Published on March 2nd, 2010 | by prime0
Way of the Samurai 3 Preview
There’s no greater word to describe Acquire’s latest feudal Japan-‘em-up than ‘peculiar’. It’s a title full of conflicting values as modern game design collides with antiquated traditionalism; as the whiff of liberty offered by the game’s sandbox structure clashes with its ever-present threat of a sudden game over. It’s a game whose pause screens – filled as they are with equipment loadouts, inventory menus and statuses – allude to a deeper RPG experience than the light third-person hack-and-slash quest-fest WotS3 actually is. It’s distinctly Eastern – and given the subject matter, appropriately so – but with a subtle Western vibe at the same time. Which gives this fascinating culture shock a certain appeal.
Way of the Samurai 3 tells the story of a nameless samurai during Japan’s Sengoku Period, where a handful of clans are fighting for authority over the fictional land of Amana. Amana’s a fully openworld filled with various districts to explore, people to meet and jobs to undertake, and though relatively smaller than your average sandbox, each area is filled to the brim with life, from farmers tending their crops and shopkeepers touting their wares, to young maidens being hassled by rogues.
But while that may provoke images of a rural GTA-lite, closer comparisons to WotS3’s structure should (surprisingly be drawn to Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Mass Effect. You see, WotS3 is all about choice, and deciding which places to visit, which faction to side with and when and where to unsheathe your sword is entirely down to you. Much to our surprise, you can do the latter whenever and wherever you like (including within the game’s cut-scenes), and each decision you make can have far-reaching consequences from the very get go, each subtly helping dictate which one of the 21 endings you’re likely to see.
The system comes into play immediately, exampled perfectly by us raising our sword to wanderers offering to heal our wounds during the game’s opening cut-scene, leading to them scarpering and our lone warrior left fending for himself. Unfamiliar with our surroundings, we stumble into a nearby town where we unwittingly challenge someone to a duel. We die – no surprise given the game’s lack of of tutorials or control familiarization – and, after a curious ‘game completion time’ screen, are plunged back to the main menu. Take two.
This time we accept wanderers’ help and are transported to Takatane Village, home to one of the game’s three clans. But once again we find ourselves swiftly dumped, thrust into an area we don’t particularly want to be in and even less so understand. We’re unsure of our objective, or even if there is one; wandering around, approaching as many people as possible and hoping for something to trigger. We even continue on to the next town, hoping for just a hint as to what we’re supposed to be doing. No dice. After almost 30 minutes of aimless wandering, we decide we must have missed something and head back to Takatane. Finally we’re offered a glimmer of hope as we bump into an old lady who has a job for us. ‘Please find my underwear’, she asks. We turn the game off in disgust. You could argue that we’re playing it wrong, but then how are you supposed to play a game like WotS3, given the level of freedom offered to the player? There seems to be a complete lack of direction, the idea of creating your story perhaps going one step too far, failing to offer any sort of waypointing or hints as to where to go next whatsoever. Instead, progression appears to boil down to stumbling into the right place at the right time, and even then it seems to be hit and miss. Even the save points, which we eventually realized to be an NPC, are failed to be marked appropriately as such, while the lack of a map on the HUD meant that we were constantly flicking back and forth between the pause screen to work out where exactly we were supposed to be going.
Each choice you make helps dictate which one of the 21 endings you’ll see
Of course, even if your experience goes somewhat more successfully than ours – and good for you if so – you’ll have to put up with WotS3’s graphical incompetency, which is something perhaps acceptable at the time of the game’s Japanese release 14 months ago, but less so now. It’s an ugly collection of stiff animation, poor texture work and draw distances, and there’s a certain ‘lat-gen’ vibe to the whole thing.
But much to WotS3’s credit, even after the ludicrous old woman’s knickers escapade, we tried again, eager to be sucked into the world of Amana (in case you’re wondering we did eventually find her underwear, before they somehow got stolen from us by a raven). It’s a game of acquired taste, that you can’t deny, but, if nothing more, one whose sense of freedom and individuality should keep you coming back for more.