Inside Pulse 12

Review: Way of the Samurai 3 (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Way of the Samurai 3
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Acquire
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Release Date: 10/20/2009

Way of the Samurai has had an interesting history in the United States, but through its low-key releases and near misses to the North American market, the series ultimately has quite the cult following. Billed as a samurai adventure, the series has been compared to established franchises such as Fable, based on its decision making, consequences and themes of morality. Enjoying moderate success, the franchise has jumped from the Playstation 2 format to the Xbox 360 thanks to an effort by UFO Interactive (as well as the Playstation 3, although this entry is published courtesy of Agetec). With the expansive offerings seen in the first two entries, it should be expected the 360 hardware would considerably bump up the replayability and scope of the game. Unfortunately, the answer to this expectation is a mix of yes and no and while Way of the Samurai 3 does a number of mechanics to satisfaction, a number of others fall pretty flat.

Just like the other entries of the series, the title puts players in the role of a wandering samurai in which your past has no bearing in the game, but your character’s future is entirely dependent on the actions and choices made through the course of gameplay. In Way of the Samurai 3, specifically, the player appears to be mixed into warfare from the feudal era, when an attack deals a crippling injury to their player. Miraculously surviving and waking up among a battlefield littered with fallen soldiers, the player begins their quest from here and immediately the factors of choice and story development unfold as villagers scoping the battlefield will show concern for you – you can be nice to receive their help or tell them to piss off either verbally or by unsheathing your sword and scaring them away.

While every story path will revolve around the warring states in the vicinity of Amana and various clans vying for control of the territory and the villages affected by this warfare, it is up to the player to decide how events unfold from the beginning up until the impending invasion of the forces of Nobunaga Oda. Ultimately, the story is decided on by the player, which greatly increases the title’s appeal and, in this manner, players are free to do as they please, whether those actions are good, neutral or evil, in order to uncover the game’s more than 20 different endings. While the scripting is hardly mind-blowing, the story is very serviceable and holds true to its source setting and there are some fairly entertaining bits of dialog to be found, even though it is usually sluggishly told through word bubbles that pop on the screen (and when multiple people are talking, this can be quite annoying). As archaic as the delivery might be in regard to today’s standards, adventure aficionados that have seen their fair share of classic titles might fit right at home with the simple text dialog and menu-based delivery. Most of the game is hosted in the traditional single-player story, which, given the amount of options available to the player isn’t necessarily a bad point, but the title doesn’t feature depth in its modes and even some simple online functionality that allowed players to take their custom character online to duel other players would have taken the title a bit further in its offerings.

Before we dive into the gameplay, I will have to point out that technology junkies will surely be put off by the title’s presentation. Way of the Samurai 3 seems as if it was developed originally for the Playstation 2 or on a lower budget because it definitely shows in the game’s visuals and audio. Everything here is certainly passable, but nothing uses the true processing of the Xbox 360 as you’ll see undetailed character models that lack much animation during conversations, pop-up runs wild in certain parts of the title and players will be sure to notice the lack of detail and jagged model edges in the cutscenes. What is provided for the game’s audio measures up just a little better, but with very little voice acting in the title (with the English voices being a bit shaky in quality for the most part), players will mostly be treated to ambient sounds that get the job done. In perhaps the game’s real shining moment in presentation, during certain situations, players will be treated to music that is fitting for the time period. Overall, I wouldn’t say Way of the Samurai 3 has bad presentation, it just needed a lot more polish than what it received and doesn’t hold a candle to most of the game’s seen on the format.

Thankfully, the meat of the game is ripe with satisfying gameplay that the player can tackle in short bursts or long periods of time. Playing by the rules, players will end up doing a fair share of quests, exploration and decision making instead of haphazardly instigating fights, but given the fact these aspects shape the game as a whole, they become immediately engrossing as slight differences in the player’s actions can create the infamous butterfly effect. If you’re truly thirsting for blood, however, who you attack and off in the game does serve as a significant factor in how the world turns out in the end even though it hinders your overall progress in the game by reducing your samurai points that unlock various features in the game. In Way of the Samurai 3, if the player executes a unique character, they never come back for that specific playthrough, however, more honorable samurai will utilize the game’s new feature to attack with the blunt side of the weapon in order to merely knockout that character and immobilize them for a while. Another new mechanic remedies the problems encountered in many other titles in the genre, by allowing the player to bow down and apologize if they accidentally threaten someone (it also does a few other quirky acts such interact with cats or allow the player to beg for money). Along with dialog choices and the ability to unsheathe your sword during any event, a number of mechanics are in place to keep the premise of the game interesting and the branching series of events keep different elements of the game intriguing to return to.

