There are very few game consoles in existence that can compete with the diverse fighting game library of SNK's Neo Geo system. While some of the earlier efforts came up short of reaching the quality of Capcom's Street Fighter II series, many later efforts ended up being some of the best 2D fighting releases of the era. Samurai Shodown may have kicked off the weapons-based 2D fighting rage on the system, but it wasn't until The Last Blade that SNK truly took things to a whole new level.
The Last Blade doesn't stray too far from the standard fighting game style of play made famous by many fighting games of the time period. You choose your fighter from a cast of 12 characters, each with their own unique look and fighting style, followed by choosing a special fighting characteristic you want your character to feature. Speed allows your character to be quicker and more agile whereas the Power setting makes your character do greater damage. It's more of a personal preference, but can also complement your specific character's attributes.
The controls are responsive and there's a wide range of combos that can be executed. While the strong and weak slashes are going to be your main line of attack, you will need to learn to use the kick button to help catch your opponent off-guard. You'll also need to make good use of the repel button as this is the best way to open an aggressive opponent to a barrage of combos. You'll soon learn that balancing offence and defence will be the key to success against some of the game's tougher fighters, especially if you like to crank the difficulty setting up.
The Last Blade may seem simplistic, but don't let appearances fool you. There's a lot more than meets the eye to the game's fighting engine and if you're willing to put in the time to master a character, you'll get far more out of the game than someone who's just mashing a bunch of buttons. As solid as the Samurai Shodown games were in terms of gameplay, The Last Blade basically perfects the system and makes for a much more fluid and intense fighting experience.
As with most Neo Geo fighting games, you're definitely going to be treated to a nice array of scenery and animations going on in the backdrops of each area. The characters all show a nice degree of detail and silky smooth animation and some of the special moves and combos feature a lot of visual flair. The music shares a lot of similarities with the Samurai Shodown titles, but in most areas it even exceeds it with some fantastic tunes and realistic sound effects.
The Last Blade is and will likely always be one of the truly great Neo Geo fighting titles and just oozes variety and responsive execution. Add in an amazing cast of very evenly balanced fighters and you're left with one of the most impressive fighting titles of its generation and a game that no fighting game fan should be without.