Title: Way of the Samurai 4
Alternate Title: 侍道4
Developed By: Acquire
Published By: XSEED Games (North America), NIS America (Europe), Spike (Japan)
Console: Playstation 3 through Playstation Network
Classification (US – ESRB): This title has been classified as M for Mature for Blood, Partial Nudity, Drug References, Intense Violence, Language and Sexual Content
Review Conditions: US Playstation Network ver.
Special Thanks: XSEED Games for providing me with a copy of the game to playtest.
Way of the Samurai 4 takes place in the harbor town of Amihama, several years after the arrival of the “black ships” from the West ended Japan’s long history of cultural isolation. Amihama’s downtown area has been converted to a “Little Britain,” complete with European-styled buildings occupied by adventurous foreign settlers. Not everyone welcomes these new residents, though, and three distinct factions with opposing ideals begin to take shape. It’s up to the player – a wandering samurai whom fate has drawn to this conflicted land – to decide which faction to support, potentially shaping the course of Japan’s history.
Will you aid the traditional isolationists in their attempts to exile this potential threat to the Japanese way of life? Will you aid the shogunate government in their attempts to keep the peace and establish cordial (but limited) relations with the foreigner contingent? Or will you aid the foreigners in their attempts to establish silk trade and foster cultural exchange, even at the expense of a few traditions?
Who will you support? Who will you betray?
Way of the Samurai 4 is not about sending on you a linear course of storyline events but giving you the freedom to pick an alliance with a number of different groups vying for your attention or assign yourself to none and pick or ignore missions at your own free will. While I liked this non-linear storyline provided, some of the options provided to you end in unwarranted ending, the removal of Blacksmith services from the mid-way point in a game run or leaving you locked out of groups unintentially from the beginning of the game. The storyline follows You, a custom made character made to represent yourself as a wandering Samurai in the mid-1800′s who is dragged into the middle of disputes between three groups. The choice to go with either the Shogunate government who seem to want to keep the peace, the anti-foreigner group or the foreigners who seem to just want to establish cultural relations is yours and deviates frequently
Similar to Acqure’s release of Sumioni, each event in the game follows a storyline path, but instead of skill it depends both on what event you pick and how successful it goes. There is a lot of variety to it and several endings, but it is where things can go wrong for the game – both storyline wise and gameplay-wise. Following the Foreigner-allied route first I was left to end a dispute at the newly developed hospital and duel against recurring character and now “Sword for Hire” Dojima Gunji. His death leading to the end of all Blacksmith services after something like day 3….. and swords tend to break quickly in the game.
The storyline is enjoyable, short and well suited to multiple playthroughs, there are numerous sidequests to take part in which offer some storyline and the translation job is solid and kept the charm I was expecting from the game in the game. To contrast this however, the storyline is perhaps a bit too non-linear and until you are familiar with the routes I strongly suggest not using the “Skip”.
In terms of visuals, Way of the Samurai 4 fails to meet the mark I would expect from this game, with visual quality comparable to that of a Playstation 2 game and not reaching its full potential. However to its benefit, the world building and actual designs are not too bad. The games world is small but represents a small harbor town setting of the era well and featuring a slight clash of cultures and many familiar landmarks you would expect from the storyline and is well detailed.
Your initial options to designing your main character are limited initially, consisting little to no option in anything other than hair style and facial appearance (For which these were limited to 3 options). As you build up your funds and points, there is a wealth of clothing and facial designs to choose from – including the ability to change him to a her, change the default attire to numerous options from the games different cultures and hairstyles. The game seems very simple in terms of customization initially but when it opens up – it opens up to a level of customization I was happy with.
Where the game really lacked was the animation, with a lack of moves available to you and not-so-uncommon glitchs that occurs in and out of battle.
Music / Voice Acting
The set of music included in this game works well at setting the mood and suits the theme. Unfortunately the game could have used from a much more diverse range of tracks as they were often repetitive after a while. As you may have already expected from this game, only the original Japanese dub has been included and on similar grounds as Sega’s Yakuza series, it works much better in helping set the mood than an English dub. Most of the games characters are dubbed excluding your custom character and are suitable enough for their roles. Voice-clips for English-speaking NPC’s consist of cliche cheers, gaps and mumbling… but for the few storyline-important characters who speak English lines, these are performed by the characters game Japanese voice actors/actresses.
As mentioned above, the game is open world and does not detract you from undertaking side-quests of your choosing or selecting one faction over the other. You are given free reign to undertake night crawling missions, attract the attention of the town guard (Involving a subsequent torture mini-game…. including the wooden horse + flames and a water wheel) or follow on with the games main quest. To follow a certain faction properly however, you are required to almost always follow on with an objective for all the three time periods each day – Daytime, Evening and Night. Events range from diplomatic actions such as attending meetings to attending fighting events to taking out members of a rival faction. In addition, every action you take has consequences – quite a few of them leading to the removal of Blacksmith services at different points of the game or sending you down different tracks with different plot and gameplay options.
Unfortunately the games battle system leaves much to be desired, and is what I would consider slow and could have had a lot more potential. You are given the choice of using three types of weapons – Sword, Spear and Fist with a number of battle styles and different weapons attached to these. From the beginning you are quite often set against groups of enemies, but are only ever attacked (and can only ever attack) one at one time. Often this involves button-mashing light and heavy attacks against your opponents, with attack styles slightly altered by movements of the analog stick. In the later parts of the game they do throw out some considerably challenging battles, especially if you decide to go down the route of attacking one group directly – but for the most part your first play through can easily be completed on the Normal Difficulty.
Outside of the main gameplay elements, there are a few other bits and pieces to keep you occupied – the ability to enjoy a couple of era-appropriate tortures, take part in quests not associated with any particular storyline which can net you some good cash, the ability to open your own dojo and fishing. However the best implemented system takes a leaf out of Demons Souls and provides optional Playstation Network connectivity. If you choose to activate this system, you will randomly come across other “wandering samurai” to duel with and upon winning lay claim to copies of their weapons.
The game doesn’t seem to be built so much to be as enjoyable on your first few run-throughs as your later ones, as you become more aware of how the storyline and game unfolds you are given the abilities to manipulate and enjoy new aspects of each run. The game offers a good variety of activities and exploration to do, in addition to strong replayability potential provided you are willing to invest the game for a Platinum Trophy. However I cannot shake the feeling that this would have been a much better game if released several years ago on the Playstation 2 rather than an average digital-download title on the Playstation 3. In the end though, Way of the Samurai 4 remains a game you will enjoy if you enjoy the genre but otherwise there may not be enough to warrant interest – but hey… I am up to replay seven and am still finding things to do.
Storyline/Character Development: B
Music/Voice Acting: C+
Personal Opinion: C+
Overall Score: C+