Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Albert Lichi 13.04.2020

Review for Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story on Nintendo Switch

The year 2002 saw the release of the beloved PlayStation 2 cult classic, Way of the Samurai. Unrecognised in its day, for effectively doing the Tell Tale Games' style of branching narrative, this highly replayable ronin sim also managed to have a deep combat system, and loads of extras to customise the protagonist. In 18 years Way of the Samurai has had several sequels, and was no stranger to the odd spin-off such as Samurai Western. It is time for a new kind of spin-off, and Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story takes the "build-your-own-ronin" concept into rogue-like territory, with fascinating results.

Long-time Way of the Samurai fans might not even be aware that the franchise is still alive. Probably because the last was only given a digital release on the PlayStation 3, in a time before when downloading purchases was common. Acquire has continued this franchise with Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story, and with some bold choices, the experimentation has made it one of the better samurai titles around. The story begins with a vagabond swordsman wandering into town, and like always, some noble is pushing the working man around for some debt. The smith's daughter ends up as collateral, and he depends entirely on the player-character to help him earn the money to pay the collector, who will show up in a few in-game days. Where Katana Kami divulges is how one goes about earning the money.

Every night by the blacksmith's house is a magical tree that opens a portal to another realm. This is where a bulk of the action and rogue gameplay comes into the game loop. Inside of this tree are floors upon floors of randomly generated dungeons that manage to not feel tedious or exhausting, due to the focus being on intricate swordplay. Each floor is really just there to serve as a backdrop to survive and fight all manner of weird creatures, like ogres and undead. Each floor is rarely longer than a few minutes, and there are always various resources to collect, money to find, and benches to sharpen a few blades.

Screenshot for Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story on Nintendo Switch

Getting out alive means that you either: choose to escape, or risk going deeper, hoping to find the next exit. The longer anyone stays inside this tree, the likelihood of dying and losing everything increases, but also reaps the most rewards. The sword smith's debt will always increase after every payment, and sometimes finding money inside of a magical tree just won't be enough. Katana Kami has a very curious feature centred on three factions within the town, and all of them are fighting for power.

This means these guys need weapons, and Dojima happens to be the only blacksmith around. A clever ronin might just have to start a conflict between these factions as a means to boost the sales of weapons in the area. With so many tough looking customers coming in for business, a timid debt collector just might hold off visiting. It is morbidly satisfying to find a shockingly deep tycoon/business sim in a rogue-like action-RPG. This is more than just playing as a samurai - it has gamers playing as a mobster.

Racketeering and bossing around Dojima is only part of the fun of Katana Kami. Eventually somebody has to draw their weapons and clash some blades. Unlike past Way of the Samurai instalments, this plays with an overhead perspective to get a better view of the land. The viewpoint may have changed, but the combat has only gotten deeper than ever. There are well over 100 swords, and there are about nine stances between them all. Each sword has its own "sword level," and each stance has their benefit; like how a side stance has higher critical hit rates.

Screenshot for Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story on Nintendo Switch

The swordplay is fluid, and has very meaty strikes against opponents and that goes double for Katana Kami's version of parry attacks, which leave threats squirting blood out in jets. Even when at a complete disadvantage, the protagonist always feels like he has a shot thanks to the slow-mo mode. This functions like a devil trigger, where all the enemies are made extremely slow, and the player is granted a temporary power-boost to even some nasty odds. In a game that can have a lot of random and cruel things happen, it is nice of the designers to include this level of control over some things that can be beyond anyone's control.

While the hero's level resets every time he leaves the tree, his sword's level does not. This is how progress is made since a high sword level means more advanced special attacks are learned and it makes it much faster to re-level up proper after defeating foes. Between the guarding, dodge rolling, kicking, grappling and parrying; Katana Kami fully equips the user with everything they will need to survive. This is one of the rare examples of a rogue-like where skill can overcome some harsh RNG. It is extremely rare to see such amazingly designed combat with a overhead POV, yet Katana Kami does it so masterfully that it seems like a logical choice.

Screenshot for Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story on Nintendo Switch

The graphics look impressive for a title that relies on procedural generation. Rarely do the prefabricated assets feel disjointed or haphazardly assembled... even if they technically are. While plundering dungeons, expect to see the usual suspects for samurai action: bamboo thickets, cherry blossom leaves fluttering in the air, and atmospheric nights lit by fireflies. Tasteful and expertly realized, Katana Kami has amazing environments that set the mood perfectly.

The game loop is addicting and highly replayable. For such a combat-centric rogue-like, it also manages to have a simple yet effective story with a surprising amount of choices that the player can make. That being said, it Katana Kami on Switch is lacking in some aspects. The frame rate can get erratic in the deeper parts of the dungeon dimension where the beautiful visuals stress the console. When comparing Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story to its brethren in the franchise, it makes the weakest attempt at character customisation with only the outfit being changeable. Previous entries made big advances with the level of detail, and how far the avatar could be tailored to an individual's tastes. Way of the Samurai 4 even managed to allow female character options. Given the loose structure and lack of voice acting, it just seems odd that this is so light on choices.

Screenshot for Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story is likely going to still be a cult classic like its predecessors. This experiment has proven to be a huge success. Even gamers who are turned off by the words 'procedurally-generated' and 'roguelike,' might actually enjoy this new take on ronin simulation. It is mostly elevated thanks to the combat, and the attention to detail of choices that can be made to tip the scales in one's favour. Don't expect something like Ninja Gaiden 2, since the combat here is more methodical and gritty.

Developer

Acquire

Publisher

Spike Chunsoft

Genre

Action Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

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    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
Azuardo, hinchjoie, Phoenom, RudyC3

There are 4 members online at the moment.