Way of the Samurai 4 Review

Way of the Samurai 4

Developer: ACQUIRE Corp.
Publisher: Ghostlight LTD
Released on Jul 23, 2015

Ever wondered just how much power one person can have on the events of their life? As in, how much influence can you have on your environment, during a historical era of Japan? While your answers may vary, the effect that a main character, or samurai in this case, has on the international relations of the mid-19th century is truly staggering in this sword-wielding game.

Genre: Action-Adventure Hack & Slash

The Story

My character, Maki, overlooking the fictional port town of Amihama.

Way of the Samurai 4 takes place in the port city of Amihama, Japan, poised as a political powder keg ready to blow. The city is about what you would expect for a Japanese society on the verge of industrialization, but not quite there yet. The very moment you arrive in this small town, you’re immediately thrust into a skirmish between the three main factions of the game:

My character, Yukino, meeting with the Magistrate officers.

The Magistrate is made up of government officials working directly for the Shogunate, and are responsible for peacekeeping and organizing the residents in Amihama. With visitors from other nations coming into the city, they also broker foreign relations with said visitors through trade negotiations. During the game, the government has it’s hands full no thanks to another faction.

My character, Tetsuya, joining the passionate cause of the Prajna rebels.

The opposing rebels, the Prajna, ironically named as wise disciples of the Buddha, are a group of nationalists who believe in the old isolationist nature of Japan. They represent what Japan has stood for thus far, with a burning desire to uphold their traditions, and keep it away from outside influences. They coordinate guerilla attacks on the Magistrate, whom they believe has abandoned the Japanese Spirit. As for the last faction of the game:

My character, Jin, meeting with the British ambassadors in their Consulate building.

The Foreigners from England have settled in their own neighborhood and are trying to broker information and cultural engagement between the East and the West. Some of them in the city view their gifts of western medicine and language as a melding of cultures, while others see their grand black warship in the bay and their marching of Naval Men with Firearms as a threat to the People of Japan.

With these three factions laid out as the main stakeholders, each of them holds a different relationship with the others. The Magistrate welcomes their foreign guests, trying to placate them for the modern marvels from the British Empire. They also try to drive the Prajnas away from hurting their diplomatic chances.

The Prajna’s have a seemingly irrational hatred of the Foreigners for encroaching on their culture and livelihood. They have a strong disdain for the Magistrate due to them allowing the common folk of Japan to be overtaken by what they perceive as foreign invaders.

The mysterious samurai arriving by rowboat in search of new pursuits.

Meanwhile, the Foreigners are learning more about this new land, well-aware that the Magistrate only tolerates them for what the British can provide, not to mention the common folk and Prajnas view them as nothing more than invaders. Enter two said individuals that shape this conflict.

The first is you, a pronounced drifter, since the first thing you encounter in the city when you get there, is a skirmish between the three factions. During the skirmish is a quick tutorial, and then a branching dialogue that will introduce you to each faction. This is pretty much how you influence the story.

From that point on, the game opens up and you are encouraged to spend your time how ever you want with each faction, giving you different events with them, or you could opt to go with none at all. There are a total of 10 different endings that come about from working within the room of each faction.

The “totally not evil dictator” Onsen Kinugawa. Just ignore his spiky, demonic getup.

The second most important character in the game is Chief Minister Kinugawa. After you get your bearings and finish quests around the city of Amihama, you will meet the man second only to the ruler of Japan. He was sent to bring order to the City and he quickly proves to be the most sinister member of the game’s cast.

As you play through the storyline, Onsen Kinugawa would systematically be your opposition in almost every ending, and typically he will reign supreme unless you can unlock the hidden true ending. I will not tell you much about how to find that one, but I will tell you that it is the most difficult one to achieve.

That is the baseline for the story, but it is notably unique due to offering tons of replay value. I will discuss this in detail later, but for now, I should tell you how the game is actually played.

Exploring Amihama

Jin conversing with the homeless he found under the Trolley Tracks.

Most of your gameplay will be based around exploring Amihara, and trust me when I tell you that this place is deceptively expansive. While the main factions will give you story missions to do, there are a large number of side quests in the city that are hidden around every corner. 

The quests range from working for nobody NPCs like an anarchist thief or the king of the homeless, but beyond that, there are also many side activities to do like romancing NPCs via the nightcrawling mini-game ;-), fishing to sell for gear, customizing your character, collecting rare weapons, and much more.

As you explore you will find items, earn money, and push time forward. The core gameplay loop takes place over only 5 days, and certain actions like being arrested, sleeping, and doing story missions will advance your limited time. Each day you are able to advance time 3 times, during the day, evening, and night.

Maki attempting to talk to an Englishman, and failing due to language barriers.

