Missus Raroo Says Logo[In honor of the Neo Geo console's recent 20 year birthday, the GSW column regulars The Raroos dug back into the archives of their print zine to present us with Missus Raroo's classic article from 2005 about why she loves SNK's peerless Samurai Shodown II. Not only does her write-up give love to a great fighter, but it also sheds light on the artistry and details that help make it such a timeless game. Plus, her illustrations are really cute!]

A Disclaimer From a Non-Gamer

I am, self-admittedly, every fighting-enthusiast’s worst nightmare. I am a button-masher. I know enough to realize that various direction and button combinations are supposed to result in special attacks, but I never manage to get the combinations quite right when I attempt them on purpose. I either don’t have enough fine motor coordination, or I just have really bad timing. Whatever the case may be, when I try to fight with some intentional strategy, I always die the fastest. Thus, it’s not like I button-mash out of stubbornness, it’s a matter of survival.

Given this background knowledge of my fighting-game skills, or lack thereof, you may be wondering what I could possibly add to a discussion about fighters. Your concerns are definitely valid, because I have not played very many fighters and even the ones I’ve played, I’ve barely clocked in more than a few rounds. I have, however, seen my fair share of fighters come and go, thanks to my time spent with Mister Raroo.

And, after years of exposure to myriad fighting games, there is one fighting game that stood out from them all. I couldn’t remember the name of the game, but I did remember how there were a bunch of cute barnyard animals in the background in one fighting scene. I was also able to recall there being characters with animal tagalongs, including one with a bird and one with a dog. This was enough information for the Raroo to identify the game immediately as: Samurai Shodown II, known in Japan as Shin Samurai Spirits.

If you want a “real” review that comments on attack combos and the like, then don’t bother reading any farther. If you want to know the place that Samurai Shodown II holds in relation to the other titles in the Samurai Shodown series, I couldn’t tell you. There are plenty of fan sites out there that can provide you that information in lengthy FAQs—I found quite a few when doing a little background research for this article.

What I didn’t really find, though, were write-ups that mentioned all of the reasons why I happen to love Samurai Shodown II, and so at least I don’t feel like I’m replicating what’s been written a million times before. So, without further ado I present…Falling in Love with Samurai Shodown II For All the Right Reasons.

For Its Japanese Flavor

As soon as you power up Samurai Shodown II, you are immediately treated to cherry blossom petals falling over the the Gairyu Isle background, complete with a path of red Torii gates leading to Mount Fuji, one of the most recognizable settings in Japan. Next, you are presented with a flurry of the game’s characters flashing against a scrolling Japanese art screen, the same pattern that also serves as the background during player selection. Finally, the title screen comes on, accompanied by characteristically Japanese music complete with the sounds of shakuhachi, shamisen, and taiko drums. Thus, even before you even get to play the game, you are immersed in the wonderful Japanese ambience that permeates all of Samurai Shodown II.

The playing options in the game allow you to select the regions of Japan, Spain, or USA. If you select Japan, the gushing blood during battles is colored in red, but if you select Spain or US, the blood color is palette-swapped and appears green instead.

Green Blood!

Also, if you select Spain, the game text changes to Spanish, and if you select USA, the text changes to English, or as some like to say Engrish, due to the improper, but oh so satisfying, translations (For example, you’ve got to appreciate Kyoshiro gloating with a comment like “Fight like dance, and win. That’s the soul of Kabuki.”). Luckily, regardless of region, none of the character voices or audio narration is dubbed or changed from the original Japanese. Even though I can’t understand the Japanese comments throughout the game, the dramatic, guttural voices add such great feeling that would be completely ruined by English dubbing.

To complement the Japanese sounds, the visual references throughout the game pay homage to some great popular culture and history. The most obvious character connection is Hanzo, based on the historical ninja master Hattori Hanzo. In the game, Hanzo plays on a war torn battlefield that includes such wonderful details as a sideways leaning cement lantern and a broken Japanese-style battle flag.

Although less obvious to me, I found out through research that Ukyo is based on the swordsman Sasaki Kojiro Genryu, Nicotine was most likely made after the Buddhist monk Takuan, and Haohmaru after the samurai Miyamoto Musashi. In the game, Haohmaru also happens to love the Japanese alcoholic beverage sake. He drinks sake to taunt his opponent, and he even uses a sake bottle as a weapon at times.

Japanese Kabuki theater is weaved in with Kyoshiro and the Japanese card game Hanafuda with Genjuro. The samurai servant Jubei snacks on rice balls to taunt his opponent while competing in a beautiful snow-covered bamboo forest that leads to a home built with traditional Japanese architecture. Two of the bamboo stalks stand out in foreground and can be cut by players in the heat of battle, a simple yet satisfying instance of interactive backgrounds.

