The arrival of Europeans on Japanese shores marked a turning point for the small island nation of Japan, changing their culture and producing a fair amount of upheaval in their fragile society. Some people wanted to let the Europeans stay and exchange ideas with them, while others wanted Japan to stay isolated from the rest of the world. This rift in Japanese society has influenced its culture to this day, and in Way of the Samurai 4 we see this historical situation come to life. However, this game is no historical simulation but rather an open-world action game.
If Way of the Samurai 4 sounds different, that’s because it is. This open-world action game takes place during a very interesting period in Japanese history, but the game itself never really takes anything seriously. This results in a very silly yet strangely engaging game. Way of the Samurai 4 takes place over the course of four days (split into day and night), but there is a lot to do in those several days, and the decisions you make along the way can change the course of your path quite dramatically. The sheer number of choices you can make, combined with the short nature of the game, creates a title that must be played through a number of times to really appreciate everything this game has to offer. You won’t be able to experience all the events on your first or even second time through. If this sounds interesting to you, get ready for a long haul.
The goals in this game are rather ambiguous and very little direction is given to you while playing, which is one of the major weaknesses. There are tons of decisions to be made but without a guide there is quite a bit of trial-and-error. Whether or not this is too much will depend on how patient you are and how willing you are to try different paths, even if they may be completely against what you want to do. It isn’t that the game is bad, but there is so little direction that it will take an extremely dedicated fan to wade through all the wrong decisions to get to the right one. Your first playthrough will a disorienting one, and a feeling of being lost will reign supreme. However, subsequent playthroughs will give you a better idea of how the game works and how you will get to the ending you want. Be careful in your decision-making though, because the difference between the “good” ending and a less desirable one could hinge on one misplaced decision.
As heavily focused on exploration and decision-making this game is, you will find yourself in combat just as often. Whether you are defending the honor of a companion or taking down enemy samurai, you’ll be no stranger to the art of combat. The more you battle, the more moves you learn, and within a fair amount of time you’ll have an arsenal of moves to choose from, making combat a highly customizable experience. Luckily, the combat system is capable and somewhat intuitive, and with a little work you’ll find a rhythm and fighting will become second nature. However, there are some instances where the camera angle takes away from the action at hand. If you get too close to a wall, the camera tends to move into the building and block your view of the battle, and you will then have to run into a clearing to continue fighting. This becomes especially frustrating when fighting a large group of enemies, as groups will encircle you when engaged, and running to a clearing will be difficult or impossible. The hit detection is also suspect, since not all attacks will land in the same way. This leads to some frustrating moments and ultimately takes away from the game.
Overall, Way of the Samurai 4 is a mixed bag. On one hand you have an interesting setting that sets up the story in a meaningful way. The open-world concept really works for this title and there are tons of ways to customize your look, skill-sets, and weapons. The ability to move freely and experience the story at your own pace works very well. On the other hand, the poor hit detection and camera angles, lack of instructions, and sheer amount of trial-and-error takes the players out of the experience. This clash of good and bad really leaves you in an odd position. While it is a lot of fun to run around the world messing with people and being a nuisance, to actually take this game seriously would reveal all of its flaws and lead to a frustrating experience. Our recommendation is to try this game cautiously. It is definitely worth the rental price, if it is available, but it would be hard to justify the full retail price. There are plenty of laughs to be had, but the game just has too many issues to be chosen over some of the better titles currently available.
This review is based on a review copy of the Playstation 3 version of Way of the Samurai 4 developed by Acquire, published by NIS America