Of the original four Samurai Shodown games released in the 90s, Samurai Shodown III is often considered the black sheep. It shook up the style and gameplay from the first two games in some interesting ways, but not everyone found the changes to be for the better. For me, however, that’s part of what makes the game interesting.
Compared to other fighting games, the Samurai Shodown series is known for its slower, more deliberate pace and defense-oriented gameplay. This design is meant to accentuate the idea that the characters are fighting with weapons, and every strike carries greater impact. As such, it makes it much easier to punish missed attacks, so it’s virtually impossible to be successful by button-mashing. In Samurai Shodown, you don’t attack unless you’re absolutely sure it’s a good idea.
But that’s where Samurai Shodown III began to change things. The game plays much faster than the previous games, making it feel a little more like a traditional fighting game, yet it’s still very defense-oriented. It also uses a slightly different control scheme, which would actually become the standard for the rest of the games in the series.
The art direction also changed a lot in this installment. While the first two games looked more cartoonish, this one redrew all the characters to have slightly more realistic proportions. At the same time, the presentation is much more stylized, and even a little creepy. When both characters are running low on health at the end of a match, the music fades out, and the background briefly changes to something more dream-like. It’s a really interesting touch that adds some drama to the battle.
There are 14 characters in the game, half of which come from previous games, and the other half being brand new. There are also two versions of every character, a “Slash” version and a “Bust” version, which basically amount to good and evil. Both versions have slightly different move sets.
SNK games are known for having very cheap AI, and for some reason, this trend was at its worst in 1995. Samurai Shodown III falls victim to this trend, and is a very difficult game. SNK cut players some slack in 1996, as their games (including Samurai Shodown IV) got much easier that year.
I never really got into the Samurai Shodown series back in the day. I played it a couple of times, but the gameplay didn’t click with me. It wasn’t until I picked up the Samurai Shodown Anthology for the Wii this past summer that I had the opportunity to understand the games, and I’ve really come to appreciate them. It’s a shame that this series (like many SNK franchieses) is mostly dead today.
But despite being the black sheep, I find Samurai Shodown III to be a very interesting and fun game. Maybe it’s just my tendency to gravitate towards the underdog, but I also appreciate it when an established franchise is willing to try something different. Plus, this game featured the debut of one of my favorite characters in the series: Shizumaru. (Beware his spinning parasol of death! He will give you the ultimate paper-cut!)