Way of the Samurai games have always been a unique series with a loyal cult following. There are few games out there that let you play and customize a nameless samurai to call your own. Finally, Way of the Samurai 4 has hit the shores of North Americ and, unlike previous games in the series, numero 4 offers content a little more daring than before. So does Way of the Samurai 4 outdo the previous installments or should this franchise commit seppuku.
Unlike previous Way of the Samurai games, which took place during the Edo-period of Japan, Way of the Samurai 4 takes a bigger approach by bringing it to the 18th century, where traditional Japanese culture is starting to merge with western technology; you’ll enter with your samurai to the fictional town of Amihama. Just like previous Way of the Samurai games, players can shape the story to their liking by choosing multiple dialogue choices and one of the three factions that resided in Amihama – the foreign powers, shogunate forces, and anti-foreigner movement.
You’ll find great freedom in the game’s many story paths, but if not tracked correctly the path can lead players to a convoluted story; If done right, however, each faction has a fun and interesting story. It might not be great or over-the-top, but it should keep you engaged until its climax. Sadly, the story of each faction can easily be beaten within 3-4 hours – cutscenes and major battles combined. While the campaign may be short, those willing to invest the hours into its stories, along with finding the perfect ending, will enjoy it for what it has to offer.
Gameplay wise, Way of the Samurai 4 has similar mechanics from previous instalments but expands on those classic mechanics even further. While offering unique features never before seen in any previous Way of the Samurai games, combat and sword creation have been expanded while ”night crawling”, “torture”, mini games, “dojo”, “crossroad killing”, the ever changing world and more all return to the final package.
Way of the Samurai 4 offers you a wide range of weaponry from katanas, spears, hands, and now rifles and pistols. Now you’ll also have to learn the fighting styles of each weapon before diving head first into conflict with each style being based on rank and each rank earning you news skills for the respective combat style.
During combat, players can switch weapons, change stances, reverse blade a weapon, throw weapons, or unarm themselves. Those that played previous Way of the Samurai games will enjoy the similar combat mechanics, but there are two new features that help and hinder combat. Spring harvest gauge will act as an ultimate technique, whereby the player unleashes a barrage of attacks. Once ended your created samurai will sheath his/her weapon in a stylish fashion, while the enemies fall to the ground one by one in a painful motion. If the player doesn’t sheath the weapon and continues the barrage, their samurai will get weaken after the gauge depletes and leave them open for attack.
While the spring harvest is quite useful, a new vitality meter hinders combat quite a bit. The vitality meter allows players and enemies to regain their health back. This will prolong many fights and will become more bothersome then helpful, especially facing bosses during the course of the game. Another combat flaw will be the camera, like previous Way of the Samurai games, the camera has always been an issue and it still is an issue. Even the controls don’t help the camera matter with clunky and poorly mapped controls that take a while to get use to. Other than the three issues that plague Way of the Samurai 4 combat, the combat is deep and has great variety for players to experiment.
Those who played Way of the Samurai 3 will be happy to see that weapon creation makes its return. You’ll be able to go to the blacksmith for your creation, repair, upgrade, and appraisal needs. Way of the Samurai 4 also added a new feature to weapon creation – “Charm” – imbuing your sword with special effects like double damage, increased money find and other helpful little perks so long as you find the perfect combination of materials.
Minigames such as fishing, poker/hanafuda and the unique “Night Crawler” minigame all hold their own as pass-times whereas assassination and delivery side quests offer additional rewards. Maybe you’re into something a little less traditional though. If so, go ahead and open up your own dojo, then take on apprentices and fend off the challengers who walk through the door. Although those of you who played Dark Souls and fell victim to your town being purged by the forces of another man may wish to check out the “Crossroad Killing” feature found here. Simply put, you can use you custom-made samurai legion and ship them off as “wandering samurai” leading them to willingly attack the surrounding areas with each result having carrying it’s own consequence during the next time cycle.
Way of the Samurai 4 presentation isn’t great, not by a long shot. Graphically it looks like a PS2 game and the only detailed character on screen will be that of your created samurai. On top of that there are quite a few funny animations and glitches that will hinder gameplay. The fully fledged Japanese voice work can’t be faulted but the sneaky little hints of poorly produced English here and there really dampens it down; though the ambient soundtrack as you traverse Amihama is nothing to really back it up.
Way of the Samurai 4 offers much more in content this time around, but it isn’t the greatest entry in the series. With some poor design choice, like the vitality meter, a problematic camera/controls, and poor presentation, this could have been the series’ swan song. With that said, it still offers the freedom to experience the game in your own way; along with a deeply crafted combat system, and tons of content to keep players busy for weeks. If you’re a fan of the series or looking for a decent samurai game this will be around your corner, for anyone else though, approach with caution.
Audio/Visual 2/5: Way of the Samurai 4 looks like a PS2 with funny animation and glitches. Solid voice over work, realistic combat sounds, and an epic yet ambient soundtrack do help however.
Gameplay 3/5: The combat system is deep with quite a few design flaws like the vitality meter, bad camera, and clunky controls and mapping.
Innovation 4/5: Way of the Samurai 4 is a big improvement over it’s predecessor in terms of content and gameplay, but there are a few design flaws that hinder it from being the best in the series.
Value 4/5: You’ll find tonnes of content that will last for weeks. Night crawling, random missions, creating the perfect blade, multiple endings, tons of unlockables and more will all compliment this. Those willing to invest the time will enjoy what’s to offer here.
Final Score: 3.5/5