The Last Blade never got as much respect as it deserved. It’s effectively the forgotten SNK franchise, even considering SNK’s low profile in North America, which gives its Neo Geo Pocket Color adaptation Beyond the Destiny a feel like a funeral.
It’s got a bit of the same melancholy to it—and I freely admit this might entirely be in my own head—as King of Fighters ’99, where the designers knew going in that this was going to be their last game for a while. Beyond the Destiny, which is now available as an emulated Code Mystics port for the Switch, is a condensed adaptation of both Last Blade games, with an identical story, almost the full cast, and many of the same backgrounds. (The name is a little word-salady, yes, but a literal translation of the game’s Japanese title is apparently something like Romance of the Bakumatsu Special: Swordsman of the Moonlight. Nothing wrong with brevity.)
Naturally, like the games it’s been adapted from, Beyond the Destiny is a weapons-based 2D fighter that’s more restrained, both in its character and gameplay design, than Samurai Shodown. It features a unique parry system, where you can deflect an enemy’s attack by pushing A+B at the right time. You can also select from one of two modes, Power or Speed; the former gives your basic attacks the ability to do scratch damage on block and unlocks super desperation moves, while the latter is more combo-focused.
It’s a decent fighting game overall. SNK didn’t really make bad fighting games for the NGPC, although Last Blade has some truly obnoxious move inputs. You could do a lot worse for $7.99.
What’s odd is that Beyond the Destiny got a standalone release at all. While SNK still regularly ports the second Last Blade to modern systems, and the most recent console version even got online-friendly rollback netcode last spring, the series has been the next best thing to dead for over 20 years.
While it’s traditionally been overshadowed by Samurai Shodown, which was always much more popular and much weirder, Last Blade does have two things going for it from a modern perspective. One is that it’s the home series of Hibiki Takane, who’s one of the best characters in 2001’s Capcom vs. SNK 2, and who’ll join Samurai Shodown as crossover DLC later this year.
The other is that both the original Last Blade games feature scenario design by Hidetaka “SWERY” Suehiro, the eccentric developer who went on to make Spy Fiction and Deadly Premonition. The original Last Blade is his first video game work, although it’s nowhere near as strange as you might be expecting from what SWERY would make later.
The Last Blade games are broadly set in the same horror/fantasy version of Japan as Samurai Shodown, but take place 80 years later during the chaotic Bakumatsu period. A gate between the worlds of the living and dead are beginning to weaken, at a point in time when only a relative handful of people are both ready and able to deal with the resulting issues. Short version: now they have to fight each other with swords. As one does.
(Looking at the respective histories, it is sort of funny how Last Blade‘s setting worked out. Samurai Shodown is set in the late 1700s during Japan’s isolationist period, but its cast is full of foreign invaders, anachronisms, and actual monsters. Last Blade takes place at a point in time when Japan was about to be forced to open up and modernize, but almost all of its playable cast are Japanese characters wearing relatively traditional outfits. You’d think it’d be the other way around, really.)
Beyond the Destiny’s story mode is a stealth remake of both the first and second Last Blades, although it doesn’t actually say as much. It handles it in an interesting way; the first time you play the story mode with a given character, you play through the events of the original Last Blade from that character’s perspective and fight its final boss. If you pick the same character again in story mode, you play through Last Blade 2 instead and get that game’s ending. While many of the characters that debuted in LB2 are available for play in Beyond the Destiny, they’re all initially locked until you clear the story mode at least once.
Like the other recent Code Mystics NGPC ports on the Switch, Beyond the Destiny runs off of an elaborate emulator. You can hit the minus button during play to adjust the background, turn on a screen filter that mimics the original hardware’s pixellation, zoom in on the action, or view a high-definition scan of the game’s original manual.
It’s a solid overall package, although it does have the same problem as the other NGPC Code Mystics ports, in that it would be nice if the game itself took a second during the opening screens to tell you that the emulation menu is there. I’ve heard from a few different retro gamers who’d been laboriously exiting the game from the Switch’s main menu every time they wanted to back out of Vs. Mode.
Beyond the Destiny also has the same “2000s problem” as all of the other fighting games on the NGPC, where it relies heavily on unlockable content to provide replay value. Fortunately, it’s just a question of earning points by beating the game’s story mode, which takes about ten minutes per run. You’ll get most of what you need if you methodically work your way through each character’s two-game story arc, but that’s still a solid 180 minutes of beating up the CPU before you can start unlocking anybody.
Worse, just under half the game’s overall cast, including all the Last Blade 2 characters, are locked when you start the game up. Seriously, SNK, I’d have paid twice the $7.99 you’re asking for if the game came with a save file that unlocked the entire roster.
It’s still nice to have a piece of neglected history back in circulation. It’s particularly cool to see all these NGPC games coming back on the Switch, which was designed for portability in the first place, as it provides a lot of possibilities for on-the-go entertainment. Last Blade deserves to be next in line for a revival, as long as SNK’s still trying to claw its way back into the mainstream, and in a perfect world, Beyond the Destiny could help make that happen.