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Despite the name of the series, most of the characters are not samurai in the true sense of the word. In Japan, the name of the series is officially in katakana, but is often written in kanji (侍魂, samurai tamashii), with the second character pronounced supirittsu, “spirits”, to better reflect the game’s setting.
The earlier arcade games are also notorious for their poorly translated English, such as the word ‘victoly’ which appears at the end of each match. As with many game titles developed in Japan, Samurai Spirits had its name changed for other regions.
The stories in the series take place in 18th-century Japan, during the Sakoku or seclusion period of Japan, (the first four games run across 1788 and 1789) with great artistic license so that foreign-born characters (including some from places that didn’t exist as such in 1788) and fictional monsters can also be part of the story. The plot of each game is quite different, but they circle a central group of characters and a region in Japan.
Samurai Shodown consequently portrays snippets of the Japanese culture and language internationally with little edits. For instance, unlike most fighting games made in Japan, the characters in the series (including the announcer) generally speak only in Japanese, with dialects ranging from archaic formalities and theatricalism to modern-day slang, something that has been preserved for overseas releases. Win quotes and other cut scenes provide subtitles in several languages, including but not limited to English, Portuguese, and German. Much of the music includes traditional Japanese instruments (predominately the shakuhachi, shamisen, koto and taiko) and later enka. Several characters are loosely based on real people from Japanese history.
There are two main artists responsible for the character designs and illustrations. For the early games (Part 1 to 4), the characters are created and illustrated by Eiji Shiroi. His illustrations featured a distinctive, traditional Japanese calligraphy style. While he continues to design for a few of the later games, they are illustrated by another artist named Senri Kita until the fifth title.
The Samurai Shodown games are most famous for their “Rage” (怒) gauge, a meter that only increases as a player receives damage, and which when fully activated has numerous effects depending on game. Earlier games also have a referee in the background, officiating the match.
Here is the official timeline taken from the official Samurai Shodown V website :
- 1786 (January through late summer) – Samurai Shodown V (Special)
- 1788 (early spring through early summer) – Samurai Shodown
- 1788 (summer through early autumn) – Samurai Shodown III
- 1788 (autumn through early winter) – Samurai Shodown IV
- 1789 (spring through summer) – Samurai Shodown II
- 1789 (autumn) through 1790 (summer) – Samurai Shodown 64
- 1790 (late autumn through winter) – Samurai Shodown 64: Warriors Rage
- 1791 – Samurai Shodown: Sen
- 1811 – Samurai Shodown: Warriors Rage (PlayStation)
The series begins during the Tenmei famine in Japan, which lead to a severe depression and near chaos throughout the country. Upset by his country men’s lamentations and the shogun’s indifference to their plight, former Tokugawa general, Kyogoku Hinowanokami Gaoh, stages a rebellion in his land, Hinowa, against the reigning Tokugawa. He also hopes that his revolt will make the next shogun in line, Yoshitora Tokugawa, realize his responsibilities to his country. The war caused by the conflict gains the interest from several warriors. At the war’s end, Gaoh is defeated and Yoshitora is made the next shogun.
More than a decade before the series begins, Amakusa Shiro Tokisada (loosely based on the historical figure), once leader to Christian rebellion, made a pact with an evil entity named Ambrosia moments before his execution. Using the body of Shinzo, one of Hanzo Hattori's sons, he resurrects himself two years after the events of Hinowa. He plans to get revenge on those who reigned against him, intending to resurrect Ambrosia into the mortal realm upon his release. He steals the sacred item, the Palenke Stone, from Green Hell (a fictional country in South America) to gain the necessary power he needs for the ritual.
The sorcerer’s activity stirs evil phenomena across the globe, stretching from Japan to China to Europe and America, drawing several brave warriors to their calamities’ source. Amongst these warriors is Haohmaru, a ronin, who recently left his tutelage from his master, Caffeine Nicotine. He sees the foe as a chance to sharpen his swordsmanship. An Ainu priestess, Nakoruru, though a pacifist, takes up her blade to save Mother Nature from further pain. Though several fighters attempt to slay the fiend, these two are successful in defeating him, apparently killing him in the process.
