Bushido, blood spurting, and…bondage?
I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a Way of the Samurai fan, ever since I poured more than 100 hours into the original game during a post-college unemployment spell. But I never really realized how much I enjoyed Acquire’s low-budget bushido-based romps until an event at last year’s Tokyo Game Show. In the middle of an interview, I was informed that the man I was talking to had worked on the series—my eyes lit up, I broke into a huge grin, and I gave an enthusiastic “thumbs up” sign.
Obviously, I always keep it as professional as possible during interviews like that and try not to let my enthusiasm slip through—but we all have our moments of geeking out. That subconscious, unbridled reaction illustrated how much fun I’ve had with the series over the years—and the joy I’ve wanted many more gamers to experience with this overlooked franchise.
So, with that in mind, how exactly am I supposed to sell you on an open-world samurai slashfest that’s essentially The Last Samurai mixed with Choose Your Own Adventure and Grand Theft Auto?
Well, clearly, that should be enough! But this entry’s also actually the friendliest in the series to potential newcomers—particularly with a setting that should appeal to those who couldn’t tell you the Kamakura period from the Jomon era. It’s 1855, two years after American commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with his majestic black ships and forced the Tokugawa Shogunate to open Japan to the rest of the world after 220 years of self-imposed isolation. European powers saw the chance to exploit a newly open Japan for economic gain, while the Japanese took the opportunity to modernize their country with new technology and ideas. In Way of the Samurai 4’s world, the British Navy has set up shop in the fictional port town of Amihama—and some of the natives aren’t exactly greeting this cross-cultural exchange with open arms.
And that’s where you come in—a wandering samurai who literally walks right into the conflict as soon as you come into port at Amihama. You can choose to support the shogunate, show favoritism to the tea-sipping newcomers, or sympathize with the anti-foreign faction. Or, you can just waltz right on by and ignore the clashing swords or try to play the different factions against each other. Combat isn’t the most elegant affair, as it basically boils down to this in most cases: You’re a samurai—slash harder and faster than your opponent! And that can be difficult early on when your sword isn’t quite up to snuff. As veteran Way of the Samurai players know, though, these games aren’t about the first playthrough; they’re about the 20th. Weapons, cash, and unlockables carry over once you’ve beaten the game (and triggered one of 10 endings), which allows for a huge amount of customization for your samurai—and, yes, frilly dresses are part of the equation. And when the sun goes down, Way of the Samurai 4 even offers BDSM-based minigames and “nightcrawling” segments, where you’ll attempt to seduce various ladies via a combination of words…and wrestling.
So much of Way of the Samurai revolves around the interactions you have with the various peddlers, politicians, and, er, prostitutes wandering about town, but previous games in the series haven’t given that dialogue the translation it’s deserved. XSEED fixes all that in a big way, as every character comes to life with a particular personality and speaking style. In fact, one of the more hilarious elements comes when the British begin to learn Japanese, which results in some brilliantly written broken English—meant to represent broken Japanese, of course. Unfortunately, XSEED didn’t have the budget to implement English-language voiceovers, which means that everyone—including the British residents—speaks in subtitled Japanese (or, in some cases, hilariously broken English spoken by Japanese voice actors).
Acquire may not have the budgets of larger companies, but you really get the sense when playing through their games—whether it’s Way of the Samurai, Tenchu, or Shinobido—that they really enjoy creating what they do. That’s evident even in the bugs, which can cause enemies to helicopter into buildings as you slash away. Unfortunately, not all of the glitches elicit guffaws. I had to restart one playthrough because my attacks weren’t registering on the enemies, and I had to reset the game a couple of times because events didn’t trigger properly. It can also be difficult to uncover certain event triggers, as the game really doesn’t give you enough clues on how to progress at times. And some players may not be able to overlook the significant screen tearing; I didn’t mind, and if you really allow yourself to get immersed in this wacky world, you’ll find you don’t notice it much after a while.
So, I could end all this by saying that I’m disappointed that this game doesn’t take that substantial leap in quality that I’ve been hoping the franchise takes…but I also don’t want that to dissuade skeptics or newcomers from giving the series a shot—it’s still a goofy adventure that’s definitely worth your time, particularly if you’re tired of games taking themselves a tad too seriously. And for series veterans, taking control of a wandering samurai wearing a frilly dress has never been more fun.
SUMMARY: Way of the Samurai 4 is a goofy, glorious romp through post-isolationist Japan, and it’s about as fun and accessible as the series has ever been. While some bugs and graphical issues may sour the experience at times, that shouldn’t prevent newcomers from giving the series a shot.
- THE GOOD: Ridiculously over-the-top Japanese historical setting combined with samurai badassery and an open-world, Choose Your Own Adventure–style interface.
- THE BAD: Most of the glitches are harmless and goofy…but some really hamper gameplay.
- THE UGLY: Edo-era BDSM sessions.
Way of the Samurai 4 is a PS3 exclusive.