Way of the Samurai Preview
BAM! Entertainment is bringing over Acquire's very popular 19th century samurai based game to the States. In Japan, it was simply titled "Samurai", but since then, the name has undergone a slight change for the US version, Way of the Samurai.
Acquire -- the team that's developing the game -- has great experience with delivering immersive story lines and settings, as they've proved time and time again in their Tenchu series. Way of the Samurai sports a fairly involving story too. Unfortunately for your character, the Tokugawa Shogunate have fallen out of power, and up rises a new era, that of the Meiji Restoration. So now that your skillful samurai has no other reason to stay, he leaves, going from village to village in search for employment. That is, until he makes his way to Rokkotsu Pass, where he gets entangled in a three-way dispute.
As the story unfolds, you will notice that there are a multitude of outcomes, all depending on what you decide to say throughout the game's extensive dialogue. There are plenty of instances where you actually chose the routes your character takes -- some being good and others not so good -- and this alone skyrockets the replay value.
Sword fighting is one of the key gameplay facets you will utilize in Way of the Samurai, and you'll find a myriad of swords as you progress. Swords can be acquired by defeating the enemies who maintain them. However, (almost like revisiting Dark Cloud) your various swords are all damage prone, meaning that you'll have to find some way to fix them up and sharpen them. Luckily, there are blacksmith shops dissipated all over the different towns in which you can go to them and do business -- trading, fixing, and sharpening your different swords. How much damage your swords will accumulate will also depend on which attacks you decide to use. There are two attacks -- weak and strong -- the latter of which will cause your sword to break much sooner, but in turn it also vanquishes the enemies much quicker.
The sword fighting is very diverse because there are so many different variables to be accounted for. First, you have the different types of swords, more than 40 in all. Even better, there are around 200 special techniques that can be employed into the fighting sequences. This allows for the gameplay to be quite broad and unique, instead of the ever-popular monotony that most sword based games' gameplay possess.
Okay, so we've read how the swords work, and how many of them there are, but how does it all meld together and play out? X initiates a jump, and the Triangle and Square buttons inaugurate attacks; R1 is used to block an oncoming attack. In the midst of the combat, players can also use the various inanimate objects in the milieu to their advantage, and they can do all sorts of things such as lunging 360-degree sword swipes, sweeping attacks and also a bunch of juggling. Sword fights are commenced by simply walking up to another and swiping your sword. However, you can also talk to that person first, which may at times be the wiser decision. Also, if you have your sword equipped, others will see this as a sign of aggression and will most likely begin a fight.
With all the sword-wielding action, your trusty swordsman is sure to get his fair share of cuts and bruises. If indeed your samurai fighter gets wounded he can replenish his life right on the battlefield. There are tons of vegetables scattered throughout the terrain (mushrooms, carrots, radishes), and they will heel his injured body. Eat the mushrooms with much diligence though, because some will contain poison and harm him instead of heeling him.
As you make your way into the different towns, you'll align yourself with different groups while being enemies with the other. Also, you can switch it up a bit -- being on both sides, betraying both sides, and even switching back and forth between sides. In addition, the AI doesn't seem to remember past events, which allows you to double-cross the same side over and over. Now that sounds like fun!
Way of the Samurai has certainly come a long way, and with the huge uproar it received from the Japanese public, it can surely be said that the same will hold true for the US. Way of the Samurai still has a few months left of US localization, however. Look out for this title around June of this year, and more insight on the game at this year's E3.
3/28/2002 Joseph Comunale