In today's age a handheld fighter is written off; we assume, usually correctly, that the controls will be garbage and the graphics pitiful. For a brief time though at the end of the 1990's fighting games on portables was legit and a hell of a lot fun. SNK brought us versions of Samurai Shodown, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, SNK vs. Capcom, Real Bout and Last Blade. Between then and now though, portable fighting has been far from spectacular, making these titles all the more appealing.
The first thing that struck me about this game was the animated level intros, the sequences from the arcade and home version have made their way to the Neo Geo Pocket Color more or less intact, I certainly wasn't expecting that. They show what is going on in the level: Whether it is a women sitting on a porch gazing at the stars, a fair, or the clich? but always beautiful falling cherry blossoms. They give the levels a bit of soul as compared to being something to take up pixels. The backgrounds are a little inconsistent though, while they are all highly detailed; only a few are animated. Regardless of the backgrounds, the 14 characters all have there own distinct look. The attention to detail on the characters is outstanding, hair and clothes move according to movement, which really adds a lot to the action in my mind. Adding to that are facial expressions, sure they're not too detailed, but you can sure tell your character doesn't like getting stabbed. Also distinguishable are the effects from each character attacks, everything down kicks and punches are unique looking for each character. The special attacks in particular are fabulous, some of them taking up the whole screen with some special attacks. Finally, each character has a final cut scene done with sprites, not talking heads. I found my self really impressed by the graphics and complete lack of slowdown; this is a great example of why the NGPC should have beaten the damned Game Boy Color.
Prior to the PSP I have only played a select few portable games with the sound on; the Mario, Metroid, and Zelda games on the Game Boy Advance. Portable sound is absolutely horrible, I'm sure that the developers tell themselves that the games are mostly played in public where the sound would be rude. They're lying to themselves; you and I both know that. The stage intros specifically offer great audio, the sounds of bustling people for the fair level for example. For the actual levels, the game tries its damnedest to get the NGPC to pump out the console versions majestic score, while obviously not being able to pull that off, it still manages to bleeps out some rather enjoyable background music. The combat sounds pretty good, swords clashing and stabbing, and the fire attacks explode nicely.
Atmosphere is one thing, the important thing is control, and Last Blade delivers. The main reason a lot of portable fighters don't work is because they are on a Game Boy of some sort, and those D-pads are useless for quarter circles. Ever since I first put my hands on a NGPC I have wondered why that marvelous little 8-way thumb stick hasn't been emulated by Nintendo. Regardless of Nintendo's unwillingness to change what works, I found the controls in this game to be absolutely phenomenal. Most if not all of the attacks from the original versions have made there way over to the pocket color with startling success, even with just 2 buttons, pulling off all of the attacks, even the specials is remarkably easy. Perhaps they are even too good of controls. I found going through the story mode on normal far too easy. Don't think that is a mark of my skill either, I can't win at fighting games to save my life. I recommend putting it on hard if you want some sort of challenge.
Strategy in Last Blade revolves around four things. First are the two play options; speed or power, power allows you to do massive damage, but you can't pull off combos and you take more damage. In speed mode, your character isn't as powerful, but you can string to together combos that can devastate your opponent. Also, you will have higher defense. Power mode is probably a beginners best bet. Next are the desperation moves and super desperation moves. These are your go to attacks assuming you have met the criteria to perform them. For a desperation move your life bar must be flashing red, or you must have a full super meter (The super meter is at the bottom of the screens, filling for each blow you land). For a super desperation move, both criteria must be met. The last crucial thing to know is the repel move. The repel move is an easy to pick up but hard to master counter move system. You will find it absolutely necessary when attempting to set your own personal survival mode record.
Speaking of modes and features, this game is loaded. Last Blade includes a survival mode, the story modes from Last Blade and Last Blade 2, a training mode that puts you against a character whose action you select, time attack, and versus mode. Versus mode I assume would be fun, if you some how track down someone else with a NGPC and the game. Good luck with that. Notable are the 110 different unlockable scrolls. These unlockable feature everything art work, endings, and best of all, upgrades like Attack up, Special bar rises faster, speed up, etc. These upgrades will help you go even deeper into survival mode, which in turn earns you more points to unlock more scrolls. The quest to unlock these scrolls gives the game some legs to make up for the fact that finding someone to go head to head with is nigh-impossible.
In the end Last Blade; Beyond the Destiny is a shining example of not just portable fighting, but fighting games in general. It certainly lives up to the Last Blade pedigree. Of all the NGPC fighters, none have taken as much of my time as this gem. This game easy qualifies for ranking in "The Great Games" The only thing holding back is the difficulty; it's just a little too easy. For more information into the amazing (and now defunct) universe of Last Blade, check out John's excellent review of The Last Blade for the Neo Geoo. No matter what system you get this game for you're going to have a whole lot of fun!