Set in Feudal Japan you star as an injured Samurai, regaining consciousness on a battlefield surrounded by corpses of other warriors after a bloody battle. From here on in you get to decide how to shape the story in this sedately paced Samurai-sim.
The series, which started on PS2, has always prided itself on the amount of choice it provided to gamers with multiple endings being a key selling point. This time there are over twenty of them. Players are allowed a degree of freedom in shaping their adventure by selecting from multiple dialogue options, usually based around being nice or nasty.
There’s also an option to draw your sword or apologise to interrupt most cut-scenes. Apologising has you drop to your knees, stopping the scene and the game resuming with the characters you’ve bowed to either disappearing or not reacting at all. Or you can draw your sword to threaten or attack people. This is generally preferable to the poor dialogue or repetitive cutscenes. The main problem is that until you play through a few times and pick up some decent weapons you’ll probably get your ass handed to you in a noodle bowl if you attack the most annoying characters.
So in some respects, the way you can bide your time and build up strength before making your move on an employer who’s been annoying you with crappy errands for hours on end, does add a degree of similarity to classic samurai movies with heroes that change sides constantly.
Freedom of choice is hampered by the Samurai Points system that judges you at the end of a playthrough, with so much as looking at most characters the wrong way crippling your rating, often leaving you with a minus score. So any plans to be the most bastardly of all samurai are short-lived.
The game’s world is somewhat ‘open’ with you free to fast-travel between eight locations. Each location is miserably small though, resulting in one of the smallest open-world games you’re ever likely to play. There’s even a ‘location’ at the bottom of the map that ends the game. Completely ends it and makes you start again, so make sure you save regularly in-case you accidentally pick this idiotically placed option.
Missions vary from standard A-B deliveries/beatings, kill 100 soldiers or the more bizarre find an old ladies missing underwear. As if the later wasn’t bad enough, after finding said nasty item it was suddenly snatched from me by a swooping bird. Possibly the highlight of the game.
You can choose to fight for different sides resulting in different scenes and endings, even opting to swap half-way. Very Yojimbo, Samurai film fans. However, some endings are very sudden, without any warning. When you do finish you re-start with your items and weapons carrying over which helps to build up your arsenal. Each playthrough feels way too similar during the early stages which are identical and make the twenty plus endings seem only obtainable via a lazy trip to YouTube. It’s a shame that they’re barely worth striving for as they amount to a brief cutscene and some scrolling text.
There’s so much repetitiveness as you trudge through the early stages looking for a clear sign where you might be able to take the story in a different direction. Too much of the game feels like a choose-your-own-adventure book with missing pages or many of them pointing to the same ones over and over again.
Many of the faults could be less destructive if the fighting was fun. It’s just so damn basic though, with standard and strong attacks that don’t link together well. The more you use a weapon the more moves you’ll unlock but there aren’t many to get excited about. The fighting itself is purposely slow in pace which exposes its faults even more so. There’s a countering mechanic in-place for last-gasp button presses resulting in instant kills, but it’s clumsy to pull off. You’ll be far too busy cursing the camera anyway as it deserts you whenever you get near a building or a tree. During the busier fights the frame-rate nosedives too, making countering even tougher to pin-point.
The graphics do little to make you want to spend any extra time with the game and its repetitive environments. It generally looks like a poor PS2 game. Put it next to an Onimusha title and it comes off even worse. Actually there was a waterfall that looked quite nice (that’s it though).
Amass some decent weapons and try to persevere with collecting items to build your own blades and the combat starts to open up a little to provide some mild variety. It’s just a shame that some of your story choices will steer you away from combat in favour of dull errands. The sheer amount of endings may entice some of you to keep at it, but with many of them being so poor only the most hardened Samurai apprentices will bother. Still, it’s better than Dynasty Warriors.