Months later, another “demon” rises in Japan. However, he is not related to Amakusa or Ambrosia. He is a man named Zankuro Minazuki, a powerful warrior who has earned the label “demon” for his merciless slaughter of innocent people, village after village. Zankuro eventually finds the error of his ways and retires to hermitage, only agreeing to kill skillful warriors in duels. One of the victims he spared was a child whom Haohmaru finds and raises. The child’s name is Shizumaru Hisame, who seeks revenge for his family’s murder under Zankuro’s hands. He sets out with Haohmaru to test their strength against Zankuro, challenging other fighters along the way. Eventually, they meet and duel, Shizumaru being the victor. Though Zankuro was heavily wounded, he tries to deliver a final blow only to be struck down by the heavens. He dies complimenting the winner and his body is entombed.
The grave doesn’t last long. Amakusa revives his efforts for revenge and steals the fallen warrior as an implement for destruction. This time, his spirit is split into two halves, one good and just; the other corrupt and ambitious. As the evil half brings destruction to Japan from Shimabara, the good half struggles to restores it. The evil Amakusa kidnaps a young kunoichi named Hazuki from the Kazama ninja clan. Hazuki, adapt with ki and welding a special life force inside her, is used by the sorcerer to control Zankuro’s bloodlust. Her brothers, Kazuki and Sougetsu, race to her rescue. Though several outcomes of this battle are interpreted, Kazuki is officially successful in slaying the evil Amakusa and Zankuro is finally put to rest by Sougetsu. Labeled nukenin, or rogue ninja, by their clan, Hazuki and Kazuki go into hiding while Sougetsu lets them escape.
Six months after this conflict, a priestess possessed by the evil demon, Mizuki Rashojin, emerges to send the world into chaos again. Mizuki, as a loyal servant to Ambrosia from 1000 years ago, is awakened by evil Amakusa’s powers. Her awakening causes several worldwide disasters, and though her spirit is awake, she has yet to ascend to the human realm. She preys on unlucky warrior’s souls and uses the fallen to strengthen her and Ambrosia’s powers. The good Amakusa saves Haohmaru and other virtuous souls but he too falls to her bane. Warriors travel to Hell itself to battle her soul before it resurrects. Haohmaru and Nakoruru are able to make the journey to Hell and stop Mizuki, sealing her into the Makai (demon world) after her defeat.
Yuga the Destroyer, another being originating from the Makai realm, moves to conquer the world half a year after Mizuki’s defeat. Twenty years prior to Amakusa’s resurrection, she enters the human realm and steals various babies from mother’s wombs and using her power, bestows superhuman abilities upon them. She silently re-inserts the unborn children, and waits for them to grow into superhuman warriors. Upon their adulthood, she appears before all of them and brainwashed all of them to become her loyal slaves through a magical puppet show. One of her victims is a mysterious woman named Shiki, the perfect female counterpart for Yuga’s vessel. Yuga orders Shiki to find the perfect male counterpart, intending to merge the two for her eventual resurrection. Haohmaru is selected but Yuga underestimates him in their battle. Haohmaru defeats her and frees Shiki from her mind-control.
A year passes, and Yuga, better prepared, revives herself. With her second appearance, Asura, a destructive being (which wreaks havoc in order to bring about “the unification of this world and the Netherworld...”) escapes from his prison from the Netherworld. Yuga, realizing the strength of Asura, clones him and creates her loyal servant Hanmen no Asura. His orders are to reclaim Shiki and return to Yuga with her. However, he falls in love with Shiki and turns against his master. Both Asuras defeat Yuga entirely and merge together, leaving Shiki with a child. She leaves the child to Haohmaru’s care, feeling unworthy of motherhood.
Twenty years pass, with the age of samurai and swordsmen drawing to a close. Those not abiding to the peaceful change of era are outlawed to a prisoner island. Zealous inhabitants rise up and try to create a “new world exclusively for the chosen ones”, whom are intent on destroying the shogunate. The group they form is called the “League of the Three Blades of Domination” and the island becomes known as Ritenkyo. Their leader is an old man named Oboro. A member of the Shinsengumi, Seishiro Kuki, is ordered by his superiors to assassinate the ones responsible for the uprising. An older Haohmaru goes to find his “niece”, Mikoto, and to free her from her torn past.
