Readers, in keeping with my eternal relevance to modern gaming, I come this week to bring you a review of a game from 2004. Released on the PlayStation 2 in September, 2004, Blood Will Tell: Tezuka Osamu’s Dororo is, as its full title suggests, a loose video game adaptation of Dororo, a 1967 manga. Osamu Tezuka, author of Dororo, is better known for Astro Boy, Black Jack, and Phoenix than he is for Dororo, and is widely considered to be the “father of manga” due to his influence as both author and artist. But enough weeaboo nonsense. I came to bring a review, and review I shall.
Blood Will Tell follows a young man named Hyakkimaru who, after prophecy labels him a demon-slayer, is sold out by his father to a group of demons known as the Fiends. These Fiends each take one of Hyakkimaru’s body parts during his infancy, and the young boy is abandoned to float down a river. Hyakkimaru is then found by a doctor named Jyukai (Dr. Honma in the original manga), who notices the boy’s remarkable ability to survive despite missing a number of vital organs. Jyukai fixes the boy up with prosthetics, and the game follows the now-adult Hyakkimaru as he seeks out Fiends and destroys them to recover his body parts.
The game is divided into chapters, with a young kid named Dororo joining Hyakkimaru after the game’s prologue. Because Dororo did not have a conclusive ending and because it was almost fifty years old at the time of the game’s production, a number of liberties are taken with the original plot. No familiarity with Dr. Tezuka’s work is necessary to understand the plot of Blood Will Tell, though. Despite its rather ridiculous premise, Blood Will Tell tells a decent story and plays out very similarly to a monster-of-the-week shounen fighting anime. While admittedly the game does not have a very interesting cast of characters, the storyline still manages to do its job, especially in conjunction with the gameplay.
Blood Will Tell, taken on gameplay alone, is a fairly standard hack-n’-slash action affair. Hyakkimaru can use either his sword-arms or a katana to do battle with the various demons he comes across, and he also has a leg-mounted cannon and arm-mounted machine-gun to fight with despite the game’s feudal-era setting. Where the game truly shines though, is its integration of story and gameplay elements.
For example, the prologue chapter of Blood Will Tell is entirely in black and white; since Hyakkimaru does not have eyes and can only see the world through his psychic and/or magic powers. At the end of the prologue, he recovers his left eye, and from then on the game is in color. As Hyakkimaru finds other body parts, the game changes in certain ways. Regaining his sense of pain allows for controller rumble to be enabled, finding one of his legs gives him a dash ability, etc. Regaining body parts is the only way to really become stronger; there are no levels and no real reason to grind out enemies since the only way to increase Hyakkimaru’s stats is by regaining body parts.
One of the only two real issues with the gameplay is its platforming, which thankfully does not come up often. The camera does get in the way during platforming sometimes, and with only a double-jump to help, some jumps can be tricky. There are only a few difficult platforming sections, fortunately; most of the gameplay comes from combat. No, the real problem the gameplay has are the sections where the player controls Dororo instead of Hyakkimaru.
Each chapter, with the exception of the prologue and the final boss, has the player controlling Dororo for part of it, and these sections are almost universally bad. Most of the game’s awful platforming comes from these sections, and fighting demons as Dororo is simply not an enjoyable experience. Thankfully, Dororo can usually run past most enemies, but there are sections where combat is required and even a few Fiends that must be fought using Dororo. Still, while these Dororo parts of the game are not very good, they do fairly little to detract from the overall game’s experience.
Graphically, Blood Will Tell has aged pretty well. Hyakkimaru’s model does look a bit stiff, but how much of this is intentional and how much is a limitation of the game’s engine is difficult to judge. The demon designs are good, though there are not very many of them, and the Fiends look very good despite a number of palette swaps. While Blood Will Tell is certainly not the best-looking PS2 game, its graphics do a good job of helping to establish the game’s atmosphere.
The music and sound effects also go a long way towards setting up atmosphere; the audio helps make the game feel like a samurai movie. The actual individual music tracks are largely forgettable, but the soundtrack as a whole definitely contributes to the game’s overall tone and feel. The audio, combined with the other elements of the game, make for an interesting final package.
Blood Will Tell, sadly, was a game doomed to obscurity by the nature of its premise and its origin as a Tezuka manga, but it is certainly a game worth checking out if one can find it for a decent price. The integration of storyline and gameplay elements is something that few modern games really manage to do well, so Blood Will Tell is in many ways a refreshing experience. It is certainly not a perfect game, and its flaws are easy to pick out, but the game is on the whole worth picking up for the twenty dollars or so that the game goes for on Amazon.