after defeating the boss once.
A novelization written by Rei Isaki was also made for this title. It was published by Asuki, which is a branch of Famitsu. The arranged soundtrack for this game also features a short drama narration.
Unfortunately, for all of its positive aspects, the game was marred by a number of bugs, including spotty collision detection in places, and poor game balance, with some characters being much, much more powerful than the rest of the cast. Damages were very high, which resulted in matches ending very quickly (sometimes in only a few seconds). This, combined with the unexpected aesthetic shift and the removal of taunts and most win quotes, led to considerable backlash from the series's fans.
Over time, it has become better-appreciated in spite of its flaws (primarily outside of arcades, where the individual matches didn't cost players money), and is usually seen as a broken-but-fun gaming experience. Most SNK faithful see it as a missed opportunity: a game that had a vision, but was rushed to meet a deadline, and was thus less than what it set out to be. It was ported to both the PlayStation and Sega Saturn, and the former of the two became colloquially known as "Samurai Slowdown", due to extremely poor performance.
At Game Rankings, it holds a rating of 51% for the PSX port but holds a higher rating at 72% for the Neo Geo port.
- This game is the only game in the series (out of 11 main titles) which to lack a dual sword-wielding character.
- Nakoruru's stage changes the season (leaves all become green) in case player lost with Shura (Rasetsu) version of Nakoruru and immediately selected opposite Rasetsu (Shura) version of her against same opponent.
- Amakusa's name became surname-first in this game as "Amakusa Shiro". This was corrected in subsequent titles. Of note is that even the first Samurai Shodown translated and localized his name correctly.
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