In these days of day one DLC, gamers are becoming more critical of new releases – holding out on games that just don’t offer enough bang for their buck at launch. But what happens when a game comes out, that’s chock full of content, and reasonable priced – but at the same time is marred by sub-par design choices?
The latest game in the Way of the Samurai series, Way of the Samurai 4 takes players to the Japanese city of Amihama, in the midst of dire national strife. The British have come to Japan, and while the Japanese government welcomes them with open arms, there are some who do not take too kindly to foreigners. A nationalist group called the Prajnas believe that foreign intervention will cause Japan to lose its identity, and as such, open up the country to colonization. The player can then align themselves with the British, the government, or the Prajnas, greatly affecting how the story plays out.
Our initial playthrough of Way of the Samurai 4 took about three hours. This may set off alarms for some players, however the game is designed with the expectation that gamers will want to play through the story multiple times. Since the narrative branches off in different directions, it’s impossible to see or do everything in a single playthrough. This does add some life to the story, which while enjoyable, is still not likely to actually keep players engaged for more than one go round.
Extending the main story is also a variety of side missions, the most common of which are “jobs.” Players can participate in tasks given by NPCs, which usually result in a variety of fetch quests. For example, sometimes a civilian may ask the player to deliver a message or a bagged lunch to another NPC. In some cases, multiple jobs may be handed out by a single character, such as the Constable, which will initiate the player as a thief taker and task him/her with apprehending criminals.
Jobs don’t sound interesting? Well, there’s still more to do in Amihama. Players can train students in the dojo, go fishing and lastly (as well as the most popular) nightcrawling. By flexing one’s sweet talking skills, the player can woo the citizens of Amihama. Gamers are then tasked with sneaking into their lover’s house at night, for a “intimate” mini game.
There’s plenty to do in the small town of Amihama – it’s just unfortunate the core gameplay isn’t very fun.
When it comes to combat, Way of the Samurai 4 is clearly lagging behind other games on the market. By using the square or triangle buttons, players can execute light and heavy attacks, respectively. Pressing forward or back on the left stick (which is also used to move) changes the way the player will strike, allowing for piercing attacks or block-breakers. New combos are unlocked automatically as the player keeps fighting; however, for the most part, players can just get by pressing forward and mashing the square button.
Compared to other titles like Yakuza and God of War, the combat in Way of the Samurai 4 is downright unsatisfying. Experimenting with different moves becomes a cumbersome task when paired with stiff animations and the counter intuitive combat system. Using the left stick to both maneuver and attack is a chore, especially when other games have proven that mapping combos to the face buttons offers a more streamlined experience.
Things are made worse by a myriad of presentation issues. Upon starting the game, players will notice that Way of the Samurai 4 just isn’t a good looking game – the visuals are dated (on par with early-era PS3 titles). The aesthetic is made even more obvious by some significant screen tearing issues. The Japanese voice acting is passable, however hearing the British characters talk in English is cringe worthy.
Then, there’s the menu system. Opening up the menu, players will see plenty of options, however the entire system is designed in a way that is not at all user friendly. For example, if the player wants to fast travel to a location, they can not do it from the in-game map. Instead, players will have to open the start menu, scroll to the map, then select the full area map. There’s just too much in the way to get to what the player wants – and the fact that the fast travel system isn’t implemented in the Event screen is just painful.
The game is also hampered by some even stranger design choices. For example, all cutscenes are skippable, though gamers must do so at their own risk. In my second playthrough I began by following a path similar to that of my first (starting by saving the British Ambassador rather than siding with the Prajnas). Having seen the cutscene in my first time through I opted to skip the cutscene; however, in the next gameplay section I was already sword to sword with British soldiers. Apparently, Way of the Samurai 4 had automatically decided my next dialogue choice, changing the story in a way I didn’t intend.
Way of the Samurai 4 is really just a smattering of good ideas and bad design choices. There’s a lot to do in the city of Amihama, but it’s hidden behind an obtrusive menu system, and further pulled down by sub-par combat. The amount of choice available is a great addition (from the character creation system to story) but none of it dismisses the fact that Way of the Samurai 4 just isn’t that fun to actually play.
Way of the Samurai 4 is available now for the PS3 – via the PSN.
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