In about a month the long-awaited Way of the Samurai 3 will arrive on our shores. Niche titles such as these are important to gamers like myself. I'm not saying I can't enjoy the blockbuster mainstream experiences that are being put out these days but those will always be around. Without support games that fall outside of the norm are going to fade away. But enough about all that let's take a look at the actual game.
Way of the Samurai 1 takes place during the final days of the Samurai. A Samurai by the name of Gabriashi(or whichever name you prefer) arrives at a tiny settlement filled with bitter rivals and hopeless romantics pining for a return to the good old days of wandering around with a katana at their side. Through a bit of diplomacy and maybe some killing Gabriashi will carve a place in history via multiple endings. As a true master of the Samurai way he can also attempt to get the best ending.
Unlike most games saving the land isn't about cutting up enough people until all of the bad guys are dead. In fact solving most of the various situations Gabriashi runs into is handled by putting away his sword and using the right words. This ties into the unique method of progression the game has. The game world itself is quite small and broken up into multiple areas. All of these areas have scenes that can be witnessed depending on the time of day. Time only moves when either the play views a scene or they enter/leave an area where a scene would take place. It's confusing at first but it becomes very easy to grasp since the game is very short.
One of the more interesting aspects of WoTS1 is that it isn't a long game. After viewing and/or participating in a handful of events the final battle will play out. We're looking at maybe an hour to two hours of actual game time. To add to this the player is free to leave the settlement and the game at nearly any time. This can be done if the player feels they are not going to get the ending they're trying for or they've found a particular weapon they don't want to lose.
It wouldn't be much of a Samurai game if the player didn't get to swing some swords around right? The controls are simple to grasp while the sword is sheathed. There's running, jumping, and a handy kick that can be used to break enemy defenses or easily grab items. By un-sheathing their sword the player will not only make themselves open to attack but they will be able to respond in kind. One attack button serves as a series of basic strikes which can be used to do slight damage or to create openings for more powerful attacks. The other attack button is used for a multitude of powerful special moves. Blocking is also available though the guard can be broken by certain specials or deflected by a regular attack. Timing a block at just the right moment causes an awase. The Awase is a powerful technique as it causes the enemy's attack to pass harmlessly through the player, leaving a large window of opportunity for counterattack. To add to this there's a small chance that the player can learn to awase attacks without even touching the block. Given enough time the player could become practically invincible.
To balance this out the game offers somewhere in the range of nearly 100 weapons and each of them have their own set of attacks(though several of them can share attacks). Not all of these are katanas either as there are different types of swords, maybe a club, possibly a magic staff, and even a saw. Finding these weapons depends on the difficulty setting and they can have stats applied to them like increased maximum HP, offense, defense, and durability. Each attack that is performed can build heat. When too much heat is built up the weapon will lose one level of durability. A weapon with no durability is useless so that means using restraint when fighting and avoiding a constant series of attacks that enemies block or awase(though the player can also break their weapons to render them impotent). Upgrading stats can be done by either the swordsmith or via rare item drops.
It's important to remember though that all stat bonuses and mastered awases are tied to the player's currently equipped weapons. If they die the game immediately ends and they lose that weapon along with any others they're carrying. To avoid losing weapons the player can finish their current game by leaving the settlement or getting an ending. These weapons are stored at the warehouse to be used for future games. It may seem a bit counterproductive to have weapons sitting on a shelf instead of being used and upgraded but that's a risk that has to be accounted for if the player wants to have really powerful weapons. Everything can still be seen and unlocked even if the player sticks to the lowest difficulty setting.
At the time this game was unlike most anything out there and today it still holds true. The adventure game aspects are handled well despite the shoe-string budget presentation. There's a lot of variation in the scenarios and quite a few characters to interact with, annoy, and maybe even kill. Whether the player wants to experiment or goof around there's plenty of ways to make sure no two games are alike.
While the better endings downplay the importance of combat the system in place is still really good. The button-commands for performing moves are simple and allows the player to focus on creating openings and doing punishing combos. Even when surrounded by multiple foes the player will only have to contend with one at a time. Multiple enemies can be struck at once but this is risky as it doubles the sword's heat. This game can be very tough on the harder difficulties as aside from food lying on the ground there's no ways to heal the player during a fight. Couple this with some of the more devastating attacks and a player could get destroyed and the weapons they spent a long time on would be gone. There's a lot of risk to this system but as we've grown to expect the reward is usually enough to make it worth the trouble.
Like with other Acquire titles there are tons of unlockables and even a handful of codes. The main character can be dressed using a combination of outfits and faces or the player can input a code to choose from any of the other characters in the game. Bonus features can be unlocked by acquiring points. Every completed game assigns a number of points depending on the player's rank. This ranking and number of points can be determined by the ending, how many foes they kill, how much money they have, and the difficulty. This is another good way to promote multiple playthroughs so players can really get the most out of this game.
Overall I think it might be worth checking out. It's certainly cheap and if you can get into it you might be more interested in checking out the sequels. As far as the newest entry is concerned I definitely recommend reading this forum thread.