The story in the game uses a similar set-up to the plot of the classic samurai film Yojimbo (The Bodyguard, Kurosawa,1961). A lone swordsmen enters a town that is being torn apart by the feuding of two rival gangs. Through your progress in the game, you can choose to either defend villagers, side with a particular gang or play them off against each other. The further into the games timeline you go, the larger and harder the forces trying to thwart you get.
You can both customise the appearance of your main character in this game, as well as equip them with a specific sword. Swords can be acquired in 1 player mode and upon completion (survival) of a timeline. There is a large range of weaponry in the game, with various differences in technique and durability.
Saving in the game
You can only save once for each play through. When you load a saved game, which is only allowed at the end of a day in the games timeline, that save game gets deleted. This encourages the player to play through the game multiple times to see the different branches in the storyline rather than simply reload. Obviously game saves can be copied between memory cards, but the process can become tedious.
The games multi-player mode, not found in its sequel, allows 2 players to fight each other using characters from the game. As a competitive game, it makes much better use of the swordplay system the game uses, having a similar balance to the Soul Calibur games through the use of not only blocking, but deflections and parrying. The durability of weapons in the game can also make the strategy of breaking a 'button-bashers' sword a legitimate tactic.