Recently, I talked about a rather obscure series of Japanese action RPGs called “Way of The Samurai”. Specifically, I talked about the third game, which I enjoyed quite a bit. The more I got into this game, the more I fell in love with its quirky and odd world. I thought it was time to do a fully fledged review on it, since I haven’t done a game review in quite some time. With that out of the way, let’s venture into the world of Way of The Samurai, and see if we can carve our own path towards enlightenment.
The Way of The Samurai series is a series of action RPGs, which are made by the development team over at “Acquire”. Most of the games were also co-developed by the franchise’s publisher “Spike”. Way of The Samurai 3 was released in 2008 in Japan for both the PS3 and X-Box 360. It eventually made its way over to American shores the following year, only to be greeted by very little fanfare.
Way of The Samurai 3 was later ported to PC in 2016, over a year after the semi-successful port of the 4th game had been released for the same platform. The game was released directly to Steam, along with several pieces of DLC. For the purpose of this review, I’ll be looking at the PC version. This is the only version I played, since I lack access to a PS3.
The plot of Way of The Samurai 3 kicks off with your custom hero being the lone survivor after an intense battle. As a nameless samurai, you are then tasked with carving your own path through the Sengoku period of Japan. You quickly learn that the land of “Amana” is home to three different factions, all of which you can align yourself with. You can align yourself with the power-hungry Fujimori Clan, the bandit gang known as the Ouka Clan, or with the local villagers.
By earning favor within these factions, you can then choose which to side with. By interacting with the various characters in each faction, you get more info on the story and what is happening within the world. Something that may be good or bad depending on how you look at it, would have to be how the game handles narrative structure.
After 11 in-game events, the game will thrust you into its finale and make you choose which faction to align with. The problem manifests when you realize that the full story can’t be experienced on just one play-through, it’ll take multiple runs through the story mode to fully grasp what’s going on. Thankfully, each run will only take you a few hours each.
This is both good and bad. It’s good in that it gives you a lot of replay value, but it’s bad because you won’t fully get what’s going on with just a single play-through. This is a game that requires a fair bit of dedication, especially due to how sensitive the dialogue choices can be. Selecting certain options can lead you to a radically different ending, which is something rather unexpected for a little-known Japanese title.
The game also boasts 22 endings, several of which ware just variations on pre-existing endings. Still, the plot allows for enough variety to facilitate repeat play-throughs. Working for one faction may boast a completely different ending, than if you were to align yourself with the opposing faction. The game always finds a way to funnel the player into one of its many available endings, even if said player has no idea what they are actual doing.
In a way, the variable storytelling present in this game is its strongest attribute. Being able to return to the game once you complete it, with everything you’ve acquired and obtained is really awesome. Plus, the various endings and special quest-lines present a ton of replay value. Of course, the story isn’t the best. Some may call it a fairly formulaic samurai story, but it does have a fair bit of heart to it. Thought definitely went into the story, and the concept of allowing the player to piece together the larger plot on their own is much appreciated.
What makes WOTS 3 so special is its gameplay, which manages to be immensely engaging throughout. The game’s combat plays similarly to beat-em-up or fighting game. Whenever you get into a fight with an opponent, you automatically lock onto them. You have a variety of different attacks available to you, and can unlock more as you progress through the game and acquire scrolls. Using these scrolls gives you new techniques, most of which are tied to your weapons.
Certain combat abilities are linked to your character though, such as martial arts and dual-wielding attacks. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of options when it comes to combat. That’s not even getting into advanced abilities, such as “Instant-Kill” and “Push and Pull”. I’d be here all day if I tried to list off how all of the intricacies attached to most of these abilities.
What I will say is that the combat flows well, with enough weapon and ability variety to allow the player to craft their own unique fighting style. On top of having a good selection of abilities and moves available to the player, the game boasts an impressive array of weapons to use. You can choose from a variety of ninja blades, two-handed swords, and even massive spears to do battle with! Heck, if you don’t like the available weapons, you can just make your own!
