Way of the Samurai 4: Walking The Samurai’s Path On A Tight Schedule

By Aung (DrakosAmatras) . September 9, 2012 . 2:30pm

It’s the age of the start of westernization in Japan. Different civilizations with radically different ideas are coming into contact with one another. Political sensitivity is at an all-time high. Conflicts are easily instigated. And yet, it’s also an age where carrying a real sword around with you is permitted by law. Yes, things can get messy rather easily. This is the premise of Way of the Samurai 4.

 

The game takes place in a fictional port town called ‘Amihama,’ around the time of the “Black Ships”—the local term referring to Western naval vessels. To be specific, this is the “second coming” of Black Ships around the middle of the 19th century, after the Second Industrial Revolution. As it has only been a couple of years since Japan ended a two-century-long isolation period, there is still tension in the atmosphere regarding the foreigners’ arrival. Your character is a Ronin (a Samurai without a master to serve) who arrives in Amihama around that time, without any goals in particular.

 

Way of the Samurai 4 has things in common with Western sandbox games, but in a much more limited manner. Once you take control, you’re free to roam around Amihama and do whatever the game allows. Primarily, there are branching events that you can participate in, mostly related to the three factions residing in the area.

 

First are the British foreigners represented by forthcoming young envoy Laura Lita and thrill-seeking vice-envoy Jet Jenkins. Then there are the Tokugawa Shogunate vassals like the loyal and steadfast magistrate Kotobuki Hikaru and culturally open-minded customs manager Moro Shigeru. Lastly, there are the militant “Disciples of Prajna” aiming to drive the foreigners out by force, led by the brash and fiercely patriotic (if also xenophobic) Akagi Reddo. There are 10 possible endings to achieve, and the game actually provides a chart showing which of the paths you’ve completed, as well as which events you can trigger from the current path, which helps if you’re intent on seeing through all of them.

 

Something that disappointed me, though, is that while a lot of these characters have their own unique backgrounds and personalities (complete with quirks), none of the are really developed as the storyline for their faction advances. Your own character isn’t ever really fleshed out either, for that matter. You’re effectively a freelance mercenary/bodyguard/errand boy for whichever faction you side with and never developed beyond that. I’d hoped that the game would try to make me care about my character, or the characters around me, but it didn’t really do either one, and the game’s short story campaign made this stand out further.

 

The general intent behind Way of the Samurai 4 appears to be providing the player with a game that’s short, but replayable. Each playthrough of the game takes place over 4 in-game days, split in daytime, evening, and night. The game never explicitly told me how or when it switches from one to the next, but from what I can tell, time passes when you enter and exit various areas of town and complete faction quests. Each event takes place on a certain day, and some events can only be triggered during a certain period on a specific day. If you intend to follow all of the events in a story path, there’s little to no free time to dawdle around and do as you please.

 

The problem is, this tight schedule tends to conflict with the game’s open-world design. There isn’t a very good balance between having the freedom to run around and explore, and completing key quests so you don’t miss out on any important story bits. Of course, you do have the option of skipping out on some events to free a little more time up for yourself, but this is obviously something that each player will have to decide for themselves. Personally, I wish I’d been allowed to do both.

 

The one aspect of Way of the Samurai 4 that does have a lot of meat to it is the combat. Maybe even a little too much meat, actually.

 

Pressing L1 draws your current weapon, at which point you’re locked into a straight line between you and your target. You can run around freely by holding down L2. Doing this has the side effect of releasing the target lock on the current foe and re-assigning it to whoever is closest in front of you the moment you let go of L2. Combat is executed through light attacks (Square), heavy attacks (Triangle), jumping (Circle), and X to… talk to your opponent. Talking usually doesn’t have any practical effect; most of the time, you get two choices—one to taunt and one pleading for mercy—but whichever you choose, the foe gives you a generic reply and you’re still locked in combat, regardless.