Even if the story isn’t your thing, this installment of Way of the Samurai eliminates the time limitations placed on the player, allowing them to spend whatever time they wish to in the game world before engaging in the final few events of the game. Much like previous entries of the game, this allows players to collect a huge assortment of weapons that can be stored for later use and the weapon crafting system alone has the potential to keep players engrossed in the management the game has to offer. Not only can players pick fights, but they can also foster relationships with key characters and even convince them to be companions that can aid in battle, provide support or even steal from you if you don’t keep an eye on them. Also, through battle, players can raise their abilities with a given weapon, learning new moves with it, but care will also have be given to each weapon as if a weapon loses its durability, it can break and be lost for good. With such examples to supplement the title’s gameplay, it becomes somewhat of a simulation, supplementing the adventure and action aspects of the title for those that like to tinker with collectibles and inventory.

Battling remains very similar to the way it was executed in Way of the Samurai 2, where parries are performed with timing a block with an enemy’s attack as opposed to the original entry, which used directional controls to manipulate the enemy’s momentum. This becomes quite important in allowing players to execute one-hit kills with counters and play passively to adapt to the enemies’ actions. The parrying becomes crucial since being reckless with your weapons will quickly lead to their durability fading away. While mowing down grunt enemies can become a bit repetitive, as the player progresses, there will be more suitable enemies to test the player’s skill and with multiple difficulty settings, players should be able to find a suitably satisfying fight. At face value, the player has a “weak” and “strong” attack, but when you factor in the numerous weapon types and techniques that players eventually uncover, players can mix in a number of offensive strings to compliment the defensive techniques. To further add to the exploration, players can use some wacky weapons such as garden utensils or wield vegetables and scrappy fighters can opt to go to battle with their fists.

That being said, though, everything in Way of the Samurai 3 is a pretty straightforward game and while there is a ton of interesting aspects to do and see, the execution will most likely fall a bit short from most current-generation gamers’ expectations. The game’s targeting and camera work can be a bit suspect at times and while the fighting is overall satisfying, players will most likely expect a bit more scope from the title, which only has a rough handful of environments to check out. Way of the Samurai 3 is one of those titles that is short at face value, taking only an hour or two to reach an ending, but encourages multiple playthroughs and, as such, it may potentially only hold a player’s attention for a couple of times before they move on to something else. The customization of the character is fairly bare-bones and while a number of features such as dual-wielding weapons and more can be unlocked, players will find themselves going through the same processes multiple times to reach this goal and the game’s samurai points are actually pretty easy to exploit for quick advancement that creates a bit of an unbalanced player progression. Thankfully, the multiple difficulties and satisfying fights level out the game’s balance and the quantity of content makes the title worth its price tag.

However, the questionable aspect at hand for a gamer deciding whether or not to pick up Way of the Samurai 3 is in the quality of its content. Acquire has created a unique approach to the “sandbox” style of gameplay many current gamers are familiar with, but with its behind-the-times presentation and calculating gameplay, Grand Theft Auto this is not, which is made most obvious through the game’s slower pacing. One of the first quests has you fetching an old lady’s underwear, which can be stolen from your inventory by crows, definitely setting up a questionable entry into the game, but as players progress or become more unruly, they’ll begin to find more options and action in quests such as punishing thieves. Regardless, Way of the Samurai 3 can still manage to be a satisfying time sink if players can overlook its downsides. Unlike a game such as Grand Theft Auto IV that revolves around giving a story to the player, Way of the Samurai 3 does the reverse and allows the player to dictate the story, allowing the player to make the character his or her own and this even carries over into the possibility of death, which effectively ends the story for that playthrough. This may upset some gamers, but with the ability to keep all money and items earned through the player’s career, the game features enough appeal and content to keep players diving right back in.

Right now, Acquire and Spike have the content feature nailed down with its Japanese releases and if future titles can build upon this with more quality and polish, Way of the Samurai will be a series to recommend without hesitation. There is plenty of appeal and replayability in the series as a whole and this definitely isn’t lost in the series. However, it’s hard to ignore that the title does not take advantage of the hardware, which is perhaps the biggest downside of the game. Sure there are other quirks in the game’s progression and combat, but they can be easily overlooked to find a satisfying title that players can come back to time and time again.

The Scores
Story/Modes: GOOD
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: CLASSIC
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal Factor: ENJOYABLE
Miscellaneous: DECENT
The Final Rating: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Much like its predecessors, while Way of the Samurai 3 fails to really flex the system’s hardware muscle, it doesn’t stray from providing the replayability and unique, interesting gameplay the series is known for. The newest installment adds enough new features to freshen up the series while remaining true to its roots, but the fact it does not take advantage of the hardware is one of the title’s crippling downsides. You’ll also have a number of graphical and camera issues along with some questionable quality among the game’s huge scope of content, but at the end of the day, Way of the Samurai 3 is a title you can come back to numerous times and it will most likely have something new to show you.