The Last Blade, originally released in Japan as Bakumatsu Rouman: Gekka no Kenshi (幕末浪漫 月華の剣士), is the first entry to The Last Blade series. It was first released in arcades in December 5, 1997. Both games were released for a PS2 compilation on January 12, 2006. The PlayStation port was released again as downloadable online content for the Playstation 3 and PSP on April 26, 2007. The AES version was brought to Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console on March 13, 2012 for Japan and June 7, 2012 for America. The Arcade version was brought to Nintendo Switch's Arcade Archives on December 14, 2017.
A translation of the story officially given by SNK is as follows:
"Two worlds once existed since ancient times... The world of the living, Ushyo, and the land of the dead, Tokoyo. A legendary boundary to forever separate them, The Hell's Gate, has existed since the birth of myths to keep an universal balance. There is said to be four gods that defend it: Seiryu of the East, Byakko of the West, Genbu of the North, and Suzaku of the South. They eternally perform their duty from the shadows of legend and were eventually forgotten by people as time passed.
Now, it is the 'Bakumatsu'.
The Tokugawa Shogunate, after 200 years of reign, began to have samurai who long dulled their battle skills during the outskirts of the Heian period. People, who have long since grown used to peace, are met with fascinating foreigners and wonder about the confines of their isolation. To add to the confusion, a sudden disturbance occurs.
A natural disaster unprecedented in Japan's history began. It was rumored to be the Majin Revival, a time when gods were to walk the land once more and deliver divine punishment. In a land where no chaos was said to exist, the people could do nothing but watch and despair.
However, it was said that there are individuals who did not. People who haven't lost their fighting spirit and stood to face the chaos. Those who wanted to find the real cause behind the disturbance and stop it. Moreover, people who were unexpectedly born at the center of chaos. Those who had the ambitions to control the threat and those who are said to be the cause of the Majin Revival. Without speculation of their cause, they are brought together by a heavy fate as their battle begins."
The passage to the land of the dead, Hell's Gate, which was previously guarded by Four Sacred Beasts appears to be opened. However, chaos sweeps the land once the gods are encased in human flesh, otherwise known as the Majin Revival. The story of the series continues to focus on how certain individuals choose to confront such conflict, and depicts how each of them are drawn on the same string of fate.
The setting is set in 1863 during the Bakumatsu, the final years of the Tokugawa Shogunate where a clash of ideologies were fighting to decide Japan's new society. All of the characters wield different types of weapons in combat. The button layout is weak slash (A), strong slash (B), kick (C), and deflect/repel (D). Using the D button, players can interrupt otherwise damaging attacks by stunning their opponents, leaving them open for an attack.
Gameplay consist of two modes: “Speed” mode and “Power” mode; Speed mode (or Technique mode in Japanese) allows players to chain several normal attacks into a special or desperation/super move, as well as execute a "Speed Combo" (or a Wild Dance Secret Skill in Japanese). Power mode on the other hand, grants the player increased damage potential exponentially and giving access to "Super Desperation Moves" (or Latent Secret Skills in Japanese) which inflict an exorbitant amount of damage (the recommendations to performing them however, requires the player's life bar to flash and have a full power bar). Power mode also allows the player to perform Super Cancels (known as Sublimations in Japanese); canceling a special move into a DM. Players can test which mode is best for them, increasing replay value for characters as well as the longevity of the game.
Much like the Samurai Shodown series, it is possible to lose hold of your weapons and be forced to fight unarmed in this game, if you block attacks too much, acting as a sort of guard crush penalty. Most characters have unique animations should they lose hold of their own weapons. Oddly, only the bosses like Musashi and Kagami are immune to this, even if controlled by the player.
It earned positive praise from both fans and critics alike. The game featured backgrounds with detailed real-time effects, character animations that were smooth and some of the best seen on the Neo Geo, and a colorful character roster that was relatively balanced so that no character noticeably overpowering another. The only flaws mentioned by Christian Nutt from Gamespot, "All in all, this is a great game; if you enjoy a solid two-dimensional fighter, and you understand the nuances of the genre, you will really enjoy it."
Like most home ports of SNK games at the time, the PlayStation port to this title also has an exclusive animated intro.