Finally, I love the presence of Kuroko, the judge who dutifully referees every battle. Supposedly Kuroko dresses in the tradition of a Kabuki stagehand, while using the red and white flags to referee as in a kendo match. Of course, Kuroko also throws confetti, and I suppose that is neither customary in Kabuki nor kendo.

For Its Humblest Heroes

Throughout my life, I’ve always been a champion of the underdog. I’ve always rooted for the underdog, and I’ve always been the underdog, you know, the kid who tried her hardest, but still spent a lot of time cheering from the bench. So, what can I say, I love the humblest heroes of Samurai Shodown II the most! First, take Earthquake. This is one obese man who is not afraid to flaunt it. He bares his belly in all of its glory, wearing nothing but a flimsy vest, and when he wins a battle he’s not too shy to take a gigantic bite of chicken leg.

Earthquake's Chicken

Next, consider the attractiveness of Gen-An the green monster. Gen-An is a worthy adversary with his sharp Freddy Kreuger-style claws, but in the end, he’s a guy who scratches his butt when he wins a battle. That leads us to the small but ever mighty Nicotine. You find out when he battles that halitosis is no longer something to be embarrassed by. A puff of his bad breath can send his opponent down for the count. Even in victory, though, Nicotine doesn’t get away with gloating. Sometimes he’ll laugh so hard that his back will give out, revealing that even after taking down his rival, he is still vulnerable to old age.

Throughout the game, you will find other small details that reveal the humanity characters have through their weaknesses. Sieger, for example, has the most ridiculously large fist cover for a weapon. It’s a weapon that has got to give poor Sieger some confidence since, after all, he has all the pressure in the world to fight before the king. Taking up half the screen, the fist is so large that you might hardly notice how it compensates for Sieger’s puny legs and pointy-toed boots.

Sieger’s masked weakness is further revealed when he loses a battle. The king has to stand up in disgust to shame him, and at times you will find Sieger falling down and grabbing his shoulder. To me, it’s the classic “pretending to be hurt” scam that people play all of the time when they fail at something. I can just hear him blaming the shoulder, “Darn you, shoulder! If it weren’t for you, I could have won the honor of the king!”

Finally, perhaps the most sympathetic hero of all is Ukyo, our very own tuberculosis case. The poor guy perseveres even while coughing up blood. His taunt is to kneel down and cough, and when winning a battle he sometimes collapses all of the way to the ground while his girlfriend finally emerges from behind the torii gate post to help him. If that isn’t a departure from the regular victory dance, I don’t know what is.

For Its Fan Clubs

While the heroes of Samurai Shodown II may be unconventionally humble, they don’t often lack the support of fans rooting in the background. Some levels in the game are set in locations without the presence of spectators, like Charlotte’s empty palace or Nicotine’s foggy temple grounds. Nevertheless, there are definitely some memorable fan clubs worth noting.

First, there are the standard fan clubs. When Ukyo wins a battle, for example, he is sometimes showered by a pack of adoring women dressed in kimonos. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Then, there’s the kabuki star Kyoshiro who is constantly being rooted for by members of his cast. There are about a dozen men in the background who wave their arms around with fans or with instruments in hand. Again, no big surprise.

Stirring the PotNext, you have what I like to think of as wannabe fans. These are fans who look a lot like the fighter. Now, they might just be relatives, but even so, it’s funny because they are just choosing to root for whoever shares their resemblance. I guess it’s not so different from what happens all of the time in real life, but I still find it amusing for some reason. In this category, there is Gen-An who is being supported by two fellow green monsters on either side of a giant and ominous-looking cauldron.

The goblin on the right is busy stirring the pot and the goblin on the left is too busy waving his giant spoon above his head to help with the stirring. The established work ethic of the goblins carries over to the end of the battle. The goblin on the left gets so emotionally caught up in the action that if Gen-An loses, he falls down. Meanwhile, the goblin on the right is the responsible one who keeps his spoon in the pot, but gets a stern look on his face, probably upset not only that Gen-An lost, but that he’s the only one doing any work.

Another character with a wannabe fan club is Earthquake. If you play Earthquake’s level, you can’t help but notice that all of the guys in the background are bare-chested and big-bellied just like Earthquake. In particular, there is one look-alike fan who is busy chowing down chicken, one of Earthquake’s favorite snacks, and there is another guy standing with very proud posture in the back. This guy in the back cracks me up the most, because he spends the whole time continuously spinning a chain much like the one that Earthquake uses as a weapon. You can’t help but guess that this guy adores Earthquake and wants to be just like him!

