Samurai Shodown is one of the oldest fighting franchises, originally appearing back in 1993 and at the time there were many similarities in the gameplay to another big fighting franchise, Street Fighter. The biggest difference was the type of combat though, as while Street Fighter was about purely hand-to-hand, Samurai Shodown, as the name suggests, was about weapons-based combat. Both games have really grown since then and Samurai Shodown decided that 3D was the way to go; Samurai Shodown Sen is the fourth iteration of the game to appear in 3D.
For those who care, there is a very slim story for players to grasp on to. It basically involves the selected character randomly travelling around various parts of the world, all while an evil general called Golba is attempting to do something sinister. It doesn't sound very interesting, and that's probably because it's not. The few cutscenes that are featured during the story are at least tailored to the selected character, which is something, as they will react in different ways to the statements that are put to them. It's just a bit disappointing really. The cast of Samurai Shodown Sen is one of its strongest points, and if they wanted to they could make a colourful story. Instead it's been made into a disjointed affair that doesn't really have any relevance to anything - even when compared to the fighting game stereotypes.
There is a huge selection of characters to choose from, and they are all put into quite loose categories like "Speed" or "Tricky". It doesn't make a huge amount of difference though, as they are all as awkward to use as each other. The move sets are actually quite limited and while there is a combo system present, it's extremely clunky and wooden. Moves don't really flow that well together and it makes the gameplay feel very stop-start. It's quite disappointing really, especially given some of the potential the characters have due to their weapon choices.
Essentially though, players have access to a kick, vertical strike and horizontal strike. These can be combined in some capacity to form combos, and some moves involve pressing buttons at the same time. There are also powered up versions of these which can cause considerably damage if they hit, as well as a special move which requires some charge time. A throw is also present, but it's fairly tame and the AI will generally block its usage. To round off the player's possible actions, there is also a block and parry system implemented into the game. If players receive a certain amount of damage, they can also power up, and enter Rage Mode, by pressing all three attack buttons. This can actually be stored up in-between rounds too.
The AI is pretty decent throughout the game. If players simply resort to using cheap moves, it will eventually adapt. They also try to use variety with their own moves and certainly aren't afraid to throw in lots of cheap sweet attacks to catch players off guard. As players progress through the game, they'll certainly be taught a few harsh lessons in how bad their skill levels are, especially against characters like Draco, who are just harsh.
Everything just feels a bit lacklustre though, and this goes right through the game. The characters are displayed in a nice artistic style throughout the menu system, but as soon as the actual gameplay starts, everything begins to look quite dated. The movement and animations of characters go in tandem with the gameplay - they just look really awkward and rigid. The only real plus side to the presentation is the gore. If players manage to finish off an opponent with a strong move then they are able to seriously injure the opponent, or even flat-out kill them. Chopping off limbs, decapitation, everything is possible and it's one of the few saving graces of the game. The menu music is pretty decent too, often portraying an oriental style. The in-battle music can be surprisingly experimental in comparison, as it switches between a mixture of oriental instrumentation and a more techno approach.
Many online fighting games have now moved into the online space to help their communities flourish. Samurai Shodown Sen is attempting to do the same as well, but the problem is, the community isn't really there. Since the North American release there have been numerous complaints about the fact it's extremely difficult to even get a game, let alone consistently. When this is taken into consideration, players are left to see what options the game has offline and they are very sparse. Aside from the story mode, there is versus, practice and survival. There are hardly any unlockables either, aside from Golba and Draco, and there isn't even a time attack mode. It's essentially the bare minimum and even by those standards it's stretching it a bit.
When a fighting game's combat isn't on the strong side, it's clear the game has some problems. Having said that, if players want to put the time and effort in to learn all of the move sets then they could probably start to have some kind of fun with it. They could probably have more fun elsewhere though, which is part of the issue. It seems as though Samurai Shodown is a franchise that's been left in the dust and with other fighting games showing considerable advances in recent years it isn't acceptable.