POV mode is back, and it's still weird-looking.

I LOVE impalements..

Here we see famed showman Siegfried doing battle with Napoleon for the division championship.

"Get back here, you scantily-clad ninja bitch!"

Tatsumi, Mikado and Kannuki return to defend the Narukagami.

The Shainto, who were unable to participate in the previous game due to NCAA violations.

Bushido Blade 2

Bushido Blade was, from its genesis, an ambitious game; a fully realistic 3D katana-based fighting sim; nothing even remotely similar had ever been done. From there, it grew more complex: Square passed their unfinished version over to Lightweight, who redesigned the storyline and added 7 more weapons to choose from, 8 if you count Katze's pistol. The result was probably the most intense and certainly the most complex fighting game ever released. It arrived at a time when fighting games, as a genre, had been stagnating for some time; it found success beyond the niche market its developers had prepared for, and I personally played it to death. I got all 12 endings, and (I want this in my obituary) activated Katze as a playable character.

A year has passed, and the inevitable sequel is upon us. Does it live up to its lineage and surpass the original? Well, like the game itself, the answer is far from simple.

Bushido Blade told the story of Kage, a secret society of assassins trained from the Meikyokan dojo, of the Narukagami Shinto school. You don't need to know all of that, but I like big Japanese words. Anyway, Hanzaki, the leader of Kage, was driven mad by Yugiri, a cursed katana, and eventually killed by one of his pupils. In the sequel we learn that Yugiri belonged to the Shainto, a dojo of the Sue, a family betrayed and nearly destroyed by the Narukagami 800 years ago. Now that the Meikyokan is shorthanded (due to the battles in the first game), the Shainto decide this is a good time to get Yugiri back and bury it in the last of the Narukagami bloodline.

Oddly enough, most of the characters from the first game appear in the sequel; only Black Lotus, the overly melodramatic Irish Zorro, is missing (dead). Also gone are the sledgehammer, rapier and saber. In their place is the yari, a spear (more Western-looking than the naginata), which can only be used by the Shainto. 6 characters, 6 weapons. Sound simple enough?

Don't be an idiot. First of all, forget everything you learned in the first game. The controls have been completely redone: high, middle and low have been replaced by forward and backward-wrist slashes. There is no parry button. You have to cycle through the stances with the square button, but crouching and jumping now have their own hot keys. Pop-up is still a problem, and the subtitles Japanese dialogue has been replaced with really, really bad English. Music is still pretty sparse, the way it should be.

Most of the techniques from the first game are intact, and it's just a matter of finding the new motions. Some however, are missing; in particular, the leg slash. In the original, a scratch on the leg would slow down the victim's walking speed, and a clean slice would disable the leg, forcing him/her to finish the battle on their knees; this opened up an entirely new set of movements, and added quite a bit of drama to the proceedings. Now, even the most powerful hit to the legs will merely slow down your opponent. This is violently unrealistic, if you'll excuse the pun, and totally against the spirit of the series. Since attacks aren't divided by height anymore, it's also more difficult to hit your opponent anywhere but the chest. In fact, the engine seems designed this time around to maximize sword collisions, as counterattacks are a big part of the new additions. As cinematic as this may look, it isn't true freedom of technique, and it isn't realistic. For this reason, Bushido 2 feels more like an extremely high-quality ripoff than an actual sequel; more Tekken than Virtua Fighter 2. Other seemingly missing techniques are the ability to attack while lying on your back and rolling away after a collision had left you at a disadvantage.

I really don't know why these changes were made, but the rest of the additions are wonderful. The story mode has been combined with the legendary slash mode, letting you kill extras to warm up for the boss fights, and each path has 2 support characters, which skilled swordsmen can activate as playable characters, raising the total number to 18 (!), plus 4 bosses. There are still only six weapons, but each can be used in many more ways, including the Narukagami's 2-sword technique and the Shainto's Iai technique, which keeps a hand on the scabbard at all times for maximum style. Sub-weapons can now kill (a BIG improvement over the original), and are much more varied than before. Some older techniques, such as throwing debris in your opponent's eyes, seem more effective this time around. Some characters have "special moves", incredibly cool-looking sure-kill throw-style attacks that can be avoided or countered but not blocked. Lastly, you can push opponents off cliffs, where they fall to their deaths. Lotsa fun.

Ultimately, the good new stuff triumphs over the bad new stuff, but I can't help but miss the sense of freedom and realism the first one provided. Of course, I haven't even scratched the surface (the hint book hits stores Nov. 2nd), and with at least 18 playable characters, it'll be a long, long time before I'm done with this one. If anything in this review turns out to be patently false, I'll amend it later. Bottom line, taken as a sequel, it's good. Taken as a game, it's spectacular.