Launching in Japan on March 21, 2001, with a worldwide release a few months later throughout June, the Game Boy Advance has an interesting & kind of contradictory history behind it. It was the long awaited "true" follow up to the long-lived Game Boy, which first launched all the way back in 1989 (the Game Boy Color in 1998 was more of a color-supporting stopgap update), yet the GBA itself would only really be seen as Nintendo's main handheld for a scant few years before the release of the Nintendo DS in 2004/2005 (depending on the region), which almost instantly overtook the GBA as the handheld of choice, especially since the DS could also play GBA games. While the GBA would continue to see releases alongside the DS for a few years, it didn't take long for the GBA (& the Game Boy name itself) to be relegated to mostly just licensed tie-in games for movies, TV shows, & the like, with only the rare outlier, like an Yggdra Union or Summon Night: Swordcraft Story. That "relegation" does technically apply to the subject of this review, as we'll be looking at a tie-in to a TV anime, but depending on where it came out it's either one of the GBA's earlier releases... or one of its very last.
|Japanese title screen, but all that's different|
is the copyright & the logo being slightly smaller.
Debuting in the pages of Weekly Shonen Magazine in mid-1999, Samurai Deeper Kyo by Akimine Kamijyo was a little different from the usual Magazine fare by being more focused on wild & over-the-top action, something you'd expect more from a Jump or Champion manga than Magazine. Still, the tale of the wanderer Mibu Kyoshiro, the feared samurai Demon Eyes Kyo that co-inhabits the same body as Kyoshiro, & the mysterious Mibu Clan (and rumored Crimson King) that seemingly runs all of Edo-Era Japan in secret found itself an audience, resulting in a 38-volume run that ended in mid-2006, during which a 26-episode TV anime adaptation by Studio Deen would air in Japan throughout the second half of 2002. Said anime, though, was wildly different from the manga, with all of the normally human (if still super-powered) villains now being revealed to be demonic creatures called Kenyo that came to Earth via a meteorite that crash landed during the Battle of Sekigahara; it's easily one of the most wildly different anime adaptations of a manga ever made. However, it's this anime interpretation that would define Samurai Deeper Kyo outside of Japan for the most part, as while TokyoPop did release the manga in English during the 00s (with Del Rey Manga finishing things up in 2010 after Kodansha pulled all of its licenses from TP), it was Media Blasters' DVD release of the anime throughout 2003 & 2004 that easily became more well known.
Media Blasters would keep the anime in print with a boxset re-release in 2005, but the next re-release was the most interesting one of all. In an effort to expand out to other mediums, MB eventually decided to also license the Game Boy Advance game based on the Kyo anime, one that had come out in Japan back in December 2002, more or less alongside a 2D fighting game for the PS1 that would remain Japan-exclusive. Media Blasters would do the localization work for the game itself under the Anime Works Game Shop name, but since it wasn't a video game publisher it had to find a partner to handle that, eventually finding one in the form of Destineer (via its Bold Games label), a company that actually had prior anime game experience after releasing two Fullmetal Alchemist games for the DS in North America. Media Blasters would release the GBA game as a bonus with the anime boxset re-re-release, while it's not really known if Destineer ever actually released the game as a standalone product, though today it's readily sold as such online (good luck getting it for cheap today, though!). However, the most interesting thing about this whole endeavor is that, while the game originally came out in Japan in late 2002, the English release in North America wouldn't happen until February 2008(!), making it the last individual release for the Game Boy Advance anywhere in the world; Europe would receive a handful of double-packs later in 2008, but those were all re-releases. So, while my expectations aren't exactly high, let's see how this experimental endeavor for Media Blasters worked out (MB would only ever release one more game, though that was digital-only), and judge whether Samurai Deeper Kyo for the Game Boy Advance is a good "final game" for the console... and, let's face it, that's not exactly a high bar to pass, considering some other "final games" for other consoles.