This game has 17 characters (between normal and special versions), which are:
- Kaede, the main protagonist and the youngest adpotive son of a warrior named Gaisei. Trained by him, he became an avid swordsman and powerful warrior. He searches for the killer of his adoptive father, and believe his older brother, Moriya, murdered him. He is a possessor of Seiryu, one of the Four Gods decipted in the game;
- Moriya Minakata, the adpotive older son of Gaise, is also trained by him. For many years, he lived happily together with Kaede and Yuki learning Bushidō, until the day he found the body of his dead master, and taking the blame for it, he also sets out to find the real culprit, like Kaede;
- Yuki, the adoptive middle sister of Gaisei, in the past, was the daughter of a foreign family that managed ship trades. Unfortunately, her family died in a ship accident. She is later adopted by the warrior Gaisei, who trains her along with two other students and adpotive brothers, Kaede and Moriya;
- Genbu no Okina, an old man, guardian of the demonic portal known as “Hell’s Gate”. For years, he and the other three guardians stood watch over its seal. For many years, it was peaceful and Okina resigned himself to fishing and the complacent life of a hermit. He was found by Kaede, and takes him as his pupil. He also is one of the Four Gods, as a possessor of Genbu;
- Akari Ichijou, a descendant of an onmyoji family. She sets off determined to seal the Hell's gate and cure her sister of a mysterious illness, with the help of her adoptive brother Juzoh;
- Juzoh Kanzaki, the adoptive brother of Akari, he was knocked out and kidnapped by her, who "persuaded" him to accompany her on a journey to discover the Hell's Gate;
- Hyo Amano, a young man, has a strong love for sake, women, and the thrill of the fight;
- Lee Reeka, a Chinese shaolin monk who learned a special form of Martial art that allows the user to control fire and involves the use of fans and powerful kicks. One day, he witnessed a "red star" (the opening of "Hell's Gate"). Knowing it to be a sign of great evil, he travels from his homeland China to stop the evil before it spreads across the world;
- Zantetsu, the leader of the Kisaragi clan, during the Bakumatsu era, an age when the ninja class was in decline. Determined to prove the superiority of his people, he challenges warriors time and time again to prove his strength. When he hears of the opening of a portal called “Hell’s Gate”, he sets out to defeat the enemies within to prove his strength. Eiji Kisaragi, a character from AOF series, is a possible descendant of him;
- Keiichiro Washizuka, an unit leader of the Shinsengumi, a police-like group during the Bakumatsu era. He is a firm believer in restoring order to Japan, and in the old ways of Samurai sword fighting. As such, he carries a very serious persona. He is extremely loyal to his Shinsengumi unit, and is a friend of Kojiroh Sanada, who was brutally murdered;
- Shigen Naoe, other guardian of the “Hell’s Gate”. He is magically sealed in a massive stone for ten years by his friend Shinnosuke Kagami, who perceived him to be a threat in his plan for opening the gate. He eventually escaped, but clouded by his rage and anger, he could only think of getting back at his captor, and set out to exact revenge. He is a possessor of Byakko, one of the Four Gods;
- Shikyoh, a former member of the Shinsengumi, expelled by Washizuka for his beliefs of kill as many people as he can. He is the killer of Kojiroh Sanada, a fellow Shinsengumi, and meets Kagami, who tells him to go to Hell's Gate to sate his bloodlust;
- Kojiroh Sanada, a former Shinsengumi captain of the fictional Unit Zero, which investigated demonic forces in Japan, following the concept of Bushidō. He was ordered to investigate the "Hell's Gate" and to dispatch the exiled member, Shikyoh;
- Ponta Akari, a new version of Akari, who is actually a tanuki in disguise;
- Deku no Shigen, a doll made to replicate Shigen's actions. He was subconsciously created by the real Shigen, who is still sealed away;
- Musashi Akatsuki, the sub boss of the game, is a dead swordsman who once traveled the countryside, honing his skills and challenging worthy opponents along the way. He was resurrected by Kagami as part of his plan to open the Hell's Gate;
- Shinnosuke Kagami, the final boss of the game, is one of the guardians of the Hell's Gate. After residing over his position and finding (or so he thought) that the humans he protected were weak and inferior to himself, he decides to release the seal on the portal. Along with this, he goes on a horrific killing spree, murdering various warriors, including Gaisei, adoptive father of Kaede, Moriya and Yuki. He is the avatar of Suzaku, one of the Four Gods.
PlayStation Exclusive Characters
Like most SNK titles at the time, a drama CD surrounding the events of the game was available for purchase on February 4, 1998. A two-part light novel series was written by Akihiko Ureshino; the illustrations were done by Kotomi Tobashi. A manga which dramatizes the story's events was also created by Takeshi Fujita.
An English web comic series based on the game was launched on October 28, 2020 by Tapas Media, with illustration done by Cocoon Productions.
- Note 1: In Arcade Mode, the first two sets of eight battles have been divided to the likeliest random opponents. Some characters may have up to two rival encounters (Stages 7 and 8) before the Final bosses. The gameplay has divided in 10 Chapters.