 

This odd, seemingly unnecessary addition made me wonder if the game’s controls couldn’t have been more streamlined. For instance, Way of the Samurai 4 also lets you kick your opponent to make them flinch. Kicking is done using R1 + Square, but the range is abysmally short, and oftentime, by the time you’ve recovered from your kick animation, you’ll find that your opponent has recovered from his flinch animation as well. Additionally, R1 + Square is also the button combination that’s used to pick up items, which wouldn’t have been necessary had a few of the more unnecessary elements from the combat system been cut. Oh, if you’re wondering what R1 does by itself, that’s the button used to guard.

 

(Another example of unnecessary control scheme padding is to do with items. Switching between consumable items for quick use is done using the left and right D-Pad directions, and you can press Up on the D-pad to use the item. Additionally, you can also hold Up to give the item to an NPC or opponent in battle. However, this is entirely unnecessary, as giving people items doesn’t seem to yield any benefits as far as I can tell. Oh, and good luck getting them to stay still as you line up to give them an item.)

 

And then there are Styles. Styles are movelists that unlock more moves as you slay foes and gain Skill Points. It sounds reasonable on paper, but each Style demands a lot of points, and the moves you get in return don’t bring anything particularly new to combat. That’s not to say that they start out with an adequate number of moves either; much of the unlocks are just one-hit follow-up attacks to existing ones. Between limited variety and slow progress, not to mention the awkward controls mentioned above, combat was admittedly not something I looked forward to.

 

Aside from battles and events, there are other activities you can participate in across Amihama as well, such as fishing, visiting gambling parlors (Japanese style), and casinos (Western style). One unusual minigame is Yobai (Night crawling). For a quick idea of what Yobai is, read this. In the game, Yobai is a “night-date” with two sections: one single-screen “stealth” section and one… “tag” section.

 

You can also open your own dojo. Once you do this, defeating various armed pedestrians non-lethally and talking to them gives you an option to recruit them into your dojo, increasing its popularity. The dojo is mostly for combat opportunities. Other minigames and side-activities in the game are more or less appropriate for the setting and time period. Just don’t expect a lot of variety or depth from them, much like the rest of Way of the Samurai 4.

 

Food for thought:

 

1. The game has various other minor flaws like how stiff combat and controls are, which I didn’t mention as those are a little more subjective.

 

2. The game does not give you information about anything beyond tutorial button explanations; and the digital manual accessible from the main menu (alone) has information on controls only. There’s also no internal “Load game” function (as opposed to having to exit back to XMB to load a file again). Nor is there a “Retry” option for any accidents or failures during quests.


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  • wyrdwad

    This is one of the more in-depth reviews of Samurai 4 that I’ve seen, but I honestly feel it’s kind of missing the point of the game. You’re delving deep into its storyline, character development and gameplay systems… but none of those represent the game’s big draw.

    The real reason Samurai 4 stands out as a game is because it’s GOOFY AS HELL. This is not a game to be played seriously, but a game to mess around in. This is the sort of title where I think players are pretty much expected to get drunk or deprive themselves of sleep IRL, then try everything they can think of to break the game. Start drop-kicking foreign women in the head, or play all the way to the end of a storyline and then suddenly turn on your in-game friends, killing everybody. Basically, just screw around and see what happens — because invariably, something unexpected WILL happen.

    There are so many little hidden details to find, and so many random little rewards for doing awful things, that it’s clear to me this is what the developers intended. They obviously weren’t taking things very seriously when crafting the game, and I believe they were expecting players to do the same when playing it.

    In short: The less seriously you take Samurai 4, the more you’re likely to enjoy it. It caters to the mischief-maker in all of us, and is meant to entertain on a very base, very immature level. And if that’s how you play it, you’ll quickly find that it succeeds brilliantly. If you turn off your brain and enjoy this game as a fun, nonsensical experience, it may even have the potential to become one of your favorite games.

    (Oh, and yes, this is the guy who usually posts as Thomas — for some reason, it automatically logs me in on THIS account when I’m posting from home. Go figure!)

    • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

      I did notice the sense of humor the game is trying to have; like in the namings – Laura Lita (ローラ・リタ) (from “ロリータ/Lolita”), Melinda de Cameron (デカメロン/big melons) and Akagi (“Red (coat?)”) Reddo (“Red”). But there’s still the fact that a game’s sense of humor doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to being a well-designed and -streamlined program. If not for the design problems, I wouldn’t have minded the game as much. And keep in mind that, despite the flaws, the game still costs 40$/35£; for that price, there are other open-world/sandbox games that could’ve been just as serviceable at the very least, and with much less inconveniences.

      That being said… I should also mention that I’m saying all this as someone who has a particular interest in these sorts of “Westernization” periods of Asian countries. I was prepared for quirky/dramatic/whatever story and concepts, but design problems from a game that is already the 4th installment in its series is admittedly not something I was prepared for. But, to be fair, you can chalk it up to my personal sensitivity when it comes to user convenience; I know Acquire isn’t a big developer, so I’ll just hope they do it better next time.

      • wyrdwad

        Yes, but no other sandbox game offers the same level of sheer absurdity and surreal ridiculousness. It really comes down to what you’re looking for: a good sandbox game, or an entertainingly irreverent time-killer? If it’s the former, there are certainly better choices… but if it’s the latter, I doubt you’ll find another game as satisfying as Samurai 4.

        Another way to think of it is: are you looking for tight game design, or are you just looking for “a good time”? A relationship, or a fling?

        This is a fling game. This is a dirty little secret of a game. It’s not marriage material… but it’ll still rock your world. ;)

        • MrTyrant

           But they can always do a better job than this even if they wanted to joke around. I like the game, I like his absurdity but there are things that have a room for improvement I hope they keep that in mind.

          • wyrdwad

            While I don’t necessarily disagree, I think there’s a certain charm in doing things the way Acquire did them. It’s like when you choose to watch a B-movie over a high-budget film because you’re in the mood for camp or kitsch — or like when a movie director actively chooses to use terrible special effects instead of CG, not because of the lower cost but to help create that B-movie atmosphere to enhance the experience.

            Imagine, for example, how much less engaging a movie like Thankskilling or Kung Pow would be if it were taken seriously and created with top-quality effects and acting. Or take Satoshi Kon’s final film, Paprika, where Kon stated in interviews that he specifically ignored all his film training and just went with the first thing that came to mind for every single scene, without any editing or rewriting or proofing, because he felt that would help capture the feeling he was striving for better than anything else.

            The first episode of The Melacholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is also a good example. It’s designed to be a student production, so the acting and animation effects really helped drive that idea home by being intentionally unpolished.

            It’s something that’s hard to pull off, but in the right hands, “intentional kitsch” can really bring something to life that might otherwise just be another drop in the bucket. After all, another cookie-cutter sandbox game wouldn’t stand out… but Samurai 4? That stands out big time.

          • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

            “Intentional kitsch” and unrefined mechanics are different, separate aspects. Even if the developers were to insist that elements like stiff combat, flickering camera angles and NPCs walking into walls are part of the “kitsch”, design inefficiency is still inefficiency; those aren’t gonna earn the game any points for customers who don’t appreciate a buggy, frustrating game for their 40$.

          • wyrdwad

            Drakos: That’s my point.

            “those aren’t gonna earn the game any points for customers who don’t appreciate a buggy, frustrating game for their 40$.”

            All I’m trying to say is that there ARE customers who might — and do — appreciate this game for their $40, “warts and all.” It’s not for everyone, but there is a special sort of person out there who really enjoys this kind of thing… a person who can appreciate the decision (which I fully believe to be intentional) to leave certain things unpolished or even “unfinished” because they’re funnier that way… and for people like that (for people like me!), games like this come along only once in a blue moon. You’ve gotta snatch ‘em up when they do, because popular opinion isn’t likely to treat them well… but if and when they call to you, they REALLY call to you.

