Way of the Samurai 4

There is a lot of good inside of Way of the Samurai 4.

By Daavpuke, Posted 23 Jul 2015

A lot of open world games go for sprawling excess these days, where the eye takes in more than it can handle. In the old-timey, rural Japanese setting of Way of the Samurai 4, all that activity gets contained to one familiar location instead. While this story-driven action game may be quickly showing its age, it’s possibilities, however, are still plentiful and engrossing, for both good and bad reasons.

Strangely enough, Way of the Samurai 4 doesn’t look like a fairly recent release. A mostly monochrome world is only offset by some scattered floral dressing. Characters with wooden animations and caked on textures populate this odd, puppet-like environment. Sound effects get repetitive fast and actors don’t always match their character. Voices are exclusively Japanese, clashing with the British faction in the story, who speaks it as a native tongue, instead of English. The world is enough for a setup, but it will not welcome anyone on presentation alone, aside from the Asian theme.

What is captivating in the game is the freedom available, kind of like Grand Theft Auto. After a brief plot intro that sets up tensions between modern and traditional values, Way of the Samurai 4 relinquishes most control and let’s a samurai into its midst. The only goal is making a name, any name, for oneself. To progress, branching paths can be taken between the three available factions, which upsets the other two every time.

Random passersby can also be stopped for spontaneous objectives. Stores litter the streets, offering their wares for food and comfort, but also customization options or equipment. River banks invite the fisherman spirit, which can provide added sustenance with a fresh capture. Opportunists can pilfer their goods, though that will attract the punishing authorities. Some strangers may even just go on the attack themselves. Just as boring as the world appears to be, it also hides a ton of activity. It’s sort of like the real world in that sense. Adventure is for those who seek it.

Way of the Samurai 4 Review

Wasting time is the bread and butter of Way of the Samurai 4. That’s where the real magic happens. Engaging in the story often leads to action sequences, which can be hindered by the animations or quirky camera angles. There is, however, a simple diversity when it comes to combat as well. Once more, the game offers a lot of ways to draw steel. Styles open up their own paths of specific strikes, each with their own power and range. A button press and a direction are all that’s needed to jab or slice at enemies. Fights are won with precision and good timing more than a short combo here or there. Additionally, a gauge can fill up and unleash hell for a short amount of time, ending in a cinematic blood gushing, if done successfully. Failure results in being left open for quite some time and as some opponents are way more skilled, this can lead to a quick death.

There are a lot of small subtleties in Way of the Samurai 4 that make it more than the sum of its parts. For instance, the grueling combat mechanism can be offset with good preparation. Weapons can be upgraded at the smith, to make them more potent. Items, while consumable during fights, are more effective when ingested before an encounter, sort of like The Witcher. Knowing is half the battle. With that though, there is also a downside: Way of the Samurai 4 is marred in trial and error of difficulty spikes, forced challenges and so many frustrating deaths that consistently come out of the blue. Using all that’s at the disposal in the world is a long, arduous process of finding what clicks, what angers the environment and what is a wasted effort.

A big downside to the freedom in the game is that there is a big lack of information, certainly when offset to all the cool things that can be done. Knowing how vitality affects regeneration, for example, is mentioned much too briefly to stick, which is too much of a core feature not to be intimately familiar with. Some missions involve being specifically aware of how to manage time and resources, lest that objective seems impossible. On top of that, it’s also easy for errors to severely impair progress, ruining chances forever. While the game welcomes iterative learning, it demands perfection from the start and those two things just don’t add up. One will break.

Way of the Samurai 4 Review

Luckily, Way of the Samurai 4 is also built around those aforementioned branching paths and so replay value is a main design choice that’s reflected in the brief length and smaller environment. It’s actually pretty clever of the game to contain all its facets. That way, there are no huge expanses to cross each time, barriers to overcome to get back certain possibilities and so forth; most options are usually available from the start.

Additionally, Way of the Samurai 4 has even more ludicrous shenanigans in store for those who really want to just mess around and not care about the story. For instance, it’s possible to approach most girls in the game for the purpose of a sexual encounter. After saying the right words, the action moves to a “night crawling” section, where the target is the girl and sneaking towards them is the goal. If successful once more, the scene moves to an inn, where the girl must then be beaten into submission to win their affection. That last part is worded differently, but it’s essentially what goes down before sex happens. It’s an awkward way to get to the reward.

The game always has a tongue-in-cheek attitude about things, but that doesn’t always play out as well, as the above shows. In the game itself, that edgy humor periodically translates to the odd remark, mundane humor tactics and light brushes with plain sexism. There aren’t enough upsetting moments to write the game off and it’s always upfront with its candor, but there is that tiny, lingering feeling that something just doesn’t come across as light-hearted as intended. For example, a defeated female warrior cries out that they don’t want to die; they haven’t dieted and become pretty yet. It’s a totally unnecessary and belittling comment.

Then again, it’s also possible to approach elderly ladies and get to sex scenes with them as well, which shows Way of the Samurai 4 has no room for the standard ageism in games. Crimes are paid for by a sexy torture mini-game, where a dominatrix flogs a half-naked prisoner. For what it’s worth, there is something that’s equally uncomfortable and yet captivating about the whole atmosphere of the game. If anything, there certainly aren’t many features quite like this special sort of vibe.

Way of the Samurai 4 Review

Way of the Samurai 4 certainly is a unique take on the open world mechanism of ultimate freedom. There’s a lot to see and a lot to experience, but in a small yet versatile package that contains tons of little things. It may not be the best looker or even explain itself all too well, but it knows how to keep things interesting. Some of the game is hard to digest, but at least that makes it memorable either way.

For the PC version specifically, the port is rather straightforward, which is a bit disappointing. Menus are clunky to get through, imprecise blur effects pop into place and the framerate is locked at 30 frames per second for an undemanding game. Fortunately, most of its foibles are cosmetic and don’t detract at all from the wonderful experience, save one glaring install issue that can destroy the game’s .exe file, prompting Steam to verify integrity for minutes on end each time. Way of the Samurai 4 is still great on PC, but don’t expect it to be remastered either. At least the publisher is considerate enough to adjust the price of admission accordingly.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Publisher(s): Ghostlight
Developer(s): Acquire
Genres: Action
Themes: Sandbox
Release Date: 2015-07-23

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