Impact of the series
Samurai Shodown was among the first fighting games that modified the classic Street Fighter II formula and chose a different fighting system and many gameplay and graphical deviations (including the then revolutionary Neo-zoom effect, first seen in Art of Fighting). Many believe Samurai Shodown to have been the best and most original fighting game in its day. Its successor Samurai Shodown II was also enthusiastically received by critics and fans alike, for further adding new mechanics and enhancing existing ones.
Like many of SNK’s flagship series, Samurai Shodown is home to several firsts in the history of fighting games. For instance:
- The series was the first fighting game to feature characters who could use animals to help them during their fights (ie: Galford and Nakoruru).
- Samurai Shodown 64 was the first 3D fighting game to incorporate multi-tiered arenas, where you could break through one section of the stage to fight in another area close by. This idea was later showcased in (and is often erroneously credited to) Dead or Alive 2.
- Samurai Shodown II is the first to incorporate a specialized form of blocking: block an incoming attack at the last possible instant to deflect the opponent’s strike and stun him/her, enabling time for a counterattack. This ability has persisted throughout the series, and variations on the theme have shown up in many other games, such as The Last Blade and later into Parrying/Offensive guarding in Capcom’s Street Fighter III and Just Defense in Garou: Mark of the Wolves.
|English Title||Japanese Title||Platform||Release Date|
|Samurai Shodown||Samurai Spirits|
|Neo Geo, SNES, Mega Drive||07-07-1993|
|Samurai Shodown II||Shin Samurai Spirits Haōmaru Jigokuhen|
|Samurai Shodown III: Blades of Blood||Samurai Spirits Zankurō Musōken|
|Samurai Shodown IV: Amakusa’s Revenge||Samurai Spirits Amakusa Kōrin|
|Samurai Shodown RPG||Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits Bushidō Retsuden|
|Samurai Shodown 64||Samurai Spirits|
(侍魂 ~SAMURAI SPIRITS~)
|Hyper Neo Geo 64||12-19-1997|
|Samurai Shodown 64: Warriors Rage||Samurai Spirits 2 Asura Zanmaden|
(SAMURAI SPIRITS 2 アスラ斬魔伝)
|Hyper Neo Geo 64||10-16-1998|
|Samurai Shodown!||Samurai Spirits!|
|Neo Geo Pocket||12-25-1998|
|Samurai Shodown! 2||Samurai Spirits! 2|
|Neo Geo Pocket Color||04-30-1999|
|Samurai Shodown: Warriors Rage||Kenkaku Ibunroku Yomigaerishi Sōkō no Yaiba Samurai Spirits Shinshō|
(剣客異聞録 甦りし蒼紅の刃 サムライスピリッツ新章)
|Nakoruru ADV||Nakoruru ~Ano Hito kara no Okurimono~|
|Samurai Shodown V||Samurai Spirits Zero|
|Samurai Shodown V Special||Samurai Spirits Zero Special|
|Samurai Shodown Mobile||Samurai Spirits -Makai Rinne Ki-|
|Samurai Shodown VI||Samurai Spirits Tenkaichi Kenkakuden|
|Samurai Shodown Mobile II||Samurai Spirits ~Shimensoka~|
|Samurai Shodown Mobile III||Samurai Spirits Tenka Musō Typing ~Makai Tenshō no Shō~|
|Samurai Shodown: Sen||Samurai Spirits Sen|
|Taito Type X2, Xbox 360||04-17-2008|
|Samurai Shodown Anthology||Samurai Spirits Rokuban Shōbu (tentative title)|
|Wii, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2||04-14-2009|
Manga and anime
- Samurai Shodown: The Motion Picture (SAMURAI SPIRITS 〜破天降魔の章〜Samurai Spirits: Haten Gōma no Shō)
- Samurai Shodown (魔界武芸帖 サムライスピリッツMakai Bukei Jō Samurai Spirits) (manga prequel to the first game)
- Samurai Shodown 2: Asura Zanmaeden (two part OVA)
- Nakoruru: Ano Hito kara no Okurimono (unfinished OVA)
A television special (later dubbed The Motion Picture for international release) loosely based on the first game aired in Japan in 1994. An English adaptation was produced by ADV Films, on VHS in 1995 and on DVD in 2005. The plot means to reenact the events of Samurai Shodown, but the characters’ roles highly deviated from their original source. One of such bizarre changes made was switching Amakusa’s gender from male to female. Another questionable change was the inclusion of the “Seven Holy Warriors”, skilled warriors who were resurrected to specifically fight Ambrosia, which is an idea never mentioned in any other continuity. All the characters from the game were present for a cameo, however, several lacked importance to the progression of the plot (i.e.: Ukyo appeared only in the credits).
