Way of the Samurai
Review by neored13
"Sword + Body = Wonderful stress reliever."
This is basically just saying what everyone else said, no doubt.
Way of the Samurai is a standard samurai sim. You have a sword. You use the sword on anything and everything that makes you angry. There is a storyline, or rather at least five. This is not a single-playthrough game. It's built for multiple plays and those with a penchant for novelty, since the storyline changes depending on which scenes you watch.
The game itself, in a single playthrough, is immensely short. Basic story: You have two days in this mountain pass to change things or not change things. Time does not pass actively, so you can spend a full day real time just killing people in one screen without adversely affecting the storyline any. Alternatively, you can take certain story paths and zip through the two days in an hour or so.
Swords, as can be imagined, play a large role in the game. There are plenty of different swords to choose from, but the individual names matter little. You start with a basic sword, average in all respects, no special bonuses. Other swords are obtained by killing other people and taking their swords. Most of these swords are katanas, but there is a straight saber-style sword, a large iron bar, and even a hammer. Other swords exist, too, but I'll let you find them.
The plot is your basic samurai movie fare: Two families/clans are fighting over a specific object/location, and a family/stubborn group/small dog are caught in the middle. In this case, the families/clans are fighting over an iron foundry, and the family is an old man, a young girl, and a black samurai with an afro. (...WTF.)
The visuals are lovely, from the cloud of smoke and steam given off by the freight train to the leaves drifting from the trees. At least, I think there were leaves. I was a bit busy looking at the blood spraying from the bodies. This isn't your common horror-movie 5-foot splurt, but a modest splash that would be more realistic when hitting someone with a sword. Not that I'd... know... or anything... ¬_¬ One thing that bugged me was the lack of large-scale ground effects. There are puffs of dust and small splashes when fighting or running on land/in water, but I'd have liked to see larger puffs or splashes when you jump or land from a height.
The battle music is a bit chaotic, but it's easy to get yourself into the groove of blocking during lulls and then whipping out a jump attack or some other strong kill when it picks up again. In this way, the game makes it very like a movie, in that you automatically time yourself to the music often. Voice acting is practically nonexistent, limiting itself to a few shouts, random noises, laughter, and a lot of death screams.
The system of battle is wonderful. You have two basic attacks from just plain button presses. There's the weak attack with the Square button, and the strong attack with Triangle. Jump is X, and R1 blocks. Every other move is accomplished through button combinations. Forward+Triangle does a strong thrust, Forward+Triangle, Back+Triangle sticks the enemy and flings them over your shoulder, Forward+R1+Square performs a rushing kick or punch, etc. L1 draws or sheathes your sword. Draw your sword in someone's presence and they'll do one of three things: Run, draw their own sword and try and kill you, or ignore you. The last one is awkward, as there you've got your sword out and people are acting like you're holding a daffodil.
Blocking is important, and enemies will do a lot of it. When you hit someone with a strong attack and they're blocking, your sword will heat up. Heat is also produced by weaker attacks, though not as much. If it gets too hot, it will break. If your sword's tough to begin with, it will just fracture and be more prone to breakage. If it breaks all the way, you're left with a near-useless hilt and a piece of metal the size of your hand. You can still use a broken sword, but it's almost worse than just punching them to death. This is all shown on a gauge on-screen, so don't say they didn't warn you.
Combat is based on the action movie cliche of one person attacking you while the other four on-screen shuffle about and look fierce. This is handy, since you won't be diced in 8-on-1 encounters, but it requires a good suspension of disbelief.
Circle is your conversation button, which you can often use to taunt unique enemies in battle. A good strategy is yelling, ''Wait!'' and then hitting them while they pause. It can also be used to surrender if you've taken a beating and don't mind losing your honor. Otherwise, it's used to make small talk and advance the plot(s).
The swords are the center of the game, and you're not complete without two or three. You can carry three swords at once, and if you want to grab a new one, you'll need to drop or destroy (There's a menu option) one of the three if you're full. When you gain a new sword, there are five things you should pay attention to:
Stance: In the upper left of the sword's picture. The stance is, of course, how you hold the sword. In my opinion, Down, Side, and One-hand stances are the best, since they let you combo well and look flashy. Middle and Up are less useful. There are other stances for swords, but I'll let you find them on your own.
Durability: In the upper right. This shows how much punishment the sword can take, and ranges from 1 to 5. This can be increased at the swordsmith's for a fair sum.
Attack: This is how sharp the sword is. It can be in the positives or negatives. Better attack, of course, lets you slice and dice quicker and easier, and turn your foes into bloody julienne carrots. This attribute can be increased at the swordsmith's for a minor fee.
Defense: This is how flexible the sword is. It can be in the positives or negatives. Better defense allows you to take less damage from hits. This can be increased at the swordsmith's for a minor fee. Note that upping defense can lower attack, and vice versa.
Life: This is perhaps the most important factor when looking at swords. This affects how much life you have, and can be either in the positives or negatives. Generally, if a sword has a penalty in Life, I ignore it. The standard joke, though, is that hardcore gamers do not need Life.
Swords are the only things you can carry more than one of. There are other objects you can pick up/kick, though. Food is eaten immediately upon pick-up, and other objects can either be carried or kicked around. Other objects include pots, chairs, bombs, and maneki neko statues. Such carryable objects can be used as weapons in a pinch. But you're carrying a sword. Why throw buckets at someone?
As mentioned before, the plot is basic samurai/action movie fare. It's interactive in that you can choose to aid one side or the other, aid the family in the middle, or (I think, haven't tried to yet) just stand around and watch. Additionally, I think you could just go crazy and kill everyone possible.
The characters are all fairly detailed, but nothing really leaves an impression. As mentioned before, the individual games are short.
Secrets/Sidequests/Minigames/Unlockables: 8 The game itself is fairly straightforward. However, on completion of a storyline, or if you die or leave the pass early (There's an area where you can leave), you're awarded points and a ranking. These unlock special bits, like more costumes and heads for your character, a fighting-game style battle mode with more unlockable characters and arenas, and more bits in the tutorial. Additionally, there's a small minigame near the foundry. Try and find it!
Way of the Samurai is an enjoyable swordfest for anyone fond of pure action, novelty, swords, or just plain watching things bleed. Those looking for a deep storyline or long play times, however, might be more inclined towards something like Xenogears. In my opinion, it's got equal worth as a rental or something permanent. And like it says in the synopsis, it's wonderful for stress relief.
In my opinion, it should have been a little easier to earn money (There's a 3 yen reward reward for a conversation and 10 for a minigame, plus 50 yen for one plot choice, but for the most part enemies just drop 1 yen randomly), but this does make it a bit harder to get a really good sword. Also, my only other real gripe was the scarcity of save points. There's only something like two in the whole game, each triggered only after plot points. However, you can always save your swords by leaving the pass.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/23/02, Updated 08/23/02
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