Games such as Way of the Samurai 4 show the true state of how gaming has evolved from the mid to late nineties when the majority of games came from japan, where as now as a result of western developers an increase in consumer choice the modern western gamer resides in an ADHD and Ritalin addled world forever pursuing the freshest thing going, while loudly condemning any digital experience that does live up their lofty (and some time’s unreal) expectations. The eastern gamer on the other hand is more likely to enjoy the familiar and sometimes quirky experience.Way of the Samurai 4 most definitely falls into the latter of the two categories. Fusing not-so-accurate Japanese history, a lone samurai saviour story line and humour to give an experience we haven't had since the early days of the PS2 when eastern games were a lot more prevalent.
Taking on the role of a lone samurai ronin heading into the Japanese town of Amihama, you will find the town in upheaval over the arrival of British traders referred to as the “Foreign powers” who have come up against the “Anti-foreign forces” who look to rid Amihama from the so called invaders. Amid a tussle on the harbour where you land, you meet the magistrate who represents the law of the town and the third faction (referred to as the “Shogunate forces”) you can interact with in Way of the Samurai 4.
As you have probably surmised these three factions are the main players in town and the interaction with these factions is how the game moves forward, giving you missions based on which faction(s) you align with. The mission structure is quite refreshing when you take this mechanic into account as you will be making choices from the first few minutes you step onto the harbour in the opening scene of the game. Any decisions you make regarding the three factions as you advance the plot will ultimately burn or build bridges and you will find yourself being abruptly shutout of story branches with those you have offended with almost no prior warning. This can be a breath of fresh air when compared to some western games which sometimes hype up minor choices as ground breaking developments in gameplay freedom but ultimately end up as very minor plot alternations (We are looking at you Mass Effect!).
The way that Way of the Samurai 4 handles this and can make or break the game for you depending on how you like to play. First off, the plot lines which become blocked off are visible to you in the start menu after you make your choice and show you the amount of game plot you are missing and demonstrate the replay value you may get out of the game if you were willing to commit your time. The ease with which you can make these decisions is something to take note of as well, we found this out when building a relationship with the Shogunate forces. During dialogue scenes you have an interactive element allowing you to give different responses to questions and even do things such as drawing your sword mid conversation. We managed to whip out our shiny pride and joy whilst chatting to the magistrate of the town, and being all honourable he did not take too kindly to this and proceeded to strike us down there and then. This could be a complaint for some with its abruptness but it shows that a lot of thought has gone into the mission structure and how to affect it through something other than a list of dialogue responses. With ten possible endings the developer Acquire (of Tenchu fame) have given us plenty of opportunity to experience Amihama in many different ways.
The gameplay of Way of the Samurai 4 is quite familiar and somewhat generic, coming in as an action adventure game with a heavy focus on sword play it leaves a lot to be desired in almost every part of its execution. The sword combat mechanics feel very sloppy and unrefined to the point where button bashing is the best course of action in spite of the special attacks and increased number of moves that you acquire throughout the campaign. Your enemies don’t show any real challenge and you end up just mindlessly swinging your way to victory in most fights. You can increase the difficulty to bring a greater challenge to the game but ultimately the same frustrations will be apparent with the combat i.e. your assailants will only have greater health bars and no greater intelligence. You can craft new weapons at blacksmiths and break down other weapons in the field for parts to create a signature samurai sword but this again feels a little shallow and you will probably make do with what you find on downed opponents. The town of Amihama is nicely laid out and a pretty nice play space which is just the right size, but doesn’t really offer a lot of content beyond the main storyline missions and random fetch quests from random NPCs.
You have a few other avenues of interest in the game to keep you occupied and this is where it gets a little odd. You will sometimes be arrested if you are a bad samurai taking your frustrations out on the locals and get yourself thrown into jail. From there you will be treated to the torture room where three sisters will then torture you within an inch of your life; now this seemed quite quirky and fun at the time and fitting with some Japanese humour and may raise a laugh or eyebrow. After this you open a mini game called “Night Crawling” - we have to admit a double take was in order when we found out how disturbing this mini game was. Firstly, Night Crawling involves sneaking into an unsuspecting person’s house at night and uncovering them while they sleep. Instead of your victim screaming or slicing you into pieces you are invited to the nearest inn for “sexy time”. Sexy time involves a ‘sexy’ combat mini game where you have to make your opponent’s clothes fall off and win your sexy duel - well, we will leave the rest to your imagination. As you have guessed this is the most risqué and questionable feature of the game and it makes you wonder if the ratings board failed to catch this one in their classification process.
Graphically Way of the Samurai 4 is as old as its setting with it looking like it stepped straight off a PS2 dev kit, but the design and character models are well thought out and entertaining to say the least. You get authenticity of the towns folk, Shogunate and Anti Foreign forces while the British seem to have been taken out of the nearest Final Fantasy reject bin. You have Laura the creepy nine year old girl who is in charge of all the British forces in Amihama, and is a carbon copy of the little girls you will find in modern horror films. Jet Jenkins, Ivy from Soul Calibur’s twin brother and Melinda (wait for it) Megamelons are Laura’s escorts in the town of Amihama – we had to check the manual to make sure this was Melinda’s name and it is.
So, if you combine the well thought out multi-ending mission structure with the possibility of increased replayability, hammy combat with generic side quests and questionable mini games do you get a good experience for your money? Yes and no, if you are a western gamer through and through and like your games to centre around cliched marines with hulking muscles and guns (be that of the space or modern combat variety) and sport all the western trappings that we have become accustomed to over the past ten years then you had better stay clear. If however you are a dabbler in eastern gaming and enjoy Japanese style games then it may be for you, as long as you are willing to forgive the short fallings of the game mechanics and are looking to absorb the character and style paraded through Amihama on your journey. Overall Way of the Samurai 4 unfortunately is a cack handed swing at the genre unfitting of the title samurai master, more of a samurai dog.