Blood Will Tell
Based on an Osamu Tezuka story about a child whose father sold his body parts to demons in exchange for great power, Blood Will Tell is not like many other games. The boy is plucked from the river by an old doctor named Jyukai. Since the infant was missing forty-eight body parts, he appeared to be a helpless case. Thanks to an indomitable spirit, the infant miraculously stays alive. Jyukai names him Hyakkimaru and raises him. Using his considerable skill as a physician, the doctor is able to construct artificial organs and prosthetics that the boy is able to control. The only way that Hyakki can regain his humanity is to seek out the demons who stole his body parts and kill them.
The Sensei, however, would not send Hyakkimaru out to face his destiny without aid. First of all, he trained Hyakki in the martial arts throughout his entire life. His unmatchable chi gives him an advantage over many regular humans, making him a natural fighter. Just in case that his natural talents were not enough, Jyukai replaced his limbs with powerful weapons. His leg doubles as a cannon, his artificial arms sheathe twin blades, and he even has a kind of machine gun hidden in his upper body. Additionally, heís a master swordsman, so when he needs more power than what his swift sword-arms can provide, heís deadly with a katana.
Soon after he sets off on his journey, he encounters the fiery-tempered teenager, Dororo. A thief by trade with no parents to speak of, she attaches herself to Hyakkimaru, hoping to claim his sword arms for herself. Eventually, she tags alongside the warrior as a friend, getting into places that he couldnít squeeze into, though oftentimes, they are places that she has no business being in anyway.
With so much of a plot given at the very beginning of the game, one might be inclined to believe that Blood Will Tell is an RPG. Itís not. However, there are RPG-like elements. Hyakki earns experience with each enemy he defeats, allowing his sword-arms to level up. Katanas do not (generally) gain levels, but even Dororo can increase her maximum health bar by defeating enemies with her ninjitsu.
Each regained body part bestows some sort of attribute benefit upon Hyakki. For example, regaining a leg increases his speed. There are multiple stages in the game, and to advance beyond the current level, key fiends need to be defeated. Additionally, with new abilities gained from Hyakkiís acquisitions, he is able to enter areas that were previously unreachable. Thus, in order to defeat all forty-eight fiends, the player will have to re-enter stages that have been previously cleared to seek out the particularly sneaky demons holding hostage one of Hyakkiís key organs.
There are scores of swords to find, typically three different power levels for any given type of sword. While many of these are hidden in the various stages or granted to the player as a part of the story line, some of the best have to be earned via the gameís combo system.
The game features frequent cut scenes, most of which are done in real-time. Sometimes, when Hyakki earns an especially useful organ, players are treated to a pre-rendered video of the lost part growing back, although this doesnít happen too often. It is cool to see a leg regenerate, however. Sega used advanced motion capture technology to create all of the in-game animation to great effect. Every character within moves with a natural fluidity.
The gameís controls may seem a little daunting at first. Hyakkimaru can jump, fire his cannon and guns, switch between his katana and sword-arms, manipulate the camera, dash, direct Dororo, perform a charge move, and use either a weak or strong attack. He also has a meter that builds up with damage given to or received from enemies that enables him to perform special moves.
Hyakkimaruís charge attack is one of the most interesting elements of the game. After holding the button for a few seconds, he can lunge forward, stunning his enemy for a brief amount of time. Once he has a foe pinned, a stream of buttons appears at the bottom the screen. A combo occurs when the player successfully hits a bunch of these buttons in a row before a timer runs out. Not only does it look impressive, but stringing together high-count combos (about 30 hits, for example) earns better rewards for the player. Enemies will drop health, pieces of jade for an extra life, ammunition, and even rare swords.
At the beginning of the game, itís hard to string together too many attacks, but as the player practices and begins to notice patterns in the system, it becomes easier. It helps a bit that Hyakki gets more time as he advances in the game. Missing a button or getting hit by an enemy will end the combo, adding pressure to get a high count combo finished before itís lost.
Mastering the art of combos is the key to easily beating the game. Theyíll ensure that you always have the best items, that youíre always stocked up on health, and that you gain levels quickly.
Controls are rather responsive, although I had trouble all the way until the end of the game in controlling exactly where I jumped. Luckily, if the player jumps into a crevasse, the only punishment is slight loss of HPs and movement back away from the gap in the terrain. I fell often (more due to my own carelessness than because of bad controls), but it rarely impeded my ability to play the game.
Combat is smooth and fast, and if the game consisted of just fighting, it could have kept me happy for quite some time. Switching swords is a little awkward, but the wide variety of options at the disposal of the player is impressive.
The music was good, but not especially memorable, which is unusual for a Sega game, given their track record. Ninja Gaiden is a similar title (though that particular beautifully rendered game is infinitely harder) that actually gave the option to choose between the Japanese and English language tracks. Iím not sure if there just wasnít room on the disc, but it would have made this game that much closer to being a perfect release for me. There was a Japanese language version of the game, and seeing as this is a Tezuka creation, having the option of both languages would especially appeal to the hardcore followers (read: me) of the great doctor. However, the English voice acting was very well-done, and the only real issue that I had with it would be the fact that the game is clearly set in feudal Japan, so hearing English throws off the atmosphere somewhat.
The Playstation 2 has a lot of strengths, but graphics really arenít one of them. After playing sharp, high resolution games, such as Doom 3 or Metroid Prime, the lack of refinement in the real-time graphics rendered by the PS2 are particularly painful. Times like this are when I miss the Dreamcast most of all, for Sega really knew how to get the most out of their little white box, and the game wouldíve run undoubtedly smoother on the older system.
Hardware limitations aside, the game looks very good for a PS2 title. Itís no Gran Turismo 4, but the amount of art and style present more than makes up for photo realistic graphics. Character designs of the main protagonists, as well as the supporting cast and monsters, are excellent. The creatures are especially creepy, due in no small part to the talents of Mahiro Maeda, who served as the character designer for Blood Will Tell.
Graphics may be jagged at times, but the game runs consistently at a high frame rate, buildings and characters feature detailed character models, and the gameís animation is top-notch. I think my only problem is that Iíve been spoiled by the two newer systems, but the game play is very solid, and thatís the important thing. In general, Blood Will Tell is a great looking PS2 game.
The game builds in complexity nicely as the player goes from fiend to fiend, trying to track down each of those who carry his body parts. There are some interesting plot twists along the way, and the game was easily as intriguing to watch as it is fun to play. It isnít terribly old, but as with any sort of fringe title, itís hard to find. I never saw it in stock at Best Buy, but I eventually tracked down a new copy at one of the Gamestop affiliates. This is the best point for savvy gamers to pick up the title, for itíll likely end up on Ebay within the next 6 months for far more than the twenty dollars that I paid for it.
Readers out there who arenít fans of Osamu Tezuka really should be. Not only is he the single most influential manga-ka of all time, he writes some brilliantly imaginative stories. Heís a master of multiple genres, and Blood Will Tell's enjoyability stems in large part from the successful synthesis of action, horror, drama, and philosophy.
This game not only brings to life one of his more action-packed stories, it works well as a fun game to play on its own, as well. Familiarity with Tezuka is not required to enjoy Blood Will Tell -- itís a good enough game to stand alone. However, I have to suggest that fans of anime and manga check out something from Tezuka. Thereís never anything wrong with tracing oneís roots.