Samurai Western: Katsugeki Samurai-dou

Can a Samurai out run a shotgun blast? We're about to find out.


The Lowdown

Pros: An interesting mix of genres and a good job of making the game feel like the Wild West.

Cons: Even with the different fighting styles the game ends up as glorified button masher.

Purchase at Play-Asia

Purchase at Lik-Sang

After the designers of the legendary Bushido Blade completed two Tenchu titles on the original PSX they went on to create the Way of Samurai series. The series is a mix of brawler action with a dash of Bushido Blade style fighting mixed into it. These games have generally been hot sellers in Japan, while they are met with moderate success in the US. The latest game in the series Samurai Western: Katsugeki Samurai-dou blends the wild west with a powerful samurai.

Perhaps the unusual mix of a Japanese Samurai in the days of hot shot gunslingers is what makes Samurai Western so intriguing. Old dusty roads, noisy saloons and packs of masked men carrying revolvers are in the game. Simplistic piano tunes accompany the action, which also helps complete the Western feel of the game. With the exception of the wandering Samurai Acquire has done a great job of recreating a stereotypical Western setting that feels like it's pulled out of old movies.

Unfortunately, Gojiro (the Samurai you will be playing as) isn't here to check out the town. He's out to find one man and will stop at nothing to track him down. Gojiro's quest is broken down in stages. Each stage starts out with a cutscene explaining why Gojiro is where he is. These scenes are voiced in English, which a plus for importers. Although the accents for some of the characters, especially Gojiro aren't great. Gojiro has a fake Asian accent, which makes him hard to understand. As the story progresses, most gamers will see that it is pretty straightforward. It's place gives the game more meaning than having no story, but it's really there to keep the action going.

In each level you'll fight gunslingers in waves. So once you defeat one set of enemies another one will appear. You'll keep doing this until you eliminate all of the enemies or until a boss appears. Being cowboys, Gojiro will be fighting against guys toting guns. Being the skilled Samurai that he is Gojiro can deflect shots by standing still and pressing the R1 button. Bullets can be deflected back at enemies, but reflecting them back is more luck than skill. Pressing R1 while moving will cause Gojiro to make swift spins or run quickly to evade a hail of gunfire. Mastering dodge techniques is essential to the game. Often times you will find yourself up against guys with shotguns, revolvers and machine guns all at the same time. Of course you can take some hits, but so many will come your way that dodging will be the only way out.

You have a couple of options on how to fight back. First you can wait around for guys to reload and counterattack with some swift swipes of your blade. The majority of enemies will only need a couple of hits to go down. The other, more fun option is to utilize the R1 dodge feature and run up to kill enemies in large groups. If you're on the offense the game becomes much more fun to play rather than block, attack, block. Also when you rush a group of enemies at the same time you can score more hits on your combo meter. Killing enemies fuels Gojiro's Bushido meter. When it's full Gojiro can enter a powered up state where he will instantly kill any enemy he attacks. This ability only lasts for a little while and the Bushido meter loses energy every time you kill someone, which means you need to choose when to use it carefully.

No Way of Samurai game would be complete without having different fighting stances. Depending on the weapon that Gojiro uses you will have a different fighting stance. You can fighting with traditionally with the sword held in front of you or go for a low stance with your blade above your head. The number of different fighting styles is a nice touch, but most of them play the same. Because no matter what style you use you'll be mashing away at the attack button. In fact the game favors staying with one fighting style throughout the game. Your weapon can level up by collecting silver coins that are sometimes dropped by enemies. If you stick with one or two styles throughout the game you'll have one or two powerful techniques rather than a bunch of weak ones. Like his weapons, Gojiro himself can level up by killing more enemies. When you level up you're given points that can be spent on increasing your life, bushido meter or your attack power.

The downside with all of the action is that even though it is nice to hack and slash the game becomes increasingly repetitive. You will fight the same types of enemies over and over again. The same guy with the revolver, the same overall wearing shotgun shooter and the same dwarfy looking guy who carries explosives. Not only do all of these guys look the same, they attack the same too. Mastering their simple patterns doesn't take too long and isn't the actual challenge of the game. It's dodging gunfire in small space that becomes a challenge later on. Since you're not wearing a bulletproof kimono Gojiro needs to avoid as many shots as possible. In large spaces you have plenty of room to move around. In tiny indoor areas you don't have enough room to move around and while dodging one group of shots you will often run into another. Both of these problems take the fun out what could be a solid action title. Some gamers may not even notice these issues because the game is really short. Most levels last a few minutes and there are only a handful of levels to beat.

The scenery in Samurai Western is nicely done, but the game's graphical glitches take away from the overall graphical score. On a setting level the art looks good, but the edges are jaggy for a PS2 game. The biggest problems are with the game's clipping. While you're slashing back and forth your sword will move in between enemies and go through walls. Gojiro can also remain partially in a wall and even use this to his advantage to dodge some shots. The errors are so obvious that they can be laughable at times. Have you ever seen a Samurai have half of body in a horse? Well now you can. The poor voiceovers were already mentioned, but we didn't comment on the game's sound effects. The blade slashes are decent and you'll hear plenty of gunshots. You will also hear too many of the same comments made by the cowboys over and over. Almost every guy needs to say "who are you?" after they die or "die you son of a" when they first spot you.

Samurai Western has some interesting ideas with genre blending and makes for a decent action title. However, it is pretty simplistic, with the exception of having different stances. There really isn't much in the title that will make gamers come back for a second round, but the first play through is a pretty fun ride.

US version update:

After playing the US version of Samurai Western there isn't too much to add. Atlus, as usual, has done a faithful translation (of what little needed to be translated. The game uses the same awful voiceover track for Gojiro. One thing that was cleaned up is the moving "spin dodge" that you use. The dodge is much more effective. Almost anything can be dodged with the command now. Atlus also cleaned up the bullet reflection, too. Now you have an indicator saying that you successfully shot a bullet back with your sword. If you're hankering for an action game, Samurai Western also includes 200 unlockable items. This includes equipment, swords and even playable characters.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 2

Spike designed this game with English voiceovers, so understanding the story won't be a problem. Most of the important menus are in English, too. What is in Japanese are the different weapons and accessories plus story subtitles.

US Bound?

One way or another the Way of the Samurai games have made it across the ocean. With this game's blend of two time periods it should come over to the US.

Overall

Even with the unique setting, the game is way too easy to complete and too repetitive to make it an outstanding title. Although, action aficionados will appreciate it.