Several manga adaptations of Samurai Spirits were produced in Japan. One of them, titled Makai Bukei Jō Samurai Spirits (魔界武芸帖 サムライスピリッツ Samurai Spirits: Scrolls of the Demonic Arts ), written by Kyoichi Nanatsuki and illustrated by Yuki Miyoshi, was serialized in the Weekly Shonen Sunday in 1994. It was later adapted into English under the simplified titled Samurai Shodown by Viz Media in 1996, where it was serialized in the short-lived Game On! USA magazine and concluded in Animerica. The story is meant to be a prequel to Samurai Shodown II, establishing an original character, Yui Minbunosuke Shosetsu, as the main antagonist. Game characters Haohmaru, Nakoruru, Hanzo, Charlotte, and Genan remain the focal characters to the plot. They often interacted with several original characters in the story; the most prominent perhaps is the Koga kunoichi, Nagiri, who believed Haohmaru had killed her father during his travels and sought to avenge him.
The first OVA, serves as a preface to the events of Samurai Shodown: Warriors Rage. Character designs were done by Aoi Nanase, a long time fan of SNK. Unlike most game-based anime, the voices were supplied by the same actors as in the game. It is relatively obscure, never having been released in the U.S., and the prospect of licensing is dim at best, as it offers no introduction to any of the characters, assuming (not unreasonably) that anyone watching it is likely to be familiar with the series and its cast already. The story mainly revolves on Nakoruru and her humanistic ideals: she believes that anyone with a heart has the right to live peacefully. Shiki, though apparently free from Yuga’s influence, is recognized as a threat for the sorcerer’s return and it was through Nakoruru’s reasonings that previously saved her life from Haohmaru. Nakoruru finds her and then struggles to peacefully defend her from her pursuers, which include Haohmaru, Galford, and Asura. Though torn because of her morals and pacifistic nature, Nakoruru eventually agrees to draw her blade and fight for those who need protecting. Despite being wounded in his final skirmish with Nakoruru, Asura stabs Shiki and they both sink into a portal to the underworld. Making peace with her blood-thirsty alter ego, the Ainu priestess leaves Kamui Kotan, hoping to find news of Shiki’s safety.
The second thirty minute OVA centers around the Nakoruru ADV game, again using Nakoruru as the main heroine. Character designs were done by Yasuomi Umetsu, who is best known for his work in Mezzo Forte and Kite. The events of the story are meant to take place during the time of peace between the first and second games of the series. The story introduces her childhood friends, Yamtamu and Manari, along with her younger sister, Rimururu, and the relentless enigma, Rera. Nakoruru, though glad that there is serenity, experiences several premonitions of devastation and is haunted by the thought of further bloodshed. The climax of the episode has Nakoruru protecting a deer from a rock slide, implied to be caused by evil entities. For undisclosed reasons, the OVA never released another episode and the story remains unfinished.
In December 2006, Sabertooth Games released a Samurai Shodown V collectable card game set along with The King of Fighters 2006 for it’s Universal Fighting System (UFS) game. UFS is meant to be a universal system, as other games like Street Fighter and Soulcalibur III are also included into the series. Featured character starter decks were also released for Haohmaru and Ukyo Tachibana. STG staff favorites from the Samurai Shodown side tend to favor towards characters Nakoruru and Hanzo Hattori.
- List of Samurai Shodown characters
- SNK vs. Capcom (series)
- Neo Geo Battle Coliseum
- Days of Memories
- Quiz King of Fighters
- Official websites
- Official Samurai Shodown website
- An Archive of the Old Official Samurai Shodown website
- Samurai Spirits 1-4 at NBC Museum of SNK Playmore
- GameMagazine article on Nakoruru ADV
- Official site to Samurai Spirits Sen