            Heck, the Way of the Samurai series in general is pretty much KNOWN for that at this point, and the series wouldn’t have enough of a fanbase to make it all the way to a fourth installment if there weren’t enough people out there to appreciate it.

            Clearly, this was not the game for you. But for some people, this is preferable to a more polished, more technically flawless experience a hundredfold.

  • Göran Isacson

    Ha ha, this playtest and the comment below me paint this a pretty hilarious picture. While I do find that picture amusing, I do wonder if this is the game for me- it sounds like a game you need to both sink a lot of time into AND be willing to just horse around and play with boundaries, neither of which are things I feel like doing at the moment. Still, just the fact that a crazy, flawed gem like this exists is kinda cool in my book.

  • Learii

    i playing right now and i love the game XD

  • Mazdian

    That Yobai article.
    Wow.
    That’s an interesting practice.

  • http://twitter.com/Romangelo Román Monterossa

    a decent game. bad graphics but acceptable. and I love the Laura nightcrawling!

    • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

      WHAT?? I completed two of the Foreigner endings, and I never got to that; although it’s more due to the fact that I didn’t think named NPCs are Yobai-possible and didn’t pursue, since I didn’t see any option for dates. (Again, the game didn’t tell me.)

      • MrTyrant

         It’s difficult the Laura nightcrawling. I think it was censored in the US but there are certain conditions to open that path and doing it.

        • wyrdwad

          No, it was not censored in the U.S. No censorship occurred whatsoever.

          • MrTyrant

            In any case, its still difficult to unlock her nighcrawling.

  • MrTyrant

    The nightcrawling thing is stupid, sorry if I offend but I though it would be more interesting than just being a random minigame. The npc are lifeless so it doesn’t matter with who you do it, it doesn’t have any impact in the gameplay neither the storyline or relation with other characters. You can unlock some costume in this way it’s the only thing that it’s useful.

    BTW the article is good, it reflect some of my thought.

    • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

      Well… To be fair, how exactly can a tradition like Yobai be presented in a game without being too explicit, which is pretty much its nature? …I have no suggestions; I’m just wondering.

  • Valkenhayn

    As far as character development goes in this game, it’s only present during the “Light of Hope” ending, aka true/best or whatever you want to call it ending.
    Requirements:
    Language school open
    Hospital open
    Casino closed
    Though You can look up a guide for more

    Combat itself, well at least you get to change styles instead of it locked on per sword. You can chain moves together to even 10+ hits or so is what I heard. Though feels unnecessary since I can 2-3hit enemies on hard/harakiri

  • Katamari Toys

    I love TWOS because it is one of the only series with true freedom, its not like some big sandbox games (RDR, GTA, etc) that your actions will do have no real impact in the world and some of the main NPC cant even be killed

  • Souji Tendou

    When will this game have physical release? I’m dying to wait for this game aaaaaaarrgh!

    • http://wiredjungle.wordpress.com/ DrakosAmatras

      It seems to be a PSN-only release for US. EU will apparently get a disc release though.

      • Souji Tendou

        Yep, that’s what I’m waiting for, the EU release. And I’m dying waiting for it to get released, siiiigh…

  • https://twitter.com/Ni_Go_Zero_Ichi Project 2501

    Oh hey, I literally just yesterday ordered WotS3 on a whim. I hope it’s a better choice and/or more indicative of the core WotS experience than this game?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2BOP4Z5KE5N7T5MUGIV6TEFMT4 Thomas

      It takes itself a bit more seriously than other Way of the Samurai games, which makes it less engaging in my opinion (especially without the whole foreigner aspect to the story) — but it’s a pretty well-made game, and should give you a general idea of what to expect from the series.

  • Armane

    WotS isn’t for everyone, but for me the combat is the main draw. I imagine it’s the way Resident Evil fans feel about the older games, the apparent flaws in it’s design add a sense of weight to your actions.

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