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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.