I’m a long-time fan of Bushido Blade (1997) by Light Weight for the PlayStation. Huge fan. Likewise, with Bushido Blade 2 (1998) but, for simplicity of this article, I’ll focus on just the first game even though the same cheats apply to the second as well.
I enjoy Bushido Blade because it is the first attempt at a no-frills swordplay simulator. I find it to be quite a reasonable attempt that is primarily focused on distance, timing, and realism rather than, for example, platform fighters that seem to be about memorizing dozens of button combinations that result in super-human attacks. I had no need for the story mode — just the head-to-head multiplayer mode. Duels are over fantastically (and realistically) quickly and then it is: reset, go at it again with your buddy, and repeat. This is usually good for about 30 minutes of entertainment, and dozens of deaths, in a single sitting. As good as the simulator was, something, however, always smelled funny about the shear dominance of the Japanese weapons…
Now would also be a good time to also mention that I’m a long-time fan of the technological advances of the metallurgy of the katana over what I understand the Damascus sword and steel to be. While those details are beyond the scope of this post, I mention this to demonstrate that I don’t have an agenda to demote the capabilities of Japanese weapons and styles.
One day, a few years ago, we had a visitor wander in to our Suiō-ryū Iai Kenpō (水鷗流 居合 剣法) study group who was a practitioner of a western sword art. That is, he studied swordplay with swords such as the rapier and we studied the katana, etc. It was an extremely interesting night, learning about each other’s art. When I faced off with him with wooden weapons, he and his rapier waster, and me and my bokken, it was immediately and shockingly obvious how different the two weapons are in a “gentlemanly” duel. Particularly, given all things equal regarding height, my opponent’s rapier had at least 4 inches more reach as well as being balanced to be a much more agile weapon. In short, it felt ludicrous to take on such a weapon with a bokken in this scenario. The only advantage that I might have, that I could possibly objectively identify, is that, with steel weapons, I might have some hope to use superior steel to shorten or break his weapon… but such a tactic also felt a bit absurd.
What it really comes down to, to be as fair as I can, is, simply, that the rapier and katana evolved for different purposes. Mano-a-mano, no armor, the rapier seems the clear choice. Put yourself on a battlefield, however, with guys in body armor charging you, you might choose something with more stopping power such as the katana.
Speculatively, I would say that honor and tradition caused the katana to be carried as a dueling weapon even though it appears to be more of a battlefield weapon. The legendary Miyamoto Musashi appears to have understood the disadvantage of this and is known to have engaged in duels with longer weapons (such as his duel with Sasaki Kojirō) and/or lighter weapons (such as the thinner bokken used in his school, Niten Ichi-ryū, versus the bokken of other schools).
Anyhow, this experience with a rapier brought me back to re-examining Bushido Blade and researching typical weapons metrics from both Europe and Japan.
Thanks, in large part, to the article What did Historical Swords Weigh?, by J. Clements, and some of the sources cited there, I was able to chase out the following data with a few days of research (this was back in May of 2014). The metrics that are grossly out of spec from what I found to be typical are shown in red. To simply sum it up, in Bushido Blade, all western swords are about 12 inches too short, and the longsword is about 3 times too heavy (or more if you account for it’s shortness). That’s not just a little cheat — that’s a big, gross, hairy bowling ball of a cheat!!!!! Even if you account for a 6-inch difference in height between medieval Europeans and Japanese (5’7″ vs. 5’2″), that should be perhaps only a 3-inch shortening from typical European weapons… not 12 inches!
|Bushido Blade Weapons versus Typical Weapon Variations|
|Weapon||Bushido Blade||Typical Weapon Variations|
|Total Length||Blade Length||Weight||Total Length Range||Blade Length Range||Weight Range||Notes|
|Different eras set various maximum legal limits on blade length but all katana are 60.6 cm and longer|
|?||No typical measurements found due to many swords being shortened to meet legal limits over the years. See also: tachi.|
|* Broadsword ranges shown (longsword and broadsword are labeled backwards in the game)|
|Cavalry saber ranges shown|
|* Longsword ranges shown (longsword and broadsword are labeled backwards in the game). See also: great sword.|
|?||Varies greatly depending on era and style|
|History records periods of rapier blades up to 130cm and few even longer. See also: small sword.|
|n/a||n/a||?||See also: war hammer|
… and, yet, I still love the game… but only for dueling with Japanese weapons.
If you don’t believe this data, look for yourself and see what you find. If you do believe this data, good luck convincing others of this in a day of mythically large swords (which, if they existed in history, were purely ceremonial and not something to swing on a battlefield all day). I tried posting this data as un-opinionated as I could on Wikipedia, once upon a time, but, of course, fans of the game — and/or fans of Japanese hoplology — can’t stand hearing that the developers in Japan had to cheat to win, and someone eventually deleted the whole weapons section to hide this information. I didn’t bother fighting it because I knew better. Wikipedia (which I am also a huge fan of) can only be as truthful as the majority of fans will allow. I have learned that lesson many times.
I hope to find a better sword sim someday (but, again, that is another topic… I’ve heard rumors of games I have yet to look into).