The game’s crafting system is insanely extensive, boasting over 200 individual weapon parts. Crafting is pretty easy to get the hang of. You just grab enough weapon parts to build a sword, go to a blacksmith, and then have him put the pieces together. This weapon creation system allows you to create the kind of weapons you want, which is something I always find engrossing in games.
The game’s biggest draw would have to be exploration, since this is an open-world after all! The game has 9 areas in total, some of which are actually fairly expansive. The game is far smaller when compared to most open-world games, but you’ll quickly find yourself getting lost due to the sheer amount of things to do.
The game is bursting with side-quests, mini-games, and entertaining events. The area of Amana is ripe for exploration, and there’s enough stuff to do to keep you playing for hours on end. Where the game begins to falter is in its design, as the game isn’t built to be very beginner-friendly. The game doesn’t tell you where to go, what you need to do, or how to use its more intricate systems.
Sure, you can talk to a NPC at the beginning of the game, but she only gives out a select amount of info on how to proceed. If you’re like me and playing this on PC, then getting a grasp on how the game is played can be difficult, especially without an instruction book. You’ll start off the game not knowing all that much about what you can and cannot do, and will most likely get one of the worst endings in the game by accident.
As previously mentioned, this is a game that’s meant to be played many times, in order to see all the endings and story choices. So, if playing through a 3-4 hour long story mode 20 times to unlock everything isn’t your cup of tea, I suggest picking up a different game. Still, Way of The Samurai 3 can be a lot of fun, especially if you’re looking for a zany samurai adventure.
Let’s be real, this game looks like garbage. Despite being released for the PS3 and later ported over to the PC almost a decade later, the game still looks like its a console generation behind . This shouldn’t be too surprising, as the series got its start on the PS2 and the graphics themselves haven’t advanced past that, even in recent years. Backgrounds have a tendency to look rather bland, though some areas can look rather beautiful at times.
Character designs are good, with each character having a unique look about them that helps them stand out from all the other NPCs. Voice acting is solid in the Japanese version, while being fairly cheesy in the English version. To be fair, I kind of prefer the English version. The campy portrayals of most of its main characters make it feel like a poorly dubbed Samurai film, which is something I quite enjoy.
The game lets you choose between both the English and Japanese audio tracks, which I appreciate quite a bit. The game runs fairly well on most modern PCs, but is locked at 30 frames per second. Still, I very rarely experienced slowdown or glitches, so it wasn’t that big of a problem.
The game’s presentation is overall a mixed bag. While the voice acting and character designs are great, the game looks outdated in terms of graphics. The soundtrack is good, but you’ll be hearing the same songs a few too many times. The game also boasts ambient sounds during a few of the night-time maps, which adds a great layer of atmosphere to the mix. Despite the games fairly flawed presentation, it still manages to hold up decently well.
Way of The Samurai 3 is a game that’s hard to recommend. It’s not beginner friendly, it looks terrible in terms of graphics, and it does a poor job on directing the player. Still, it’s a game that manages to impress due to its shear amount of things to do. The various endings, multiple factions, and insane amount of weapons provides a ton of content for the player to delve into.
Combine this with a fairly entertaining (albeit formulaic) story, a weapon creation system, solid character customization, and a strong sense of exploration, and you have a game that becomes strangely engrossing after a while. Still, it’s a game that isn’t for everyone. Heck, I didn’t really get into it at first, at least not until I had completed my first playthrough.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: You skipped the first 2 games in the series! Sad fact of the matter is that I don’t have easy access to WoTS 1 and 2. I hope the first 2 games eventually get a PC release, so I can experience them on Steam and see what I’m missing. If they’re even half as fun as WoTS 3 is, then I think I’ll have a good time! With that being said, I can definitely say that Way of The Samurai 3 is as sweet syrup, despite its many issues.