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Japanator Kind Of Recommends: Way of the Samurai 4 - JAPANATOR
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Japanator Kind Of Recommends: Way of the Samurai 4


10:00 AM on 10.03.2012
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There's no doubt that the Way of the Samurai franchise is an intriguing series, but is nearly opaque to those unfamiliar with the franchise. One's enjoyment of such games can depend significantly on prior experience with Acquire's work.

With that in mind, we were lucky enough that both I and our own Josh "Totsu" Totman had copies of Way of the Samurai 4, and we've decided to write a special dual review, one from the perspective of a longtime fan (me), and the other from a series newbie (Totsu). 

Read our thoughts and scope out our scores below.

Way of the Samurai 4 (PlayStation 3)
Developer: Acquire
Publisher: XSEED
MRSP: $39.99 (PSN download only)
Release: August 21, 2012

Josh Tolentino's Review

There’s a place in Kyoto called the "Toei Uzumasa Eiga Mura", AKA "The Toei Movie Village". Made up to look like an Edo-period Japanese neighborhood, it’s all wooden sliding doors, dirt streets and paper lamps. And if you’re filming a samurai-themed show, movie, or commercial, dozens of which swell Japanese TV each year, you’re probably going to do a shoot or two there. Watchers of Kamen Rider Fourze may remember the place from the school trip episode.

It serves a double function as well, being a theme park of sorts for tourists to get the period samurai experience, dressing up in kimonos and yukatas and hakamas and the same costumes used in popular dramas (Musashi Miyamoto and geishas are favorite picks). Lucky visitors are occasionally invited to participate as extras in ongoing projects, as well.

What does this all have to do with Way of the Samurai 4? Well, playing the game is kind of like being a visitor to the Movie Village, a tourist, invited to play a bit part on set, and yet operating with no real script, told by the director that he's free to just wing it all the way through.

That winging it usually results in one looking like a fool, or a tool, or (heaven forbid) a hero.

Way of the Samurai 4's basic premise will be familiar to any series fan, as it sticks to the established formula like a harem anime to a milquetoast protagonist. A fictional part of Japan is stuck between warring factions, and you're a wandering samurai/tourist out to make his mark on the world, or maybe just pass through. The place is Amihama, the time is the end of Japan's isolation, and the factions are the curious British, the opportunistic magistrates, and the xenophic Disciples of Prajna. 

Players are free to choose a faction to back, or even choose none and walk their own path - their own way of the samurai, if you will - or even just simply sleep away the game's four-day timeline. In fact, one can end the game within thirty seconds of the intro by simply turning around and leaving town with the boatman that brought them to the dock. That said, such non-endings aren't truly considered valid, and the game's ten distinct outcomes usually favor picking one faction or another.

Advancing the story consists of encountering events scattered across the map. Ranging from short cutscenes to day-long missions, which events players encounter helps determine the next event in the chain. A convenient flowchart in the game journal helps keep track of progress. Like any other Way of the Samurai game, this game is intended to be explored over multiple playthroughs. 

That sense of replayability and persistence is ramped up from previous entries, with some changes made to the world carrying over and influencing the next cycle. Help establish an English-teaching school in one playthrough, and you'll be able to talk to foreigners through subsequent forays. Buy ownership of a swordfighting dojo, and any pupils you've recruited will remain next time around.

All in all, what makes Way of the Samurai 4 unique is that you are freer than ever to act as you will in the world, and being a hero, fool, or tool as the mood suits you. The game now allows you to interject during cutscenes, effectively allowing you to heckle characters as they act all serious and dramatic. Nothing livens up a magistrate's epic speech like some jackass (read: you) yelling "Take it off!".

That irreverent, silly tone is more prevalent than ever, thanks to a localization that fully embraces how inane the game can be. XSEED has fully translated most of the game's bad puns, revealing formerly exotic-sounding attack styles to be called "Cantgetmi", "Penetrator", and "Flying Knee", and bringing characters named "Jet Jenkins" or "Melinda Megamelons". You can be captured for criminality and play a torture minigame that looks like a Japanese variety show, and seduce a woman by telling her she has "nice, firm buttocks" and asking her to "open her ports" to your "black ship", then engaging in a creepy "night crawling" stealth mission involving sneaking into her bed.

The bulk of the game, however, lies in its combat. Dozens of weapons and move sets can be collected and expanded by dueling, exploration, and good old murder. Unlike previous games move sets are now independent of individual weapons, freeing you up to disassemble the best-looking swords to construct your own, unique weapon. Learned moves can be mixed and matched into a custom fighting style, and the game's rudimentary online features randomly insert other players' characters as wandering duelists, allowing you to kill them and take their weapons, which stand a good chance of being min-maxed up the wazoo. 

