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.
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.