Minimalist and cinematic representation are often seen as polar opposites by gamers, often as two visual styles which portray information in different ways – the former through abstraction and the latter through realism. However, equating cinema as realistic and anti-minimalist is implying it resembles aspects of Hollywood rather than all types of films. Bushido Blade, which is already an abstraction of existing fighting game conventions, represents a cinematic style of Akira Kurosawa through that abstraction.
As an exercise in minimalist representation, every element of Bushido Blade is essential, necessary and contributes to its intention to bring out the tension in the long drawn-out samurai showdowns in Kurosawa’s films. There is no fluff mechanic or system in Bushido Blade, which just like Kurosawa reduces the actors and props in the environment as the sole focus of the camera. There’s no distracting UI, no indication of combos, stamina or stats. None of that matters in a samurai fight. The central conceit of the first clean hit defeating the other opponent is key to bringing out the tension in the game. Even while watching the famous showdown in The Seven Samurai or even the climatic fight in Kagemusha, the viewer is constantly aware of the rules of a samurai fight. This isn’t a street brawl where the one who takes most hits and still can stand up survives. Both in Kurosawa’s films and in Bushido Blade, the tension is solely centred on who gets the first hit, which in the context of a game escalates to evoke two polar opposite emotions from the players, based on the spark of a single moment when one’s weapon cuts through the other.
Let’s take a moment to chart the emotional buildup of the players in a Bushido Blade fight. There is never a persistent feeling of winning or losing, which stands in sharp contrast with the rest of the fighting games. Instead, Bushido Blade pivots off moments where one mistake puts you in a bad position and you go “Oh, shit!” instantly sending your adrenaline and heart rate through the roof as you try to survive. The chief difference there being that a fight in Bushido Blade, like in a Kurosawa film, doesn’t have a consistent winning/losing curve in a single fight. Instead, it has moments where each fighter has an opportunity to take advantage of the situation and deliver the killing blow. But, even then it never takes away the agency from either of them. The loser died, not only because the winner took advantage of the opening to kill him, but also because the losing player couldn’t do enough to save himself.
Such situations are plentiful in Bushido Blade, always making you feel like a MMA fighter briefly trapped in a submission hold that could prove fatal at any moment, but one you also know can be immediately overturned in your favour by the sheer nature of the game. In that sense by always allowing the underdog to have agency, both Bushido Blade and Kurosawa’s films represent the most central aspect of samurai fights in the best way. They’re not fights about physical resistance or tolerance but instead they’re about reflexes, concentration and focus over sustained periods of time. A Bushido Blade fight may have unusually large downtime intermittent with large spikes in tension, compared to other chaotic fighters. But its meaningful abstraction and central hook of a one-hit death ensures that every single moment contributes to the tension, with each spark from clashing swords acting as a release of the built-up tension.