Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?”Â Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:
Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.
Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.
Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.
Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.
This week, we’re looking at an SNK fighting game franchise that ISN’T The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown or Fatal Fury. Although there were only two full entries into the series, along with a NGPC version of the first game, all three were well received and developed a decent following for a new 2-D fighting game series for the end of the millennium. However, this series came out when SNK hit its peak and was overshadowed by games like KoF ’98 and Capcom Vs. SNK. Then when the original SNK died and the new SNK Playmore took things over, they appeared not to care about this particular series, choosing instead to focus on SNK’s flagship series and occasionally a Metal Slug game. As a series that started off with a bag and then disappeared as quickly as it debuted is it time to bring this franchise back or has ten years been too long a slumber for The Last Blade and for gamers to care?
Chris Bowen – Sequel
Everyone pays attention seemingly only to the big name games that came from SNK from the late-90s; namely, this means King of Fighters. It’s kind of hard to believe that only now are some of those games from that era starting to get recognition. Garou: Mark of the Wolves saw a rerelease on XBox Live, and The Last Blade – an awesome fighting game – hasn’t been rereleased to my knowledge yet, but I think it deserves some attention.
Here’s the thing: the fighting engine is good enough where you don’t have to spin it off and just throw the characters into another KOF game (and considering the quality of the last KOF, I’d rather they not, actually). It’s a solid engine with some subtle yet good ideas (the choice between speed or power mode) and a counter system that isn’t overdone like some other fighting games (hello, Dead or Alive! What’s up, Smackdown vs. Raw!). If SNK could find their mojo for these things again, I’d love to see them bring back The Last Blade, because it’s startling just how on-fire SNK was in the late 90s.
Alex Lucard – Sequel
You know, I love The Last Blade series. It’s one of SNK’s most underrated franchises due to both the original SNK and the new SNK Playmore not giving the series much marketing or attention even though engine wise, it’s probably the most consistent series they’ve ever had. The Last Blade is a great game and The Last Blade 2 was pretty fun too. I still pull out the Dreamcast version of that game from time to time. There’s also an amazingly good version for the Neo*Geo Pocket Colour. However the series also came out when both The King of Fighters and Fatal Fury were arguably at their best. Samurai Shodown was just kind of there so you think TLB could have capitalized on its downturn, but it never really emerged as a player.
However SNK Playmore’s been doing some odd crap with their franchises as of late. KoF XI was pretty bad but KoFXII was a complete and total clusterfuck of epic proportions that damn near killed the series. The last two SNK games I can remember that were quality were Neo*Geo Battle Coliseum and King of Fighters Neowave. Note that both of those followed the classic SNK games of old rather than mucking things up like KoF’s featuring Ash Crimson or the last Samurai Shodown.
What I get from this is that if (and that’s a big if) SNK Playmore sticking to the old SNK gameplan, they can make some pretty good games. If they try and focus on graphics over gameplay…things don’t go so well. They’ve also never done a very good job with online play so that’s a trouble spot too.
However, instead of messing up their biggest cash cow like KoF, I think The Last Blade would be a better series for them to muck about with. After all, even Capcom tends to use Darkstalkers as a testing ground for truly new or original ideas before putting them in Street Fighter. Let SNK take a page from that playbook and try to use The Last Blade as a place to try new visuals, engines and so on. SNK faithful will buy it and if it turns out to be a good game, so will many more. If it flat out sucks…well, SNK won’t have done irreparable damage like what happened with KoF XII. Conversely, SNK could just use the engine from TLB2, give the graphics a spitshine and you’d have a fighter that would be guaranteed to be solid and popular with fans of the genre, even if it wasn’t a commercial success.
I guess the optimist in me wants to believe SNK Playmore is not going the same route as Sammy Sega. Only time will tell if the latest KoF was a wake up call for them to get their shit together or yet another nail in the coffin. I want to give them one more chance and I’d rather see it done with TLB than another game desecrating Terry Bogard.
Mark B. – Stay Dead
I didn’t spend a lot of time with the first game in the series, but I spent a decent amount of time with Last Blade 2 and mostly enjoyed the game well enough. For me, it felt like a solid balance between the straight-up fighting game mechanics of something like King of Fighters and the… whatever the hell Samurai Shodown became. Colossal mess, I guess. Anyway, I rather enjoyed Last Blade 2, overall, and would rather like to see it as a downloadable game on Xbox Live Arcade or something similar, because it was rather interesting and featured a lot of mechanics other SNK fighting games didn’t employ, such as the aforementioned counter systems.
But I don’t want SNK to do anything else with the franchise at this point, because they have no clue what in the hell they’re doing anymore. The King of Fighters 2006 was fine, but nowhere near the quality of their prior games. The King of Fighters XII was a watered down mess of epic proportions that was just not good in anyway except in its presentation. The upcoming Samurai Shodown 3D fighting game looks like it MIGHT be tolerable, but having not played it that’s the NICEST thing I can possibly say about it. The bottom line is that while I’d love to see a re-release of the previous games, I frankly CAN NOT trust SNK to not completely ruin a sequel, and I don’t see much point in doing anything else with the series at this point.
Stay Dead: 1
Start Over: 0
It’s rather telling that only three of our staff participated in this week’s column. It appears The Last Blade really is all but forgotten save for those of us who were big SNK fans in the late 1990’s. One of us definitely wants a strong sequel, one of us has no faith left in SNK Playmore, and I’m on the fence but chose to lean for sequel in hopes that the last few KoF games were aberrations and not the eventual fate of that series. At least we got three good games out of the series. How many fighting franchises have a perfect record like that?