Tuesday, January 26, 2010

X360 Look: Way of the Samurai 3

Acquire's latest has all the makings of what should be the best Samurai game out there but at the same time it has a number of glaring faults that bring down the total package. Regardless fans of the first two games will find little reason to skip out on this one.

Way of the Samurai 3 tells the tale of a small piece of land that is little more than a speed-bump on Nobunaga Oda's road to becoming ruler of Japan. That is of course until a Nameless Samurai survives a horrifying battle and decides to do something about it. Course like the prior games WoTS3 has many endings and solutions to the persistent problem and the player can find themselves aiding, defying, or even simply running away from Oda.

The biggest disappointment however is that you'll never actually meet Oda. In the game he's more of a force of nature that helps to move events along. More likely you'll find working against a man by the name of Shuzen Fujimori. He's a corrupt and ambitious person who just might prove to be a match for Oda if a Nameless Samurai were to come along and assist him. Fujimori isn't the only important person in this tale as there is also a disgraced Samurai, a princess in hiding, and a number of other characters who are instrumental to the future(s) of Japan.

Much like the other games progress revolves around traveling through a rather small game world viewing events and making decisions. While the world resets to square one everytime the player starts a new game all equipment & money is carried over as well as certain other things. For the most part however whatever decisions the player has made will not carry over to future games. Thankfully the average playthrough takes a couple hours at the most so no matter what happens there's never a serious investment of time lost.

Really though I've just described Way of the Samurai 1. Let's talk about what's new in this game. The biggest addition is the ability to take on jobs. These quests are very easy to complete as they consist almost entirely of "find this and kill or collect it". The problem is however is that there's no sense of progress for these missions. They are handed out seemingly at random and can repeat quite often. The most maddening aspect is that almost all of them just aren't any fun. Some play out more like "Hide & Go Seek" as important NPCs find new crevices to tuck themselves in. There are a few missions that focus on the fun stuff like killing but some(like pushing an old lady nearly 100 feet) are agonizing in their tedium.

Combat has also undergone a few changes. One of the newest features is the ability to perform an insta-kill attack after a successful parry. While this can only be performed on weaker enemies it can be chained into a special QTE system. After butchering one person with this attack nearby hostile NPCs will run up to the player in an attempt to break the chain. I'm not sure why they'd want to rush towards a Samurai destroying everyone in single strokes but eh videogame logic. This ability is very necessary as a lot of ending paths involve fighting through waves of foes and there are even a few jobs where the player must kill 100 enemies.

Weapon building is certainly quite a bit more fleshed out than in the first Way of the Samurai. While everyone still carries a weapon the player can also find or purchase weapon parts to put together their dream sword or spear. These weapons can then be strengthened by the blacksmith to create something truly awesome(I'm partial to the two swords I named Dodonpachi and ESP Ra De myself). The character customization is also a bit more robust as there are a ton of playable characters as well as accessories to outfit them with. The biggest problem I have with this though is that I'm not exactly fond of kimonos and sandals, which happen to be what most everyone in the game wears. I understand it's supposed to match the period but they still could've tried to mix it up a bit with some western-themed outfits from around the same time.

A lot of money is required in order to get the most out of this game and depending on the nature of the player this can either become extremely tedious or just flat-out broken. The biggest issue is that if you kill a shopkeeper after purchasing something from them they drop your money. Needless to say I gutted everyone I did business with because doing the jobs is such an incredible bore. Some people don't agree to playing this or any game in such a manner but with the open-ended nature of the game it really doesn't matter. After enough upgrades the player will become all but invincible so the only real goal afterwards is in unlocking everything.

This to me is where the game truly falls apart. There is such a thing as having too much content. A lot of the times when there's "hundreds of weapons, thousands of moves, infinite possibilities" that just means a lot of the same content only with very slight variances. Almost all of the endings are a page of text with a still image, and some can only be acquired by doing a ton of jobs. What this eventually comes down to is a loss of focus as I spend more time filling up charts, spending time at shops purchasing scrolls to mastering weapons(as opposed to actually using them), and generally doing things that would make more sense in an Accounting sim than a Samurai sim.

If there was more in the way of unique characters or creative encounters I'd have more of a reason to focus on the entertaining qualities of Samurai 3. There are a lot of people to fight with in the game but many go down with little trouble and certain moves are so devastating that they don't have much of a chance. There are some very interesting abilities like a moveset geared entirely towards fighting bare-handed but since one can not parry without a weapon it only becomes useful after reading enough match skill scrolls. With nearly a thousand moves to match it's easier to just buy them all rather than going up to an enemy and parrying a move potentially several times just to match it. By the time I finally master something it's such an exhaustive ordeal that I lose interest in actually using it.

The thing is though is that I'm at a bit of a loss when it comes to suggesting an alternate idea for a future Way of the Samurai game. It's pretty clear what direction the series is going in and even though I believe it lacks focus all the same it's not something that can be easily changed. Paring down the number of weapons and abilities might help a bit. Sure die-hard fans might cry foul but do we really need seventeen flavors of vertical slices and thirty swords designated by different colored pommels? Put some of that energy into creating fights that are more than either one-on-one duels or 100+ men battles. While I'm at it why not pursue more entertaining encounters? I'd be partial to Samurai vs Pirate battles myself.

Even ignoring all that at least fix the job system so that there's some semblance of progression to it and the jobs don't consist of finding randomly-placed objects or people. I can't believe that the exact same person is causing trouble in the exact same place two times in a row. There is really no excuse for such a badly designed system.

Still in the end this is pretty much the only thing still going if you need your Samurai fix. Despite my numerous issues it's still a decent enough game and while the combat can be very shallow there is some satisfaction in spilling the blood of others. Maybe I just spent too much time on this game and allowed myself to become jaded as a result.

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