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Psaro

Hidden Gems- Way of the Samurai

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Hey people. I thought I'd do a series of reviews on games that I think are pretty underrated. The first game on that list of mine is Way of the Samurai, an action adventure game for the ps2 set in 19th century Japan which combines choose your own adventure mechanics with some rpg stuff. Without further ado lets get into the review.

 

Story: You take control of a wandering ronin that has just reached Rokkotsu Pass, a remote mountain village who's strategic importance is fiercely contested between a number of factions. The dominant faction, the Kurou clan seeks to sell the local iron foundry to the government in a bid to remain relevant, the conservative Akadama clan opposes this act of collaboration and seeks to expel the government completely from the pass. Meanwhile the government has plans of its own and a number of agents have been spotted in the region...

 

You, the player are dropped into this volatile situation and over the course of three days, you are free to do what you want. From the start this freedom is readily apparent. When you first arrive at the pass a group of bandits are carrying off a local woman. You can let them walk by, stand in their way, attack them immediately or even ask to join them! This amount of freedom is easily the game's greatest asset. You're free to make your decisions and the game stands by them showing you the impact of them through the closure of certain routes and maybe even the deaths of certain characters. It's impossible to please everyone in this game and its so much fun replaying the game to see the different outcomes.

 

It also helps that the game nails its atmosphere and characters. Rokkotsu Pass is a bleak small village who's inhabitants anxiously await the inevitable conflict. Throughout the game you interact with a number of personalities, from restaurant waitresses to the leaders of clans yet they are all interesting and memorable. Everyone's got a stake in the conflict and every factions motives are explained and even relatable. It captures the melancholy of going from old values to modern values yet it still manages to throw in the odd bit of humor (mainly in some of the character designs). It's not a masterpiece of writing, certain characters act like idiots and sometimes the game feels too short but it does establish a great atmosphere and the open ended nature of the game makes it so intriguing. 8.5/10

 

Gameplay: The majority of the gameplay takes place in combat given the tense situation described before although you free to roam where you want in the village or even leave at any point that you wish (although this ends the game as well).

 

Before looking at the meat of the combat system it is important to look at how progression works in this game. You don't level up in this game and instead you can get better swords by defeating opponents, each sword having its own unique move list and stats, I'm a fan of Kitcho's sword myself. Here is the kicker though, when you die you have to restart the game completely with your default crappy sword. To add to that you can't save scum, you can only save once when exiting the game. This may sound unfair but the game does have several systems to alleviate frustration and indeed encourage replaying the game over and over. Since you can only carry three swords at a time, you can deposit swords with the local blacksmith Doiima for future playthroughs and you can enhance the stats of any sword through finding certain items. It also helps that the short length of the game lends itself to quick replays meaning it's never too much of a bother restarting the game. The game even rewards this by giving you points whenever you die and have to restart. As you accumulate more points you can unlock new costumes and other nifty extras.

 

The combat in this game is decent I guess. It's built mainly around pushing and pulling. Depending on how the enemy will attack you can push or pull them to stagger them giving you an opportunity to attack them with ease. There are also combos and things like juggling which give the combat some extra depth. When you combine that with the different movesets of each weapon you have a combat system that is, well, decent. One additional piece of praise that I have to give is that combat is seamless in this game. If you are in a conversation with someone you can unsheath your sword and attack them which once again adds to the open ended nature of the game and makes conversations more interactive than they are.

 

Criticism is due where it is due though. Controls in this game are a bit stiff and sometimes your inputs are a bit delayed which in a game like is kinda frustrating. To touch back on the branching storyline, some of the requirements for certain endings are bullshit and you'd need to look up a guide just to get it which is a shame because its probably the most awesome ending in the game. The game is also relatively short, everything can be done in under ten hours and it does feel like "proof of concept" in that sense. 7.5/10

 

Graphics and Soundtrack: First up, the graphics. This was a budget title made in 2002 ... and it shows. The game looks muddy, blurry and washed out. Its not all bad though, the washed out look suits the dusty mountain village and adds to the forlorn atmosphere described earlier and certain things are well animated like the characters clothes. Speaking of which, the character artstyle is quite nice for the most part. Each npc in the game looks distinctive from traditionally dressed clan leaders like Kurou to Meiji military officers to ... Kitcho who looks like a Nomura reject with his extravagant and jrpg style clothing. It's not all perfect. 6/10

 

The soundtrack on the other hand is magnificent. The games soundtrack was composed by Noriyuki Asakura and while I've never heard any of his other works, I want to judging by the quality of his work here. It's a wonderful clash of cultures with electrical guitar meeting traditional japanese instruments, one of the best examples being the juicy battle theme which combines traditional with modern. Mt personal favorite tracks are Afterglow (evening theme), a sombre melancholic piece that elevates the games atmosphere to another level and Brutal Heart which is an urgent yet motivating song that perfectly accompanies some of the games largest battles. Overall the soundtrack has a personality of its own and goes hand in hand with a game as quirky as this. 9/10

 

Conclusion: So yeah, that's Way of the Samurai. In many ways the game is more proof of concept than actual game given its short length and small locations yet it's open ended nature and addictive replay systems combined with its unique vibes really elevate the game into a game worth playing, The game would spawn three sequels although I consider the first game the best alongside 3 which expanded greatly on 1's features. If you can find a copy cheap online, I'd recommend it (Amazon is good). Who knows, it might just be like uncovering a hidden gem. 8/10

Edited by Psaro
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I have played way of samurai 3-4 and i really enjoy them

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I have played way of samurai 3-4 and i really enjoy them

Yeah 3 and 4 are great. 4, for better or worse, is balls to the wall insane and its better to ride alongside that insanity. I actually prefer 3, mainly for its Sengoku setting and the sheer amount of freedom available to you, there's no other game as open ended as that game.

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