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by David de Rienzo - August 7, 2006

Bakumatsu Roman: Gekka no Kenshi ("Moonlight Swordsmen"), also known as The Last Blade everywhere outside of Japan (except in Korea, where it's called The Last Soldier), is one of SNK's lesser known fighting franchises. Never quite garnering the mass popularity of The King of Fighters, nor even the cult following of Samurai Shodown, The Last Blade is destined to wander eternally shrouded in obscurity. Perhaps it was the combined factors that it was released on a ridiculously expensive console and wasn't pushed into arcades in the same frequency that Samurai Shodown was, or maybe it was simply that people never gave it a chance. Whatever it was, it was an injustice, because Last Blade is quite possibly SNKs finest endeavor.

Rather than being set between the Azuchi-Momoyama era (mid 1500s - early 1600s) and late Edo period (early 1600s - early 1800s) like most samurai fighting games, when the samurai were at their prime, The Last Blade takes place during the solemn Bakumatsu era at the end of the 19th century. Bakumatsu means End of the Bakufu Period, and as its name implies, it was the sometimes tragically viewed era when ancient Japanese culture and tradition were being discarded in favor of the Western lifestyle. The sword was replaced with the rifle, the kimono with the tuxedo. The samurai, who were the very essence of honor and discipline, weren't even allowed to carry their swords into towns, and many were exiled from civilization, forced to earn a living as bounty hunters and hired assassins.

The somber setting and fairly intriguing characters gives The Last Blade a very distinct feel. While some would simply call it a Samurai Shodown clone, it's almost nothing like SNK's first weapon fighting series, from both an aesthetic and physical standpoint. However, a few of the characters are similar to characters in Nobuhiro Watsuki's Rurouni Kenshin manga/anime - which makes sense, considering they both take place in the Bakumatsu era.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that SNK is going to continue this franchise. At least some of the legacy lives on - Hibiki was featured in Capcom vs SNK 2, and Kaede, Moriya, Washizuka and Akari are all in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum. The Last Blade is amazing fighting game. It is the very threshold of style and grace in the fighting world, and The Last Blade 2 stands as one of the greatest fighting games ever.

The Last Blade (Neo Geo)


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