Way of the Samurai 4 Review

Way of the Samurai 4 released in Japan in March of last year as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Now, Aquire’s unique franchise has come to the US as a download-only title on the PSN. Once again, players can don the kimono of a nameless samurai and alter nearly aspect of the world around them. With new additions and tweaks, can Way of the Samurai 4 draw in more than its usual crowd with its latest entry?

Let’s take a look at the HOTs and NOTs of Way of the Samurai 4.

HOT

Out of the Ordinary

Everyone should make a habit of trying a game that differentiates itself from the handful of sequels, remakes and unimaginative titles lining store shelves. Way of the Samurai 4 is one of those games that helps break up the monotony of the annual filler. Players will take on the role of a nameless samurai in the fictional port town called Amihama in the year 1855. The British Navy has just arrived in order to set up trade relations, but as you can imagine, not everyone is too happy about their presence. As it would happen, your personalized samurai has walked right into the middle of the conflict at the right time completely by coincidence. Immediately, you can choose to side with the British, aid the Disciples of Pranja in removing the unwanted foreigners, attempt to keep the two apart or simply ignore the issues in your face and do your own thing. That’s one of the most attractive aspects of this franchise. Players are given near-unrestricted freedom to do as they please in feudal Japan, whether they answer everything with their sharp blade or tongue.

To break up the pacing, mini-games are spread throughout the open world. These range from the expected to the unusual; we’re talking mini-games that make side attractions in the Yakuza series look average. Most notable are the torture and night crawling options. The former occurs when the player is arrested and taken to be tortured. You’ll have to survive various torture techniques, such as being strapped to a turning water wheel. The night crawling missions are bit out there. Under the cover of night, the nameless samurai can seduce random NPCs by sneaking into their homes and overcoming their playful resistance. Succeed in night crawling and you’ll be rewarded with random items. Looking towards more constructive choices, a foreign language school can be opened up which translates foreigners’ dialogue from question marks to actual words. Sure, gambling is present and there are your typical fetch quests, but these are the best of the bunch.

When the samurai’s wit just won’t do, the sword must be unsheathed. The quality of your weapon can be changed through attribute upgrades and other visual customization options. These weapons can even be taken to blacksmiths to be melted and used for a new sword. Firearms are now available and muskets can be found carried by British NPCs early on, but the player won’t be able to wield them from the beginning. Or, should you choose to make the battles a bit more person, you can ditch the weapons all together and show up swordsmen with your fists. Let’s not forget about the protagonist’s appearance. They can always purchase new attire, which may lead to some bizarre combinations, to break the traditional samurai dress code; that is, if you choose to do so.

High Replay Value

With all of the choices contained within the game, it’ll take much more than one playthrough to see everything. There are 10 endings to view and that’s just the tip of the replay factor. Working much like New Game+, finishing a playthrough carries over the player’s items, money and other obtained content into the new game. This means that each time you finish the game, your next run will yield more options and further show off the game’s true offerings.

Asynchronous Online System

Way of the Samurai 4 has implemented an engaging feature that should be familiar to Demon’s Souls fans. Players’ samurais are automatically uploaded if connected to the PlayStation Network. These characters become NPCs in other games. If you, too, are online, you may bump into someone else’s character, at which point they can duel. Win the battle and you’ll be awarded with the other player’s sword. New custom weapons make great trophies, reminding you of your many victories.

NOT

Poor Graphics

Way of the Samurai 4 isn’t too visually pleasing. Although it was only released last year in Japan, it looks severely outdated. Character animations are stiff and the environments look bland and muddy. Many had hoped that the fourth installment would receive a substantial upgrade in the graphics department after Way of the Samurai 3’s disappointing presentation, but that just isn’t the case. Way of the Samurai 4 looks far from a PS3 title and, instead, closely resembles games from last-gen tech.

Underdeveloped Combat

For the most part, combat is at the core of the game. Unfortunately, fighting isn’t the most engaging activity. There are weak and strong attacks with the ability to maneuver around attacking opponents. Combat can be upgraded by learning new techniques, but even at its “best”, it fails to capture the interest of the person holding the controller. Attacks are executed slowly and enemies carry out their assault in the same fashion; even groups of enemies attack one by one, providing little challenge. Ensure you attack first and continuously, and you’ll win almost every time. Sometimes, choosing to use diplomacy to work out a problem is better just so you can avoid having to deal with the archaic battle system.

Not for Newcomers

Way of the Samurai 4 may be easier for newcomers to try out in comparison to past entries, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all that newbie-friendly. This is a franchise that requires a ton of player commitment to find the gems dug deep within the game’s core and that could take several hours (or playthroughs). Long-time fans will feel right at home playing through the game 10+ times and putting up with the title’s lacking characteristics. However, these issues are much more apparent to first-time players as they don’t have a history tied with the franchise to allow themselves to overlook the obvious shortcomings; not to mention more current titles have set their expectations high in terms of gameplay, which causes WotS 4’s components, such as combat, to feel lacking in this gaming era.

Verdict

Way of the Samurai 4 is an interesting game with unmatched player input and control over the final outcome. This is a game all about customization. Customize your character; customize your weapon; customize your adventure. The ending is in your hands and will slowly reveal itself with each decisive action. However, even taking the Demon’s Souls-inspired online connectivity and high replay value into account, the game lacks polish and accessibility to those who haven’t played the franchise prior. The clunky combat and outdated graphics leave much to be desired. This is definitely one for the fans, but everyone else need not apply.

[Editor’s Note: Way of the Samurai 4 was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]