It’s impossible to finish this game in just one attempt because of the time management aspect since certain actions, for example, building the English language school to speak with Foreign commoners, locks you out of performing other actions and makes your character’s story relatively unique.

There are however, some things that remain throughout your character’s stories, but I only plan to talk about two of the most important. Each of these establishments start as only a minor part of the game, but prove to be essential to getting you a leg up with your chosen group.

Me making use of the Smithy (aka Dojima) for my weaponry needs.

The Smithy is your place to repair, craft, and improve your weapons in the game. This is without a doubt the most harrowing thing to get your head wrapped around in my opinion, since a good sword can save your samurai from certain death during a fight.

Sadly I don’t want to go into detail on how the Smith works because honestly, there is too much to summarize in a simple review. But luckily, there is a Steam community guide by user Yuzajin that is better at explaining the “smithing” mechanics than I ever could. If you do decide to get the game and want to make use of his guide follow the link below:
https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=487515356

My character, Shiro, watching his recruited pupils training in the dojo.

The second place that can improve your sword fighting is the Dojo. Shortly after you begin, you can become the owner of a local dojo by recruiting NPCs to become your students.

This dojo provides many benefits like receiving allies in fights, or getting more styles to fight with. The Dojo serves a crucial purpose, as a storage location for your items, weapons, combat styles, and money between playthroughs. 

The dojo is your home base between characters and lets you slowly collect an arsenal of things you have found throughout your adventure to ensure you always have a good chance of surviving the challenges you might have failed at before.

The Combat

Tetsuya dueling in the not rigged tournament that takes place on day three.

Fighting in the game involves using dozens of combat styles and weapons. Equipping a style and weapon to a character gives them a set of moves and combos that those two items combine to damage opponents. The more you use a style, the more moves you unlock, and you can gain styles by exploring the city to challenge random opponents.

During combat, you have three gauges in the bottom left of the screen, your Health, Vitality, and Spring Harvest. Health is pretty simple–if it runs out you die, and you lose it by getting hit. Vitality is how much energy your character has and you fill it by eating or sleeping. Whenever you swing your sword or regenerate health, your Vitality is consumed.

The samurai activating his Spring Harvest mode in a last ditch effort.

Your Spring Harvest is a mode you can activate once it’s gauge is at least at 50%. Activating it sends your character into a “zen battle trance” that makes your moves basically unblockable, hyper fast, and deadly, for easily mow down dozens of men in a flash. I recommend holding onto swords over spears or firearms because of their better stats and options for upgrades.

If you can think of the trope where a samurai flashing past his foes sheathes his blade to down the opponent in an instant, this is it. And even against some of the strongest foes in the game, this mode can render them dead within seconds. That being said, it’s a resource you need to manage well since it can save you if you’re in a pinch or close to dead.

Replay Value

Everything I’ve mentioned up until now is honestly average for what you could expect in a game, but where Way of the Samurai 4 finds it’s stride is in it’s replayability. I’m sure you noticed already that in my images, I made different characters to play as. That is by design, since you will need to replay it several times to explore all the stories and possible options.

Once a character finds an ending, or if you let them die without retrying the game, it returns to the menu then lets you make a new character or just go in again by starting over. If given the choice, I would recommend making a new character to enjoy an Easter Egg the game has later on.

The tournament to enlist the strongest fighters into the Demonscales army.

Regardless, there are events that repeat like the tournament Kinugawa holds after his arrival, but there are also events and places that remain after you perform them to alter the story. If you saved the Hospital’s budget delivery from bandits, then the hospital remains in the game for future playthroughs. Or…you can rob the delivery and close down the hospital permanently.

This Event Chart will keep track of your progress across multiple playthroughs.

As you play again and again, you will find new places to go and new stories to find. With that, your characters will complete more endings and be preserved as a cog in the machine that is Amihama. Once a character does this, they become an NPC in the town and retain the faction preference along with combat style they had.

It is cool how these characters who were in the 5-day loop previously, are assumed to be making the choices you once did while your new character carves out another portion of the story elsewhere, and it is one of my favorite little touches in the game.

Yusuke about to duel my previous character, Yukino.

Final Impression

While I do enjoy this game immensely, I am not blind to many flaws it also has. My notes before highlight the basics of the game, but it has a very steep curve to overcome. For the first 2 or so characters, this game is brutally unforgiving.

It is very difficult for new players when many of the interesting and worthwhile mechanics of the game are hidden beyond a very frustrating, uphill climb. It is not a great thing to say that “After the first 10 hours it gets good.”

Don’t get this game unless you have the time to play it and the patience to learn it, otherwise, it will just prove to be a pain in the ass for you. Despite all this, I would recommend Way of the Samurai 4, for its flexible narrative structure and replayability, which is rewarding for players willing to commit.

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