This leaves me with the most bizarre fan club of all and that is the fan club for Galford. Galford is a ninja with a husky who fights at a shipyard in San Francisco! There is no indication of what he could possibly have in common with a bunch of muscle-toned men who work with fish on a dock, and yet this is exactly the colorful bunch that Galford finds rooting for him.

Among the crowd, there is a guy choking and head butting another man, an old man teetering with a cane, a guy just rubbing his belly, and one reclining with his arm behind his head, his legs crossed, and his fist up to cheer. There is also one man distracted by a cute dog, another one cheering with his butt sticking out, and yet another sitting so excited that he has to tap his feet and cup his mouth to cheer all the louder. It is totally bizarre, and I love it!

Throughout this section, I didn’t mention Nakoruru’s fan club, but that is because I pay special tribute to them below. Read on.

For Its Animals

Animals Love NakoruruI mentioned earlier that my lasting memories of Samurai Shodown II were of the animals. The “barnyard” scene that was seared into my memory is the level for Nakoruru, who also happens to be the character with the bird sidekick, a hawk named Mamaha that can be used in attacks. While Mamaha may be the main animal star people associate with Nakoruru, I love all of the animals that adorn the background of her level, which turns out to be more of a forest/straw-thatched roof cottage scene than a barnyard scene.

To the best of my visual discernment, I have been able to spot the following animals: numerous deer populating the forest on the right side of the screen, a big standing brown bear carrying Nakoruru’s sister Rimururu on its shoulder, a white parrot sitting atop the head of a black cow, kittens cleaning each other under the watchful gaze of three huskies, a group of red chickens to the left of a posing white rabbit and a hopping white rabbit, a couple of bounding foxes, a trio of yellow birds building a nest in a barrel, a white horse chilling behind a low fence, a couple of monkeys roughhousing on a shelf and a couple more clapping wildly on the cottage awning, beavers surfacing by logs in the river, and even what appears to be a hamster running in a wheel inside the building!

Although the level of nature-loving Nakoruru takes the cake when it comes to animals, there are others thrown in throughout the game. Akin to Nakoruru’s hawk, Galford has a husky dog Poppy to aid in attacks. Before battle, Galford calls out, “Let’s go and defend the justice, Poppy,” and throughout the fight, Poppy doesn’t disappoint with his intimidating fighting stance and snarling expression. Sound effects of his growls and barks liven the scene, and at the end of fights you might spot the animation of Poppy’s eye twinkling, Poppy licking Galford’s face, or even the guest appearance of Poppy’s three adorable puppies: Poppa, Puppa, and Pippa.

To top it off, Galford’s level includes the treat of a naughty gray cat trying to paw its way into a blue bag that probably contains fish, a brown bulldog-looking pup that is continuously being scratched under the chin, and arguably the star of the background: a prize-winning shark that hangs in humiliation, twirling around with a hook through its nose so that its neck is left arching back and its mouth hanging wide open to reveal a big red tongue.

Cham Cham also has an animal companion in her monkey Paku Paku. Paku Paku doesn’t get involved in attacks, but it does liven up the action with silly antics such as making “ooh ooh ooh” noises, beating its chest, or jumping on Cham Cham’s head after a battle, which by the way, leaves Cham Cham looking none too pleased. In the background of Cham Cham’s level, Paku Paku has a fan club consisting of a monkey that cheers with a stick in hand and a mommy monkey that appears to have kid monkeys flanking her sides. Cham Cham’s level also features a silly alligator that laughs, some dead fish hanging from a pole, and a good showing of flamingoes that I guess aren’t too intimidated by the alligator to stick around.

Although much more minor in detail, Genjuro’s beautiful level with the flowing waves of grain is made even more picturesque with geese flying by in the sky and Gairyu Isle is livened up by the circling of a seagull up high. Similarly, the black crows in Hanzo’s battleground level add to the feeling of desolation, and the black feathers that fall across the screen in close-up view when some crows are forced from a falling gravestone are a great touch. In my everyday life, I love animals for enriching my days, and similarly, the animals of Samurai Shodown II breathe special life into the gaming experience. For them alone, I will forever love Samurai Shodown II.

[Missus Raroo doesn't consider herself to be a "real" gamer, but between listening to her husband excitedly talk about games on a regular basis and trying her hand at a select few titles herself, she knows a thing or two about video games. She served as the co-editor-in-chief of the Game Time With Mister Raroo print zine and was called the "heart and soul" of the publication by readers. She lives in El Cajon, CA with her husband, son, daughter, and pets. You may reach Missus Raroo at koopaboo@yahoo.com.]