Way of the Samurai 4 is one of the funniest open-world, choose-your-own-path type of games I’ve ever had the gratification of virtually sporting a pink bikini in. I mean, there I was living through my avatar, Soy Yomohobo (his name makes the harlots tremble) – proud, pale, and partially clothed with sword snoring in its sheath — being requested by the leader of the anti-foreign faction to lead a raid against government officials. The emphatic answer I gave using one of three dialogue options: “Sorry, but I’ve got some underwear that needs a washin’.” It’s silly, but having the choice to respond in such a tongue-in-cheek manner toward a stoic hell raiser was not only unexpected, but it revealed the essence that drives the whole wacky experience – ironic humor juxtaposed with melodrama that’s repeatedly belly-stabbed by an arguably dated presentation and fighting system, all of which combines to construct an adventure that is unique but, at first, difficult to get into.
Understand, the humor WotS4 excites is mostly intentional, but some of its charm is elicited from the game’s low-budget sensibilities: the graphics; the characters; and the drunken, animatronic facial expressions during cut scenes – these elements give the presentation a high resolution PS2 aesthetic that’ll prompt graphics whores to strip off their kimonos and gouge their eyes green with wasabi capped fingertips.
Those who aren’t primarily concerned with graphical prowess (or Hi-Def Kimono cleavage), however, will discover how the limitations of the game’s looks compliment, and sync to, its narrative tone and style. It’s as though the game, visual style and all, was meant to be a throwback to 70’s samurai cinema, except the grittiness and codes of honor are optional and often replaced by slapstick animations and, oftentimes, pant-ripping comedic dialogue. To put this in a more samurai-esque way: “It’s all so succulently absurd! DELICIOUS TIME!” (Yes, there’s a guy who screams ‘DELICIOUS TIME’ in your starving face right before you order sushi.)
One aspect that might frustrate players into chucking a shuriken at the family portrait is the almost complete absence of a tutorial for the game’s more complex mechanics. For instance, you begin the game literally fresh-off-the –boat, wrapped in what resembles a tie dye shower curtain, and are immediately shoved into a conflict between the three primary factions. On-screen text does an adequate job of teaching you the basics of combat, which seems embarrassingly limited until you unlock a dozen or so of the 100 fighting styles, but once this battle is completed, your left moping about the harbor with a blunt blade, the fashion style of a budget conscious Eastern hipster , and zero sense of direction. The story begins with almost an overabundance of freedom that can limit the context for motivation, and after the first hour, this could cause a player without patience and fortitude and curiosity to dismiss this Eastern jewel before they can slash their way to the good stuff (DELICIOUS TIME!)
Oh yeah, there’s no English voiceover option, only Japanese (so you gotta read, yo).
Subjective Recommendation: This is some of the most fun and frustration I can recall having with an open-world game. Because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and actually becomes better the more you progress, I’ll be returning to this weird world for several months to come. Download it with disciplined haste from the Playstation Store (or import a physical copy from the UK).
Objective Recommendation: This is a niche title, so unless you take enjoyment from Japanese culture, goofy humor, and a self-reliance on discovering the deeper features of the gameplay, it would probably be best to shy away.
by Jedediah Hoy
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