The Way of the Samurai series has always walked a fine line between the sandbox and action genres, but one thing’s for sure: it has a rabid fan base.
The concept behind the series is to put an emphasis on short, dynamic, and frequent playthroughs, in which every time you boot up the game, it will provide a drastically different experience.
In the grand scheme of things, Way of the Samurai 3′s narrative isn’t particularly engaging, but it does the job. Just imagine a storyline involving feudal lords and warring factions, then put a wandering samurai in it: that’s your initial story. But the beauty of the game doesn’t necessary lie with the backdrop; it’s how you choose to make your own story.
Playing out like a “choose your own adventure” book of sorts, Way of the Samurai 3 always has you start out in the same manner: tattered and broken on a blood stained battlefield.A few villagers approach you and ask if you need help; immediately, the “interactive cut-scene” feature is enabled, which allows you to either beg for forgiveness, or in this particular case, draw your sword in anger.
Scaring off the villagers will leave you alone, broken, and with nearly no health, but if you choose to accept their help, you’ll collapse and wake up in their village, safe and sound. It’s these kind of choices that really make the game, and help spice up “open ended” gameplay that’s so half-hearted in today’s market. The best part is the fact that the apology feature can also be used in-game in nearly any circumstance, allowing you to stop fights, or simply beg for spare change. In fact, one of my favorite instances of the interactive cut-scene mechanic (which I feel will explain the system) involved a run in with one of the factions you could join.
After working with a particularly shady faction for a while, I was sitting with the group’s leader and all of his followers, drinking. Apparently, the leader had ambushed an innocent trader and stolen all of the alcohol supplied at the party, and to make matters worse, in his drunken stupor, he insulted a female member of the clan. I decided I wasn’t going to stand for his shenanigans, and drew my sword, killing all of the chauvinists, and subsequently taking over the brotherhood.
Despite the fact that there’s only eight locations to travel to, a lot can happen considering there’s a random event system, which can pretty much throw anything at you, from random thieves (who will rob both you and the unsuspecting passerby) to chance encounters with princesses. You’ll also find that the realistic day/night cycle will show these locations in a completely new light depending on when you visit them.
Through the very nature of the game, you can expect a ton of replay value. There’s a great deal of weapons, accessories, costumes, character models, companions, and endings to achieve. You’ll also find a small number of mini-games to waste time in for fun and profit, including bell ringing and fish filleting. None of them are going to win any awards, but they’re entertaining nonetheless.
While the open ended storyline may be incredibly fun, there are quite a few factors that would turn off most gamers. First off, you’re going to want to read the manual; as the game doesn’t have any sort of explicit tutorial. There’s a heap of advanced combat tactics (which I’ll get to later), and without some sort of direction, you’ll never figure out the button combination needed to pull them off. Additionally, here’s a word of caution for the casual gamers: when you die, the game is over.
That’s your story: I came, I saw, I died, and I restarted the game. But luckily, all of your equipment, money, and score transfers over to each subsequent playthrough, so the only thing you’re going to lose is the progress on your story; not your character. One of the biggest turn offs for me, however, was the fact that anything “evil” done in the game subtracts samurai points, which are necessary for gaining new outfits and items.
There’s also another big problem most consumers will have: the oddball presentation. Due to the fact that the game is incredibly quirky to the point where you can fight with a vegetable, the general appeal for this game is going to be very low. You’ll also encounter insane quests like “search for the old ladies’ underpants”, and have to deal with a pretty terrible English voice track (luckily you can switch to Japanese). This has always been a problem with the Way of the Samurai series, so if you’re a fan of the other two titles, odds are you won’t mind this one.
Combat becomes more advanced as you trek through subsequent playthroughs. You’ll start off with just a regular sword, with the ability to block, kick, throw, parry, and use a few special abilities (like instant-killing after parrying). When you engage in more and more combat, both your level and weapon skill will increase, allowing you to use more tactical maneuvers and abilities. As you explore the game world, you can find roughly 100 different weapon types; each of which are upgradeable at the forge through a unique crafting system.
Way of the Samurai 3 also allows you to use the blunt end of your weapon: meaning you never have to actually kill anyone throughout the course of the game. It really adds a unique twist, because anyone knocked out using this method will return later, forcing you to ponder whether or not someone is worth killing. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the combat system, even though it can get a bit “arcadey” during the first few hours of gameplay. Once you unlock the game’s harder mode and some advanced abilities, combat gets much more involved.
For those expecting an entirely realistic “Seven Samurai” simulator: look elsewhere. Way of the Samurai 3 is a very quirky, “anime-esque” experience, but for those with an open mind, you’ll find enough unique gameplay and value to warrant a purchase.
Unfortunately, Way of the Samurai suffers from an overall lack of graphical polish, and contains a few glitches. The character designs also aren't memorable as a whole.
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Way of the Samurai contains a deep combat system, and rewarding "choose your own adventure" mechanic, if you care to let it unfold.
Like the Tenchu series, there's really nothing good to say about this game's english voice track. Unfortunately, the solid acoustic/citar soundtrack isn't enough to make up for the sloppy dub.
While Way of the Samurai contains near infinite replay value, some gamers may get bored around the 10-15 hour mark; luckily, all your gear and statistics carry over from each playthrough. Though there's the added bonus of mini-games, The Way of the Samurai series could certaintly benefit from a multiplayer mode.
Way of the Samurai 3 suffers some of the same problems as it's predecessors, and ultimately is a niche game that the general market won't enjoy. For those that do decide to take the plunge, however, you'll find a deeply rewarding story based experience.