The story in Way of the Samurai 4 has more holes in it than swiss cheese.
As a little boy, I would pretend to be a ninja who always had on the right camouflage, even when hiding in plain sight. I know ninjas and samurais are similar in some ways, but otherwise entirely different. Having never played a Way of the Samurai game prior to 4 had me excited to get my hands dirty with this, the first to come to PSN. What started as blind excitement turned to sour disgust in a matter of minutes, but then back to blind excitement a few weeks later.
I stand by one truth to many who have worked in the video game industry, and some of which still do, and that is if a game doesn’t hook me within the first hour, I will just shut it off. Way of the Samurai 4 instantly lends itself to this category of games. It does not hook within the first hour. In fact, I found the menus to have fallen short of most localization standards. On one screen, the start button advances while on another screen its the X button or even the circle button. On more than one occasion, I accidentally selected the wrong option. This happened a lot in gameplay too, as I’d be spamming the X button during a cutscene when all of a sudden a dialogue box appears and I just selected the first option without warning. In a few side quests, this may fail the side quest.
The menus have a sort of learning curve as well. A good portion of the game will attract the focus to the center of the screen where characters converse and interact the most. For quite a while, I didn’t notice things like the dialogue bubble icon that appeared during an in-game cutscene because it was all the way to the left side of the screen. Additionally, it wasn’t until my third Story Mode retry that I noticed there was an “Action” button icon at the bottom right corner of the screen. My samurai was tied up on some tracks and was just laying there until I hit the circle button to make him thrash around a bit. Maybe this was all because I’m playing on a fairly large 60″ HDTV, or maybe its because they actually designed the game with the PS Vita in mind. My money is on the former.
Way of the Samurai 4 brings very Japanese tongue in cheek humor to a samurai simulator. Most of it translates fine with some of the intended humor intact, but there were plenty of subtle jokes I just didn’t get. While I’m sure it was interesting on paper, I didn’t see the humor in playing through the game with my samurai wearing nothing but an adult diaper. There are plenty of character customization options, but the majority of which are only made available after completing the game at least once. Even though there is quite a bit of content and the customization tools allow you to really stretch your imagination and make your samurai look however you choose, the up hill nature of the game keeps me from sinking my teeth into the story.
The story in Way of the Samurai 4 has more holes in it than swiss cheese. After the first couple playthroughs there were just so many unanswered questions. One of the best features in the game is the ability to fast forward or bypass cutscenes. Littered throughout the many locales of the small Japanese village are side quests which aren’t meant to add to the story much at all. Occasionally, a side quest will allow you to develop your character’s persona in the story which leads you to one of the 10 endings in Way of the Samurai 4. The best way to keep track of your current story arc is hidden deep in the menus. In fact, once I discovered these menu items I realized that there was nothing that told me about this. No tutorial, no helpful menu or in-game hints.
In the pause menu, you’ll find several options, but the one most important option I found that improved my experience exponentially was under ‘Journal’. The developer really should have added this menu as a quick key accessible while in-game by tapping a button like how you can tap the select button to access the map. Any side quests that I had active were stored under ‘Missions’ in the Journal menu. But more important than side quests is the main story. There are so many forks in the story tree and they can all be seen in the ‘Events’ option. Once this was known to me, I now had a purpose in the game and suddenly all story events and what I need to do to play the game became evident to me. Before discovering these menu options, I was blindly running around just talking to people, breaking vases, and running from loading zone to loading zone.
The map changes dynamically based on where you are in the village. Each area connects to another area, and unfortunately for the gamer, each change of scenery causes an annoyingly frequent load to occur. If you were to never do a side quest, only then would the amount of loading between zones be acceptable. But throw in a few dozen or more side quests and you may find yourself as annoyed with the cemetery as I was. At least my samurai was always running, otherwise I’d be complaining about no run button. When the map is on screen, it will show the location of a target for an open side quest. That way you don’t need to run in circles looking for him yourself.
The way Way of the Samurai 4 had me running around aimlessly looking for side quests reminded me a lot of the Konquest Mode in Mortal Kombat: Deception. Run to a random person around an area and talk to them. If they have a mission, accept it and run through two or more load zones before searching for the target; rinse and repeat. And if you fall into a fighting side quest, like “Underbelly Attack” which requires you to kill 75 yakuza without dying yourself, then you also better come prepared. The battle is long and boring. The combos aren’t all unlocked initially, so you’ll find a few combos to be the most effective and will spam your enemies with this move repeatedly. When enemies block your attacks both your weapons and your characters will wear out. Weapon blades will brake off leaving you swinging a handle and a nub of a sword. If you managed to pick up a weapon before hand then you can quickly switch using the obnoxiously complicated L2 button weapon menu.
Way of the Samurai won’t instantly grab you based solely on the level or character art. A couple of the main characters are interesting to look at and seem to have been plucked right out of Soul Calibur. But the most annoying characters are the lowly NPCs roaming around, or their cameos in cutscenes. If you happen to need to replay a mission because you died or accidentally chose the wrong response and canceled out, you may catch that the NPC in the cutscene will be swapped out for a different one at random. And the NPCs are recycled a lot, even in the same cutscene you’ll see a pair of twins standing beside one another.
After having invested so much of my precious time to Way of the Samurai 4, I feel an extreme need to explain how important it is to understand the save system in the game. Before your samurai is killed you better have performed a manual save at some point, there is one in each area of the game and they are easy to find. After your character is killed you will discover that your game has suddenly ended. There is no auto-respawn at the last checkpoint or anything like that. After you’ve pressed X followed by circle to advance, you will get three options: ‘Retry’, ‘Save & Quit’, and ‘Return to Title’ (quit without saving). Retry doesn’t always mean respawn at the last checkpoint. Early on in the game, I found it to mean restart the whole game from the beginning. Though once I got a little further into the main story missions the save file actually worked to load either manually and when ‘Retry’ was chosen.
Also, once you’ve finally beat the game the first time you’ll want to take advantage of transferring all those weapons and items to your next playthrough. The game will ask if you want to save and, just to be on the safe side, I find that the best course of action is to always save it as a new save file and not to overwrite the existing save file.
Knowing what I know now after playing the game more than enough, I can’t in good conscience recommend Way of the Samurai 4 less. Its selling points are the 10 different endings to unlock, hundreds of weapon parts, tons of character customization features, and oodles of side quests. But none of that matters when the fighting mechanics, exploring, and general way the game is played is all so unappealing and arduous. Games should not be so much work with such drastic penalties when the work is done poorly. The learning curve is one to two full playthroughs, and then you might realize that a hundred really good games have come out while you were learning how not to play the game. Way of the Samurai 4 should be avoided, especially at $39.99.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
What I Dislike: