Way of the Samurai 4 (PC) Review

By Chris Leebody 26.10.2015

Review for Way of the Samurai 4 on PC

The Way of the Samurai series is one that has probably passed the majority of gamers by. This is one of those franchises that epitomises 'niche' gaming. Japanese developer Acquire know what they like and do best and this can be seen with their track record of the Tenchu and Shinobido titles. Historic, Japanese, and a love of sword combat sum their games up. Way of the Samurai 4 continues a franchise that began back in 2002, one that adds a lot of different elements into the one package. Fans familiar with the series (and it really does have a dedicated fan base) love the fact that this is one of the very few games around that attempts to represent the simulation of being a samurai. All four titles have featured epic branching storylines, an open world environment, role-playing skill tree elements, and a ton of weapons and items to collect. Way of the Samurai 4 is the first instalment to arrive on PC via Steam and Cubed3 has had a look to see how it shapes up.

The overriding feeling with Way of the Samurai 4 is one of frustration at what could have been, as well as some of the decisions made in game design. One of the biggest frustrations regards the tone of the story and the characters that inhabit the world. This has always been a series that has had its eccentricities and quirks in characters; however, past instalments did generally take a darker and more serious tone (Way of the Samurai 3 particularly so).

It is therefore disappointing this time when the player is introduced into a world of excessive sexual innuendo, unhistorical costume design, and cringe-inducing dialogue from a cast of very extravagant characters. The plot revolves around the tensions in a port town with the arrival of British traders and the end of the samurai era. Multiple factions vie for control of society, through murder, war, and plotting. It is a fantastic setting, rife with the potential for an engaging faction-driven branching story where the protagonist chooses their path and what they want to do in the world.

Screenshot for Way of the Samurai 4 on PC

It is a shame that most of the potentially interesting characters are portrayed like something out of an anime. This is most notable in the depiction of the British characters, including the impressively named 'Count Jet Jenkins' and the rather aptly titled 'Melinda Megamelons' (which does not take a stretch of the imagination to understand the reference).

The female characters in particular all seem to originate from the mind of a schoolboy. Of course some might like the more whimsical characters, but the general feeling is that it is all a step too far from what made these experiences so great, forging a realistic samurai life in a sandbox-lite experience with an abundance of choice.

Thankfully, choice is something that still remains here and continues to be the real unique selling point. Granted, there are less available endings here than in previous titles, but they are more diverse and each story path is easier to follow than in previous titles.

Choosing factions, as well as when to betray them, can change the ending from day to day. Rather avoid getting entangled altogether? Fine; work as an unaffiliated Ronin. The main plot may only last five hours, but with ten endings that also take into account being a good samurai this is an experience that requires multiple playthroughs.

Screenshot for Way of the Samurai 4 on PC

On the one hand, the attention to detail here is just delightful. Everyone speaks Japanese, the protagonist is subjected to torture by the authorities when captured, and the world still moves with or without intervention from the player. There are also a variety of fighting styles and combat skill moves to learn and master.

It is in this context that the sloppy execution is so frustrating. The aforementioned good work is let down by the lack of graphical options for users to tweak; this results in the PC version having to run with the handbrake glued down for a title that never looked fantastic from a technical standpoint to begin with. For a game released in 2015 the graphics do not match the standards set by other games.

This could be excused for a limited developer budget and working on the PlayStation 3 hardware three years ago. However, Acquire have absolutely no excuse for not updating this PC release in any way at all and still charging a not insignificant sum of money. The small positive here is that the PC version is very accessible to a large number of even modest systems and runs perfectly well with no technical hitches.

Screenshot for Way of the Samurai 4 on PC

Additionally, newcomers will find the whole experience a bit maddening in terms of getting to grip with combat. The basics of parrying, dodging, and striking are explained in an introductory tutorial. The amount of options and weapons available for use in combat present a lot of choice, but information on to how to unlock new styles or how to upgrade existing ones is lacking.

Even death is not a simple experience, with a lot of unexplained options regarding returning to previously saved games, or alternatively going back to the very start but keeping gained skills and weapons.

That is not even getting into 'samurai points' and the raft of decisions ranging from accidently breaking boxes to killing civilians, both of which will all result in a lower 'samurai rating' at the end of each play through, which in turn prevents unlocking new customisable options.

In one way the above all sounds awful, but on the other hand this is what makes Way of the Samurai as a series so unique: it is not afraid to take risks. Acquire put their trust in their fans to learn the intricacies of their games and they are in turn rewarded by deep and unique experiences that no other developer would take a risk on. They don't need to tone down their ideas, rather simply explain them a little better.

Screenshot for Way of the Samurai 4 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Ultimately Way of the Samurai 4 is a hard sell to anyone who is not already a fan of the series, and indeed even some fans may be put off by the radical shift in tone and humour. Graphically, this has never been a franchise renowned for technical innovation. The disappointing thing is that Acquire have not made any attempt to update their 2012 title for the PC audience, resulting in a very dated graphical presentation with flat and muddy textures and simplistic animation. With all that said, it is a triumph for the diversity of gaming that an experience like this still gets produced. As niche and flawed as it may be in some ways, gamers deserve titles that take risks and have some different ideas. There has been no indication yet of any sequel to Way of the Samurai 4, but it would be a pity if one was not commissioned for its loyal following. Like the samurai in the town of 'Amihama', they are not gone yet.

Developer

Acquire

Publisher

Ghostlight

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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