Finally, an English fan translation is available for an iconic retro gem
After over twenty years since its debut, a turn-based RPG based on the renowned Samurai Shodown fighting game series (known as Samurai Spirits in Japan) is now playable in English, thanks to a devoted team of translators and hackers.
The late 1990s marked a magical era for fighting games. Not only were some of the most beloved genre entries being released, but developers also ventured into established franchises using experimental formats. Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits: Bushidō Retsuden, initially released by SNK for the Neo Geo CD in 1997, was one such endeavor. Now, even non-Japanese speaking fans can experience the game in its entirety.
Nussbaum’s journey to this moment began in 2007 when he received the tools to dump the Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits script from an unnamed benefactor, according to the README bundled with the translation. “In essence, I was told, ‘Have fun figuring the rest out,’” Nussbaum said. “And since I’m more than a little Samurai Shodown-obsessed, I immediately set to work.”
After overcoming several setbacks and experiences, Nussbaum paused development on the project before being inspired to pick it up again in 2022.
Samurai Shodown: Tales of the Bushido, as the translation renames the game for English-speaking audiences, adheres to RPG tropes of the era while also introducing several nuances inspired by its roots.
The player is given the choice of six classic Samurai Shodown characters — Haohmaru, Genjuro Kibagami, Nakoruru, Cham Cham, Ukyo Tachibana, and Galford D. Weller — to start the game. Each character has their own unique dialogue, cutscenes, and openings, although the basic narrative remains the same regardless of the chosen character.
Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits provides a selection of six starting characters with different stats and moves, much like a fighting game.
Furthermore, powerful skills analogous to magic spells in other RPGs are modeled after party members’ special moves from the fighting games. These moves can be executed using traditional fighting game inputs like quarter-circles, adding an element of familiarity and skill to the gameplay.
A menu illustrates how to perform Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits’ special moves, requiring proper execution from the player.
Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits: Bushidō Retsuden was eventually ported to more popular platforms like the Sega Saturn and PlayStation. However, the Neo Geo CD version is widely regarded as the best due to its more complex animations. While the translation does make some improvements, such as including more potent stat-boosting items and the ability to select alternate color palettes for playable characters, which were present in the original’s code but not utilized.
“It’s been a hell of a journey,” Nussbaum said. “And it’s finally done, barring any bug fixes. Thanks for being here at the end of it.”