The continuation of the Way of the Samurai franchise comes to us as Way of the Samurai 4 as a downloadable on the Playstation Network. While there are a lot of samurai games on the market (though still not enough for my taste) the Way of the Samurai franchise has always been my favorite. All of the staples of the series are still present in this new game. Just like in the past you play as a nameless samurai who arrives in a town and over the span of three or four days will interact with the different factions that are around and form a branching storyline with multiple different endings. While the last game I felt had one of the best stories of the series this game manages to stay interesting and deals with a significant period of Japanese history. These games have always had the feeling of what it would be like to have a game based on a live action adaption of an anime so there are always some fantastical characters and overly exaggerated expressions that have a certain style and charm to them.
The story of Way of the Samurai 4 brings the nameless Ronin to Amihama, a city that is currently undergoing some big changes. There are British diplomats in town working on westernizing Japan which is causing much unrest with the unsure people of Amihama. There are three factions present. The British foreigners, The Shogun police force, and the rebel group against the westernization. Following each faction can actually play out differently each time based on your decisions. You can choose to follow one path blindly, play all of the paths simultaneously, or if that doesn’t suit your needs you can just wander around and take care of whatever business you see fit. There are plenty of story options to explore so multiple play throughs are heavily rewarding.
This game is very much a hack and slash experience. When you wander into town you are carrying one sword but you can pick up any weapon from whoever you kill. There is also a blacksmith that can upgrade or even create new swords from parts you pick up or by breaking down swords you own. The one downside to this game is that it is a little more combat heavy than the previous titles but that combat is fun enough that it never bothered me but some missions you can engage can leave you in combat scenarios for so long that they can end up getting a little exhausting. There are different fighting styles that you can select before going into the game and using them more often will unlock new moves for each one. There are also different styles for spears and hand to hand combat. You can change your characters appearance at the beginning of each game or by visiting a new feature which is the clothing store. In previous games you unlock new appearance options by completing different endings but this game just adds a store that can sell new hairstyles, clothes, and accessories. This is one of my favorite additions to the game as I like to get my appearance the way I like it with minimum trouble.
There are plenty of new features in this game such as opening your own dojo and gaining followers to help in combat or even gambling and fishing. One of the more interesting features that your character can be automatically uploaded into someone else’s world as a wanderer and if they defeat him they can gain the custom weapon your character has made. This game also allows you to change the world more than any of the other games did. For instance if in one of your play throughs you decide to kill a lot of civilians then in your next game there will be more police around looking to arrest you which also leads to the new torture mini-game which is in my opinion the worst addition to this game as it is pretty hard and goes on way too long. Also if you follow the story that allows a language school to be built then you will be able to understand some of the foreigners that you couldn’t talk to on your first play. The combat also has a new feature that puts the game in slow motion and allows you to attack your opponents faster which ends in a flashy sheathing of your sword which causes all of the guys you killed to collapse dead at once in an awesome fashion.
My favorite part of these games is playing through the different factions. While playing any of the stories in this game even just a subtle change can drastically affect the way the story will play out or end and that is some of the most fun of playing these games. The characters in this title are some of the most interesting that there have been since the second game and while it’s not the best story of the franchise it is impactful and fun to experience.
While the facial animations of this game are painfully stiff the body animations are fairly fluid and consistent. The voice acting (while all in Japanese) is very good. The best part of the game is the world you are in is very colorful and bright. The town you are in is really well designed and a drastic difference from the last games mountain town which was full of empty valleys and canyons and while I would have liked to have a few areas like that in this game this area is quite varied and interesting. One problem is that if you are engaged in a missions where you are fighting around twenty guys (which doesn’t happen very often) the frame rate can really start to drop when the bodies start to pile up on the ground.
While the games new features are really interesting, especially the one where you can try to pick up women and then sneak into their house, even with all of the old stuff I had just as much fun playing this game as I did all the other Way of the Samurai games which is to say a lot. These games are mindless hack and slash at its best but the story manipulation is so much fun to work around and the combat, while it is simple, is a lot of fun. While this game may have a specific audience and it may be lost on the masses, people who love some sword fighting and samurai games can find a lot of fun here.
Way of the Samurai 4 is plain simple fun, but it is still fun! The game is challenging enough to keep you on your toes and the story mechanics have been great since the beginning of the franchise and keeps you coming back for more to see how differently it can play out. The new features add enough to the game to keep it interesting and it makes me hope that this series will continue so I can see what else they plan on adding. I can recommend this game to anyone who is a diehard fan of samurais and enjoys a good combat system wrapped around a unique way of telling a story. While it may not be a perfect game and not even the best Way of the Samurai game there still aren’t many games like this one.