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Review Samurai Shodown V Special Review

Hey guys. This took me quite a long time to write, and I’ve put lots of gameplay into it as well. I recently was able to complete the Samurai Shodown series on the Neo Geo AES and this is the product of that. I hope you enjoy the read.

Samurai Shodown V Special Overview/Review

When SNK fell onto hard times in 2000, the series that fans loved fell away from the company who made them. Three SNK franchises ended up having to be outsourced to different companies for development. Metal Slug was passed on to Mega Enterprise to develop Metal Slug 4. The King of Fighters series got outsourced to a company called Eolith, making KOF 2001 and 2002. For the Samurai Shodown series, SNK handed off development to another relatively unknown company, Yuki Enterprise. While Metal Slug 4 and The King of Fighters 2001 were both low points in their respective series, Yuki Enterprise beat the odds. They revived the Samurai Shodown series after a seven-year hiatus and put out games that rivaled the quality of previous installments. They might not be perfect overall. However, let’s not forget that SNK themselves put out Samurai Shodown III.

Yuki Enterprise developed two Samurai Shodown titles. They made Samurai Shodown V and Samurai Shodown V Special. In Japan these were called Samurai Spirits Zero and Samurai Spirits Zero Special respectively. The reasoning behind calling them Zero is that they were meant to be prequels to the entire series in terms of the story and canon. While the two titles might look similar when you first dive into them, there’s a lot of changes under the hood that differentiate the two titles. For starters, both V and V Special run on an engine that’s been borrowed from Samurai Shodown IV. While that might be the case, Yuki Enterprise made some changes and additions to it that set it apart from its predecessor.

Starting with Samurai Shodown III, SNK decided to implement a new system called “Slash and Bust”. This mechanic enabled players to select a character and then pick from two different move sets, either the Slash or Bust set. They also added another setting for the player to select after selecting the move set for tweaking the rage gauge and blocking. This complicated the game unnecessarily and strayed away from the original Samurai Shodown formula. Yuki Enterprise decided to scrap both of these systems and instead created new characters based on the Bust version of others. This not only diversified the character roster even more but got rid of an unnecessary mechanic as well. Another change that was brought about is with the control scheme. Slashes returned to A for a light slash, B for a medium slash, and A+B for a heavy slash instead of using C for the heavy slash like in III and IV. For the D button, a “Special” function was added for V and V Special. This could be used for forward and backward rolls as well as hops which could dodge low attacks. One more interesting addition found in both games is the sword gauge. As you attack this gauge goes down and lessens the power your attacks have. This hits home the point that Samurai Shodown is a game of strategy, spacing, and timing. Spamming moves will have less of an effect in the long run as opposed to a few thought out slashes. Two additions specific to Samurai Shodown V Special are the Mu no Kyouchi and the Zetsumei Ougi system. Mu no Kyouchi is a system where you can hold the D button to meditate. What this does is it raises a meter on your life bar indicated by a small arrow. When you’re in a round you need to win to take the match, and your life is below where the arrow is, you can activate Concentration One by pressing BCD. When active, the game enters a slow-motion state while you still move at full speed. This can turn the tables back in your favor if your opponent has a life lead on you. One way Mu no Kyouchi can work against you though is with the Zetsumei Ougi system, more commonly known as the fatalities in the game. As you meditate and raise the point to activate Concentration One, you raise the point where your opponent can use Zetsumei Ougi against you. With Zetsumei Ougi you can perform a special move that completely kills your opponent no matter how much life they have left. The requirements to activate Zetsumei Ougi are similar to Mu no Kyouchi. You need to be in a round you have to win in order to take the match. You must have a full rage gauge and activate a rage explosion. Lastly, your opponent’s health must be in the area where Concentration One could be activated. Once these conditions are met, activate a rage explosion using ABC, and then perform a back quarter-circle plus CD. Your character will dash forward and if not blocked, you will complete the Zetsumei Ougi and kill the opponent. The animations for these moves are unique for each character and some are quite gruesome. These will be talked about later in the review.

Along with changing and adding gameplay mechanics, eight new characters were introduced, all new music was composed, and some new backgrounds were drawn. Some backgrounds were taken from Samurai Shodown IV, but they had some changes. In addition to the eight characters, there were three new bosses introduced. These were the new main boss Gaoh, and sub bosses Sankuro and Yumeiji. Only one of these boss characters made it into V Special, and that was Gaoh. This was mainly due to the removal of the detailed story mode included in Samurai Shodown V. Both Sankuro and Yumeiji were tied to the story and they didn’t fit as well in V Special. While the removal of the story mode might be a negative for some, the removal of Sankuro was a must. He has been infamous to people who have played Samurai Shodown V for being largely broken and overpowered. He has a gang of three helpers who spawn anywhere on the stage. One of these helpers can grab you and hold you while Sankuro eats food to restore his health. He can do this an unlimited amount of times and dodging the helpers can be tricky. It was really a breath of fresh air not having to deal with him in Samurai Shodown V Special.

A main reason of why the story mode was removed out of V Special was due to the different nature of the two games. Samurai Shodown V was story based like every previous installment in the series. Samurai Shodown V however is a dream match style of fighting game. Like The King of Fighters ‘98, the story and canon go out the window and you’re able to now play as the main boss characters from every previous Samurai Shodown. Because of the lack of a story mode, the music and backgrounds got a little bit generic. A good portion of character specific backgrounds and stage songs were removed. What remains in the game are the songs and backgrounds to the new characters introduced in V and the bosses that were added. While this took away some variety in the game, it cut out the reused material from Samurai Shodown IV. In a sense it made V Special a little bit more of its own game, for better or worse.

By far one of the best changes between V and V Special was the balancing of the character roster. V Special is one of the most balanced fighters on the Neo Geo platform and perhaps one of the most balanced fighters ever made. While V Special doesn’t get too much love from the Neo Geo community, it has a cult following with the dedicated fighting game community. A lot of that is owed to the tweaked and balanced character roster and gameplay over Samurai Shodown V. Yuki Enterprise took a good thing and made it even better in Samurai Shodown V Special. Currently in Japan and in the USA smaller tournaments for V Special are still held every year. There’s a strong online community for the game with their own Discord server. There aren’t many fighting games where you consistently see the lowest tier characters being seriously competitive in high levels of play, but that’s just one reason why Samurai Shodown V Special stands out. It’s amazingly balanced, fair, and fun for beginners and longtime players. It’s easy to pick up and have a fighting chance with anyone you pick.

How about owning a copy for yourself? Well, it’s not the easiest task in today’s market. For V Special on the MVS you’ll be looking at around $700 to $900 US dollars. On the AES, you have two options, fixed and unfixed. In Japan in 2004 there was a high-profile crime that was extremely violent. Strong violence is more taboo in Japanese culture and violent crime is very rare. Due to this situation SNK Playmore decided to push the release of the AES version one week out. What happened was they had decided to censor the new fatalities in the game with the Zetsumei Ougi system. Instead of having unique and gruesome fatalities for each character, they were removed and replaced with a large slash. This rush job to change the fatalities created sound bugs, text bugs and bugs in the practice mode for the AES version. Needless to say, it was met with extreme backlash and 23 days after release the game was officially recalled by SNK Playmore. A letter was sent to everyone who had purchased the game asking them to send their copy back for reprogramming. Also included was all unsold stock of the game, so sales froze for a period of time. Bugs were fixed and fatalities were partially restored to the game, but not to their original state. This introduced “fixed” copies into the market. The majority of V Special copies got fixed, but that doesn’t mean it was better. In the original unfixed release, the uncensored fatality data still exists. Thanks to the Unibios made by Razoola, unfixed copies of the game can be fully uncensored and have the bugs fixed through a patch with the custom BIOS. The same can never be done with fixed copies because that data was removed when reprogrammed. You’re simply stuck with the partially censored fatalities on a fixed copy. Because of this and the rarity value of unfixed copies, they command a healthy premium over fixed copies of V Special. You’ll be looking to spend around $1500 to $1800 US dollars on a fixed copy, while unfixed copies fetch around $2400 to $2700 US dollars. For the price you are getting something truly special, especially if you spring for an unfixed copy.

All things considered what’s my final verdict? I think that this game is such a treat to play. Many things are honed and fine-tuned in this release over Samurai Shodown V. So many things are right on with the gameplay. I personally recommend V Special over Samurai Shodown II for beginners because of the large roster, great balance between characters and the CPU is more forgiving. Graphically it’s a gorgeous game like other late release titles, and the presentation is improved over V. That being said, there aren’t many backgrounds and some are just day/night variations. You’ll be seeing the same backgrounds often and some don’t offer movement. This isn’t a huge problem in my eyes and V Special didn’t have much development time in between V. Musically I love the opening theme and character select music. As far as the stage music goes, it’s good, but not great. It gets the job done, but Samurai Shodown II had plenty more standout music tracks. Sound effects are still the same so I can’t knock it for that. Value wise there’s better bang for your buck titles on the Neo Geo, even in the same series. The cost of the title can be prohibitive for collectors. If you can work it out to get a copy though, you will not regret it and you will not be disappointed. I believe this game is one of the finest on the Neo Geo platform and is such a gem to end the long 14 year run of it. AES copies of the game have a farewell from SNK Playmore on the back thanking everyone who supported and purchased Neo Geo games over that time period. What a way to end the Neo Geo. Special by name, special by nature. The swan song of the Neo Geo shines brightly.

Graphics – 8/10
Music and Effects – 7/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Replay Value – 9/10

Overall – 8.5/10

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