Meet Alperen. He’s the villain of Dual Blades, the wielder of a powerful weapon of the same name. He doesn’t actually use two swords, though; he somehow stumbled across a mystical blade, sold his soul to claim it, and thus created the legendary sword. In return, the Dual Blades granted him immortality, leaving him doomed to wander the Earth as an ageless swordsman for the rest of his existence. Of course, the possibility of such power has led several other warriors to defeat Alperen and gain the weapon for themselves. With nothing more than vanity, ambition, and thoughts of immortality running through their minds, the characters of Dual Blades venture forth.
Veterans of the Soul Calibur series ought to find this plot to be eerily familiar to that of the other franchise. Instead of focusing on medieval Europe or feudal Japan, Dual Blades is supposedly set in the Hun Empire in 150 B.C. Oddly enough, records show that the Hun Empire didn’t rise to power until centuries after that time period. Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll find that game’s warriors make for a jarringly anachronistic ensemble. You’ve got a female samurai, a Persian assassin, a knight of the Round Table, a warlock, a ghost-invoking Mongolian granny, a boy band reject (complete with an overly gelled hairdo and cheesy grin), and a some kind of disproportioned Wolverine wannabe. With so many weird-looking fighters from various time periods, it might be best to toss the unoriginal plot out entirely.
It’s not like Dual Blades borrows just its story from another fighting game franchise, however. Nearly every aspect of the gameplay has been taken from other series and melded together in an unsightly mishmash of features. Combat is comprised of standard two-round fights, allowing you to hack, slash, and bludgeon a foe to death. Fans of the King of Fighters and Street Fighter series will feel right at home, as many of the characters emulate almost identical maneuvers. Anyone who’s used SNK’s Terry Bogard will recognize the knight’s bladed version of his Buster Wolf attack. Even though the fighters are different and the attacks aren’t named, you’ll still be able to do devastating uppercuts, send waves of energy flowing across the ground, and perform a variety of hard-hitting attack combos. Once you’ve gotten a hang of the infuriatingly slow-paced combat and AI’s predictable attack patterns, you’ll have no trouble fighting your way up the ranks and into Alperen’s domain.
The game tries to go the extra mile by featuring a handful of different super attacks for each character. Upon choosing a character, you’ll be able to choose two skills for the upcoming battle. Once you’ve charged up enough energy (Guilty Gear veterans ought to recognize this), your character can perform multiple sword slash combos, grab enemies and rip a few new holes in them, and even summon a legion of crows to peck them into submission. In a nod to Street Fighter III, all of the fighters are capable of parrying attacks, which involves pressing forward at just the right time to deflect an enemy’s attack. Unfortunately, the laggy controls defeat the purpose of such features; the GBA will be frequently overwhelmed by your rapid button commands and make your characters move randomly. There’s no point in parrying if your character can only deflect a single attack before getting killed. The unreliable hit detection doesn’t help matters either; you’ll find that some of your attacks will go through their intended target. Needless to say, this is no Street Fighter II.
The game doesn’t make much of an attempt to impress you, either. While the GBA can portray fighters like Street Fighter Alpha 3 with vivid details, Dual Blades looks like something out a child’s failed art assignment. You’ll get to fight across a blocky drawbridge leading into Camelot, slash your way through an labyrinth of brown walls, and smack a samurai around a badly pixilated cherry blossom. Even the character models are laughable; how can a man’s pectorals be bigger than his arms and legs combined? Why do they slide across the floor, as opposed to having actual walking animations? Where are their faces? The game tries to make up for it by including gory deaths a la Mortal Kombat. This usually involves having someone’s head and shoulders sliced off (regardless of where the last cut landed) and leaving a big red (or blue, if you’re fighting your character’s clone) spot where the rest of the body should be.
Dual Blades is a prime example of how too many good ideas can be a bad thing. It’s got the fighters-chasing-weapon-for-immortality story of Soul Calibur. The parrying maneuvers, special attacks, and other gameplay mechanics are ripped from King of Fighters, Street Fighter III, and Guilty Gear. However, the lacking controls and questionable hit detection kills off much the technical aspects of the fighting. At least the game has the bloody graphics (or at least a pathetic mockery of them) from Mortal Kombat. Sadly, none of these aspects are implemented well enough to make the game worthwhile. Instead, it’s little more than a fighting game with an identity crisis.