Here's a game I happened upon quite by chance when scouting out some new Japanese PSP games. Rurouni Kenshin Meiji Kenkaku Romantan Saisen (to give the game its full title) is a one-on-one fighter from anime game-meisters Namco Bandai.
Now, I'm quite used to anime fighters on the PSP being a bit average at best - Soul Eater: Battle Resonance is a nice distraction, but hardly in-depth, and even Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha has made a splash with possibly the most expensive limited edition on the system. Shame the game was a bit weak.
But this is Rurouni Kenshin, and it also has the distinction of being an anniversary release (15 years, can you believe it?!) so we expect something very special here.
Luckily, Namco Bandai has delivered a game that follows the rather splendid tradition of SNK's Last Blade series, giving us a fighter that requires timing and tactics rather than button-mashing and luck to win through.
Kenshin is a weapons-based fighter, and the styles adopted by each character are greatly affected by what each combatant is wielding. For example, Kenshin's blade is deadly but takes some time to swing. Your best bet is to go in lightly with some swift slashes before opening up and really swinging the sword around. My personal favourite, Misao, can fight bare-knuckle, or with a pair of Tonfa, making her fast and versatile.
During the game you have two special attacks available to you; for want of a better term there's a "bullet-time" special (activated by pressing the R shoulder button) which slows down time and allows you to knock merry hell out of your opponent. You can use this twice against each opponent. The second attack is your special, activated by pressing the L shoulder button, which works much like a super attack in SFIV and is accompanied by a nice animation if it connects.
As you start the game, only three characters are available to you. Playing through with this initial selection opens up more characters. In total, there are twenty-two characters to unlock, which is respectable enough for a handheld fighter and allows for plenty of variety between fights.
Speaking of unlockables, the game also features hidden music, gallery images and costumes for the cast. Unfortunately the Japanese only menus make finding all the goodies (or even understanding what you've unlocked) prohibitive. But hey, it's a Japanese game and if you're reading this you probably accept that an FAQ could be required.
Graphically the game is ok - the fighting characters in the foreground are nicely detailed and are surrounded by a thick black outline to give the feeling of being inked, and heavy attacks are also outlined in the same way - looks like someone has been cribbing from Street Fighter IV's design sheet! Backgrounds are solid and colourful without ever being spectacular, and the overall effect is pleasing.
Where the game may lose fans is the pacing. Fights are slow and tactical, and anyone used to the frantic action of Blazblue is going to find this a little clunky. For those of us who still play titles like Last Blade and Soul Calibur, this isn't such a problem, but it's not the adrenaline fix many will have come to expect from modern fighters.
So with Kenshin we have an old-school fighter based on what is now, unbelievably, an old-school anime (although a new anime series is on the way! - Ed). In this at least the game has a certain charming parity, and stands out as a thoughtful and worthy addition to your anime-themed PSP collection. For Kenshin fans of course, it's an utter must.