Fans might be disappointed by the removal of the one-hit-kill difficulty, or be taken aback by the game's apparent tone (previous localizations allowed players to treat the game like an interactive Kurosawa film). A lack of character development (barring a "little sister" arc with the underage British ambassador) tends to foster a sense of detachment from the story. And ironically, the divorce between weapons and styles has reduced the value of collecting unique swords for any other reason than picking their best-looking parts to use in a custom creation (though this change is ultimately a net gain).

Sadly, Way of the Samurai 4's flaws are pretty much the same ones endemic to the series as a whole. Most of these intriguing features, the strengths that make the series unique, are barely, if ever, made known to the player. Anyone who isn't a fan will likely find themselves confused, seeing an open world that doesn't seem to get what makes more conventional open world games (i.e. Skyrim) "good." They'll find Amihama an awkward, rough-hewn location full of characters that look like they were from an HD remake of a PS2 game. The incremental improvements that distinguish Way of the Samurai 4 from its predecessors will simply be lost on newbies, who naturally will never know that this game is freer than any that came before.

For whatever reason, Acquire has never fully addressed these shortcomings, and Way of the Samurai as a whole, ends up a lesser game for it, doomed to never receive the attention it deserves, relegated to the ignored niches and listed among "quirky Japanese games only weirdos like".

It's frankly a shame that only the open-minded and persistent will ever be able to stick with the game long enough to find out that its experience is pretty much unique, with no true equivalents to be found. Way of the Samurai continues to walk its own path, and the tragedy is that it refuses to map that path out for anyone else to follow.

[7.0 – Good. Sevens might have good replay value, have some cool ideas, or be just plain fun, but aren't quite innovative or amazing. A seven has potentially large flaws that, and while they don't make the game outright bad, those flaws prevent it from being as good as it could be.]

 

Josh Totman's Review

Right off the bat, I have never played any of the Way of the Samurai series. Heard of it, but have not played. So I am coming into it blind, which could either be good or bad, but as far as I can tell, it’s a good thing.

This wandering samurai story is pretty intriguing. I can’t even fathom doing that back in the day for real and being so good with a sword that I can get paid to wielding it. You seem that you have to be on your guard at all times but still be approachable to get hired. Tough balance I guess but when you’re a badass with a sword you can handle it. Speaking of badass, the first thing you need to do is create your samurai. You don’t get many options to start with but you can unlock more later on in the game. The freedom you have to go around looking however you please is nice for those who like to mix things up now and again. I’m not that adventurous when it comes to games like this. It feels better to me to keep with the period or whatever the story calls for.

After we are done dressing ourselves, it’s time to go exploring. The map and area are not very robust but then again you are on foot. Last thing you need is a fifteen minute walk just to get a quest done. Yeah, no thank you. It just lags down the game having to travel over 50% of it. Picking up quests are nice and easy though. Just go up to any random person either standing on the side of the road or walking around. Talk, accept, complete, and repeat. And I do mean repeat. I don’t know how many lunches I delivered to breaking stuff missions I went on. It is pretty tedious doing these chores for people. They could at least mix them up a bit with different dialog or something. Something! It is, one of the worst things could complain about the game.

The game's fighting is pretty good. It felt like it had a good balance in the overall sense. I didn't feel too overwhelmed by any fight, but no fight was just a straight pushover. The fun ones were the traveling duelists you would encounter randomly. They never went for you full tilt but stood back a ways to measure you up. It was a nice back and forth kind of battle where not one person was over or under matched.

Mainly I had a great time with the game. It was better than I expected. More polished then what I was expecting. Now that doesn't mean it was a great game, just a good one. I’d say more on the slightly above average side of the scales. Again, like I said in the beginning, this is the first one of these I have played. So I had nothing to base it on. If you are a fan of the series I would expect you to think this is a great game. Which is fine and I understand that but I came in blind but still had a good time. I would recommend this game for at least a once through if this is your type of game or if you have been thinking about it. The “oh, this looks kind of cool” thinking. You know you do it and if you did then pick it up or find a friend that has it. You might be surprised by it like I was.

[7.0 – Good. Sevens might have good replay value, have some cool ideas, or be just plain fun, but aren't quite innovative or amazing. A seven has potentially large flaws that, and while they don't make the game outright bad, those flaws prevent it from being as good as it could be.]






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