Dan Plays Games of Questionable Quality
Since I was young I considered myself to be on top of the video game industry on a level similar to Sauron’s gaze upon Mordor. So when I find a game that I’ve not heard of, it’s a bit surprising. Now when that game was, apparently, successful enough to warrant three sequels and it still escaped my all seeing eyes, now that’s impressive. This is the case with what is the incredibly confusing, Frodo Baggins of game franchises, Way of the Samurai 3.
Let’s get this out of the way right now, I didn’t love Way of the Samurai 3, but I didn’t hate either. Developer Acquire have made a living off creating games taking place in feudal Japan. Sometimes it can be difficult to translate the story and style of Aquire’s take on feudal Japan to western audiences. I can already hear the complaining about how “I just don’t appreciate or care about Japanese titles.” I am completely aware of the cultural differences between Japan and America. I also appreciate that there’s good reason entire game series never make it across the Pacific because of those cultural differences. I have played and enjoyed my fair share of Japanese centric games (e.g. Acquires Tenchu series) and I understand why western audiences can view these games as strange. I not here to assess Way of the Samurai 3 on its merit as a game for a Japanese audience. The fact is that this game was chosen to be localized for a western audience and I intend to play it with the eyes of a western player.
First thing, the game drops you right in the middle of an existing story. The opening cinematic is an epic fight scene between what appears to be two groups of samurai. The scene cuts between the aftermath and the actually battle. We see what I assume is the player character rise from a battlefield and hobble through the aftermath. A female ghost appears and embraces the now lone ronin then flies away to what we’re led to believe is the antagonist. The title of the game is Way of the Samurai 3 so it is entirely possible the entire battle and ghost are in reference to the two previous titles. This early in the game I’m willing to write off my initial confusion as a lack of experience with the series on my part. A number of critically acclaimed games excel at recapping the events of a previous title slowly through gameplay rather than with an overly long cinematic at the start. For now I can only assume everything will make sense as I explore the world around me.
One of the first thing I discovered is a mechanic that allows you to draw your weapon at pretty much any time, even during cut-scenes. It’s a pretty neat idea, and it’s often used in place of having dialogue options. Instead of speaking you either sit and watch the cut scenes or whip out your katana if you disagree. What I didn’t realize is that you’ll never want to do this because you’ll get dropped into a fight against someone ridiculously stronger than you. I actually appreciated the freedom of this option despite meaning almost certain doom early in the game. Giving the player the option to make choices does not mean they only get options that are wise. Allowing choices that will lead to almost certain doom made my decision feel like they carried more weight. However part of what made these decision so fatal was how your character controlled. This game by no means has bad or unusable controls, the combat just felt a little loose. There is an ever so small delay between when you performed an action on the controller and when the character would respond. After a while you learn to anticipate this delay and can become somewhat proficient with the katana. Once you learn to handle the katana though you have to then relearn this delay each time you switch to any of one of the enormous number of weapons and stances available in the game, each handling different from the last. This really made the huge number of fighting options available to me meaningless. The katana worked well for pretty much any scenario and it wasn’t worth the time or energy to learn a new weapon.
The hardest part of the whole game was probably figuring out what I was supposed to do. The jobs I kept performing didn’t seem to progress the story much, quickly became repetitive, and often were very confusing. At one point I approached a person while trying to find a way to progress the story and I instead was given the option to cut up a giant tuna for him. This must have been a rare species made of depleted uranium; either that or my katana had been replaced with one consisting of wood covered in aluminum foil. It took me dozens of swings of the katana just to break the skin of the thing; which then proceeded to break up into perfect little cubes. The need to assault nigh indestructible food appeared to be popular in this village when I found myself performing the exact same task for an old woman’s vegetables. I think it’s good to put little mini games into a videogame to help break up the action a little, but mini games that have you assault food with an incredibly ineffective katana felt out of place in a world of deadly samurai. Then again the mini-games were pretty nice when compared to the actual story quests of the game.
You have the option to visit several different locations belonging to one of two clans with some neutral territories mixed in. The Fujimori Clan has a nice castle used as a staging area for recruiting samurai from the countryside. Apparently in this part of feudal Japan everyone was or is a samurai but are just waiting for their local recruitment officer to stop by. The other group, the Ouka Clan, is your standard rag tag group of rebels trying to take back their land from the Fujimori Clan. They have a small worn down compound with a little castle in the middle and a very insistent man that kept awkwardly propositioning me for sex. You quickly become familiar with the Ouka Clan’s famous old dog that must be tracked down every other mission because it’s wandered off in one of the neutral territories. However finding Fido was only marginally worse than the jobs offered by the Fujimori Clan. Most of their mission consisted of me “proving my loyalty” by finding specific men that needed to be taught a lesson through repeatedly hitting them with the dull side of my katana. I was a little confused why I even had the option to use the non-killy side of my katana. I found that if you knocked out certain NPC’s you gain them as a skin for your character. It’s definitely one of the most creative ways I’ve ever seen for earning new character skins. Being the glutton for collectables that I am I proceeded to roamed the countryside bludgeoning every man, woman, and child I could find. It wasn’t until later that I learned you had to unlock a separate feature in order to use the character skins. However whacking people with the back end of my katana proved too much fun to stop. Unfortunately a clever tool for unlocking extra’s typically shouldn’t be the most fun part of the game.
What really frustrated me with Way of the Samurai 3 is it had potential. The story was broken and incredibly confusing but gave the initial appearance of having more depth. I appreciated the freedom of being given options that almost always lead to your doom despite loose controls making the options more frustrating than liberating. The dozens of weapons and stances to choose from was welcome variety even if rarely needing to be used. A little better direction for the player and quests that felt important could have changed this game drastically. I felt like Aquire tried to create a feudal Shenmue, focusing heavily on a player driven story and conversations. However the conversations led nowhere and when given control of a samurai I had the expectation of being a highly trained killing machine. It is hard to run errands and cut up indestructible tuna when you go in expecting a game with at least some samurai action. I had some fun with the game but the slow story, repetitive tasks, and lack of use for options given made it difficult to really become immersed in the game.