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, 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.
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.
In spite of the removal of several characters, new ones were added in their place. The new additions to the series included the following:
- Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, while not a new character to the series, was now playable, and not a boss.
- Shizumaru Hisame, the semi-amnesiac, umbrella-wielding young boy, who was the focus of the game's story.
- Rimururu, Nakoruru's younger sister, who wielded the power of ice.
- Gaira Caffeine, the large, brash and overbearing monk who is the nephew of Nicotine Caffeine.
- Basara Kubikiri, an undead spirit, seeking revenge for his own murder, and that of his lover.
- 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. 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.
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.
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.
- The only game in series (out of 11 main titles) 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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