I was often recommended to try playing the Way of the Samurai franchise, but I never did get the chance. With Way of the Samurai 4 just released, it was now time to truly play the game for myself.
Way of the Samurai 4 sees the player take the role of a samurai during the period of transition in Japan, when the small country started to become influenced by western powers. The player may freely choose to side with the Japanese military, isolationists, or even the foreigners themselves. As a foreigner to the franchise, would I feel isolated?
Publisher: NIS America (Europe), XSEED Games (North America), Spike (Japan)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: October 5th, 2012 (EU); August 21st, 2012 (NA); March 3rd, 2011 (JP)
Rating: 15 (BBFC)
Primarily an adventure game, Way of the Samurai 4 also boasts actual role playing elements–unlike many other Japanese titles, including Japanese role-playing games. Players make a number of choices through-out the title’s campaign, siding with one of three factions and resulting in one of the many endings that the game has in store. Whilst the actual campaign isn’t necessarily long, spanning up to five in-game days which often lasted about six or seven hours, the game requires a number of playthroughs to experience the story in its entirety. Players are able to play through the game at least three times before they have to repeat some content, aside from the initial tutorial. Even then, the tutorial has two possible events that may occur based on the player’s actions. Cutscenes have moments where the player may interject with one of a number of possible options. Players aren’t confined to siding with one faction either, being able to swap alignment at nearly any time–of course, that’s assuming that the player chooses to even participate in the story at all.
Aptly named Way of the Samurai, each iteration of the campaign ranks the player based upon their performance and their ability to stick to the Samurai’s code. The title is very open ended, being able to converse or attack anyone–even allowing players to choose not to pay at a shop. Player character customization also exists; although, it’s generally lacking in the first iteration as players are expected to unlock the new faces, outfits and styles.
Speaking of styles, the player’s samurai isn’t limited to one specific fighting style either. Way of the Samurai enables the player to master a vast number of fighting styles. The title even features the ability for the player to craft their own fighting style. Combat, itself, is also executed well, but can be somewhat clunky at times. All the usual options are there: light and heavy attacks, blocking, and dodging. Whilst combos are simple to execute, the game delivers enough advanced techniques for the more skilful player to employ; guarding is simple to execute, but advanced techniques such as pushing or pulling exist. These can be used to enhance the effectiveness of the guard, based upon the opponents attack, allowing players to throw an enemy off balance. Each fighting style is also distinctive, resulting in each style having its own application and use. Players may favour specific styles, but each one is unique and contributes in some way or another. The ability to swap styles on the fly also leads to a very versatile combat system.
Complementing the customization of the player’s samurai is also the ability to craft weapons. Players may disassemble acquired weapons from fighting, melt them for their ore, create them, or just upgrade existing weapons. There is an incredible level of depth on display here, but it’s not just customization that this can be applied to.
Way of the Samurai 4 has a lot on offer, so much so that it may be quite intimidating. Set in an open-world environment, players are free to choose what they want to do. There are plenty of women to court (often leading to some amusing mini-games), there are fish to catch, a dojo to take over, and there are even a lot of non-player characters seeking some outside help from any wandering samurai that they may find. Whilst these tasks usually amount to fighting or finding individuals, they can have impacts on the town which persist over each campaign iteration.One such example is helping to establish a language school, which leads to the player being able to open dialogue with foreign characters. These changes aren’t always as blatantly obvious, as there can be more subtle impacts such as how many guards are roaming in each of the town’s locations.
Whilst the missions themselves may be different, they all often rely on the same action with little significance to the player. Truthfully, it is possible to just do the vast majority of random character missions without even reading the dialogue exchanges with the client, and the game would still contribute just as much to the player’s experience. There are a few exceptions, particularly with the story and a small number of characters who have their own series of missions, but overall this leads to a rather repetitive experience for the player between key events. This isn’t helped by the town of Amihama being quite small. Despite this, the title is great during the many high points experienced when participating in the missions that do contribute more than the average mission.
The game also has a relatively comical or radical approach to the events that occur. The Chief Magistrate’s daughters torture prisoners through three different mini-games, each of which designed with a dominatrix tone to it. Needless to say, the game doesn’t take those very seriously. Likewise, the foreigners are exaggerated, and the aforementioned courting mini-games involve sneaking into a house at night, beating up possible competitors, and tickling your partner enough to get their clothes off. The humour isn’t for everyone, and is very Japanese in style.
Unfortunately, Way of the Samurai 4 isn’t the most visually appealing games to grace this console generation. It is by no means ugly, but the game suffers from frequent screen tearing and isn’t up to the standard of modern gaming. As a budget title, this is to be expected, and it certainly doesn’t detract from the gameplay. Furthermore, the title is also entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles supporting it for western players. This may be quite daunting for some players, but it does not ruin the experience. Sadly, this is one of the consequences of releasing a relatively niche title from a foreign country.
As a budget release, Way of the Samurai 4 performs admirably. It may not be the most visually impressive, but it certainly boasts an incredible level of depth that very few games ever seem to reach. It’s a shame that the game doesn’t quite live up to the scale as a result of the repetitive side-missions, but the overall experience is fantastic and quite compelling. The title may have had more potential to live up to regarding the great set up in mechanics, let down by the spare content in which the player may also advantage of these mechanics, but this is to be expected of a budget title. Regardless, Way of the Samurai 4 is a pretty fun game for players wishing to get a good samurai experience; although, it may not be for everyone.