- Note 2: Depending on the character chosen, the chapters do not always feature the opponents listed first.
- Note 3: The Sub-Boss and Boss Stages doesn't have an intro.
Maple Gate — Kaede: A maple garden next to a gate, in a sunny day. Features maple leaves (some falling from the trees), a stone with a Kanji and a wall, besides bird houses, the ocean with a ship and some moutains.
- Intro: a branch with maple leaves and the sky.
Winter House — Yuki: A forest next to a wooden house, in an intense winter night. Features snow, other wooden house, leafless trees, snowed shrubs, snowflakes falling from the sky and a lake, besides a red bridge and a lamp.
- Intro: The view of the stage through a window.
Misty Forest — Okina: A misty forest next to a river. The fight takes next to the roots of a giant tree. Features other trees, vegetation, wooden pieces, a boat and some moutains, in the background.
- Intro: The leaves of the trees descending until the point which Okina is fishing.
Temple — Akari: The courtyard of a complex temple, in a festive day. Features people cheering and in stands, birds, giant lamps, monks in the main temple and a stand of vanes, besides a giant Maneki Neko and a Hyottoko mask.
- Intro: a vane, birds flying next to a lamp and the people walking.
Village — Juzoh: A village in a sunny day. Features building, houses, trees, lamps, sacks, a gate, Kanji plaques, people and child cheering, flags, a wooden stair and a cart with a man, besides wooden slats, wooden boxes and a cat.
- Intro: birds flying in the sky, descending until the point of the stage, which can be seen the people.
Bridge — Amano: A red bridge, in a night of full moon. Features sakura trees (some petals in the bridge), buildings, lamps and people cheering, besides the river, a big gate and a pagoda, in the background.
- Intro: The moon reflected in the water, and a sakura petal falling into it, causing small waves.
Windy Forest — Moriya: A bamboo forest in a night of full moon and strong wind. Features a watermill, a hut, shrubs, the river, small fences and a wooden plaque, besides a clud in the sky. At a certain point, the scene darkens.
- Intro: A candle lit near a Shoji door, which goes out with the strong wind, and showing the bamboo trees' shadows.
Pier — Lee: An abandoned pier, in a sunset. Features ships, boats, a hut, shrubs, barrels, wooden fences, ropes, a cart, a vase, a wooden wheel and a bonfire, besides seagulls flying over the stage and Netherlands' flag.
- Intro: seagulls flying next to one of the ships.
Ship Interior — Zantetsu: The shaking basement of a ship, in a nighty day. Features a canon, barrels, sacks, bottles, wooden boxes, a stair, a fabric and ropes, besides a rat coming from one of the barrels.
- Intro: Three kunai in the ground, and ascending until Zantetsu's point, with him holding a tantō.
Desert Village — Washizuka: A ghost village, after a rainy night. Features houses, puddles, lanterns, leafless trees, a red fabric and a Japanese umbrella, besides a pagoda in the background.
- Intro: a mist dissipating in the stage, to the sound of dogs howling and dripping drops.
Sanctuary — Shigen: An underground muddying sanctuary. Features candles, blinding lights and Asian god statues, besides stalactites and tigers carved.
- Intro: The tigers' carve structuture knocked down by Shigen's fist.
Abandoned House — Shikyoh: The garden of a hut, in a rainy night. Features a red sky, graves, puddles, wooden pieces and two wells, besides thunders.
- Intro: A stone that, after Shikyo's shadow appeareance, is covered in drops of blood.
- Note: In Juzoh's Arcade Mode, Akari fights in this stage.
Hell's Gate: A rocky place next to a lava river. Features Asian gods carved in the rocks, a black energy ball and lava waterfalls bubbling and shaking. Associated with Musashi.
Kagami's Mansion: The main salon of the mansion, in a rainy night. Features two stairs, a balcony, red carpets, windows, a portrait with Kagami's blazon, lamps and chandeliers. From the 2nd round, the stage is partially destroyed by the same energy ball seen in Musashi's stage, and can be seen the rocks of that reffered stage. Associated with Kagami.
- CHAPTER 1: A NEW AGE AWAKENS
- CHAPTER 2: A TWIST OF FATE
- CHAPTER 3: THE SCENT OF BATTLE
- CHAPTER 4: AN INVITATION TO INCISION
- CHAPTER 5: EXPOSING THE HEART
- CHAPTER 6: DEMON'S SABBATH
- CHAPTER 7: PANGS OF PASSION
- CHAPTER 8: THE BOUNTY OF BATTLE
- CHAPTER 9: INTO THE GATES OF HELL (SUB-BOSS)
- CHAPTER 10: THE FINAL BATTLE (BOSS)