Kiai Resonance | Nintendo Switch Review

My first introduction to the samurai was probably Akira Kurosawa films. Without going in deep, Kurosawa is my ‘speciality’. I’ve seen and studied my fair share of his movies, leading to a further interest in bushido, so I’ve always held an interest in the genre. The title I’m looking at here is Kiai Resonance, by Absorb Reality.

Kiai Resonance is a one-on-one samurai simulation – a duel if you will, available on the Nintendo eShop. I saw the trailer, and while it didn’t ‘pop’ as such, it was a game I was interested in and wasn’t exactly expensive. So, I bought it. Is it any good? Read as you will.

Player 2 is in an attack stance, player 1 ready to counter

Masamune Blades and Kurosawa

There aren’t that many accurate samurai fighting games. Mostly it’s 40 hit combos, Masamune swords and anything else ridiculous when samurai face one another. Games such as Samurai Shodown, the Soul Calibur series or one of my favourite titles growing up, Onimusha, have lead us to believe that fights can be drawn out with a lot of movement. That’s not the case, though.

As you can imagine, I haven’t experienced a real samurai fight as 1) the wrong era 2) the wrong location. These fights are reconstructed in reenactments or more popular – martial arts like kendo or iaido. I briefly did the latter; a discipline where you learn to draw and sheath your sword gracefully, but without sparring. Naturally, it doesn’t have much use in the modern western world, but it teaches control etc. nevertheless.

Jumping back to Kurosawa again, I saw my first realistic duel and was captivated by the scene. There was absolute silence, no taunting, no flamboyant dancing around, just one fatal slash and then it was over. If you haven’t seen it, check it out below:

The Closest to a Swordfight

The closest game to the samurai experience has been Bushido Blade on the PlayStation and then Kengo on the PlayStation 2. It’s not just all about one-hit kills, but these games represent the style pretty darn well. Nothing springs to mind that has come close since, but seeing Kiai Resonance gave me a little hope.

Similar to everything I’ve stated above, Kiai Resonance is a duel between two samurai. Your goal is to kill your opponent – usually in one move or two. There are three stances; low, mid and high, and there are slow and fast attacks for each. While there aren’t any special moves or combos to perform, the real goal is technique and timing. Anticipate your opponents move and either get them before they get you, or be ready to counter.

I knew that this wouldn’t be a typical fighting game. But I chose this on the basis that it would be much like the movie clip, Bushido Blade and one-hit kills. That said, I was quite disappointed with the game. Unlike another one-hit kill games such as Katana Zero or Akane.

A tutorial scene teaching the basic moves

Like a Ukiyo-e Painting

Aesthetically, this game looks great. The character models and backgrounds are spot-on and look straight out of a ukiyo-e painting. It does feel the part, and the minimal sound effects compliment it well. I can’t say the same about the animation.

Movement is in the style of cut-outs and wouldn’t look too out of play in a traditional Japanese folk tale, but it doesn’t translate too well in the game. There were often times where I would input a command, and it wouldn’t transition how I expected, resulting in a quick death. Not an excuse. Honest.

Your character moves left and right – double-tap a direction, and they evade or dash forward to perform an attack. It does take time to learn the style of fighting in Kiai Resonance, and the tutorial is quite helpful. I did find it hard to read through as the font used for the game is so cliche – a horrible looking ‘far-eastern/samurai’ font overused with all things Japan. Being a type fan, see Type:Rider, it got on my nerves as readability is dire. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

A typical scene in Kiai Resonance

Easy Access with Clunky Controls

At the beginning of each match, you have the option to select your character, the number of rounds you wish to participate in and the stage. Stages are represented by seasons and look like something straight out of a Japanese painting of the era. It looks that good.
That’s about as far as it goes for me, however. Everything in Kiai Resonance is accessible from the beginning and no real incentive to keep playing the game other than for the enjoyment, and it isn’t that enjoyable. As a two-player, it’s much better, but the other player has to be clued up on the fighting style as button mashers will go bored almost immediately.

And that’s just it. It feels like a flash game someone put on the internet in the ’90s. If you played this online around that time, you’d probably be impressed as the controls (and lag) suit play on a keyboard, but not so much on the Switch. I just found myself quite frustrated with the speed of movements and the variety in the game. It looks like it this was by one person, which is always amazing, but for me, it doesn’t justify the price or your time so much. Grab it in a sale and find another person to play and it’s alright, otherwise, it’s not great.

** Update: We posted a YouTube video of our gameplay. Link below! **