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Disclosure: The author was provided with a copy of the game by the publisher for the purpose of this review
Platforms: PC (review platform) PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
If there’s one thing that can be said about every entry in the Way Of The Samurai series, it’s that they have insane amounts of potential. Way Of The Samurai 3 takes the criminally under-used setting of Sengoku period Japan and with its gameplay, sets out to give players a massive amount of customisation, and choices that drastically change the outcome of the story. At first glance, this game seems to retain all the things that made the first two games enjoyable. Except this is Way Of The Samurai 3, we have jumped a generation from the Playstation 2 to 3. (Xbox 360 too) …and now, after the fans demanded it, a PC port hits steam. So we are safe to expect more polish, better controls, a more involved story, and graphics fitting of a seventh generation console, right?….
Having played the first 2 games I had an idea of what to expect of Way Of The Samurai 3, players take control of a customisable ronin who comes across a village with multiple opposing factions to join. The game is meant to be replayed multiple times, with attributes, money and weapons carrying through to your next game. The ultimate goal of these relatively short playthroughs? To eventually see all of the game’s 22 endings. Though it will probably take most people a lot more than 22 attempts to achieve this. One of the many reasons I say this is the way the game throws you in at the deep end and expects you to know exactly where to go, what to do and also, the controls. This is all without giving you a single tutorial message.
The game does have a limited tutorial given to you by 2 specific characters, though whether you will actually come across these characters before multiple confusing deaths and rebirths is completely a matter of chance. To gain access to the beginners tutorial, you must engage in combat, you’ll then be told where to go for the combat tutorial. Luckily the combat is simple enough, you can mix up heavy and light attacks, block oncoming attacks and use a leg sweep against enemies who are being too defensive. Weapons level up the more you use them and do need repairs when over used.
These weapon levels allow you to use different types of attacks (the game calls them combos) but none of these become any more or less useful than the basic 3 hit combo you start out with. The weapons may also gain a negligible increase in damage output but this means nothing compared to upgrading the weapon at a blacksmith or simply finding a better weapon. Even though there are many different types of weapons, with different stances and move-sets, in the end the combat remains so shallow and clunky that the satisfaction from upgrading your weaponry is lost. Mashing the light attack button and occasionally guarding is a sound strategy. The enemy AI makes no attempt to adapt to your movements, they merely choose at random from their very limited move set and hack away. The game’s camera is another enemy you must contend with too, often swinging wildly from side to side during combat.
The main way you can earn money in the game is by doing side missions, often simple fetch quests or assassinations. These are given by a few different people but if you go back to the same person there is a high chance they will give you the exact same mission again. A really poor and lazy decision by the developers, amplified further by the fact you are meant to play through the game over and over. The shops are insanely expensive as well, the game just loves wasting your time. While you can wander around at your leisure between missions there is really no incentive to do so. The game has no secrets, no hidden areas and barely anything of interest. You can break open the boxes scattered around the world to discover…nothing, or take a walk down a side path to discover…nothing.
To progress the story you must view ‘inklings’ marked on the map, which are meant to give insight in to the characters inhabiting the game world and the motivations of each of the factions. These usually involve multiple choice dialogue trees. It’s unfortunate that these often lead to the exact same response from the characters with only a few very specific opportunities to change the outcome of the story. The game boasts another option in these interactive cutscenes which is a new feature introduced to Way Of The Samurai 3. At certain points in the conversation you can choose to either draw your sword or bow down to “apologise” to the person you’re talking to. The results of this feature are baffling to me as choosing either of these actions almost always results in the conversation immediately ending with no apparent effect on anything at all.
Not that most of the characters in Way Of The Samurai 3 have anything interesting to say in the first place. The storyline is absolutely laughable. At the beginning of the game your character has been in a battle. You would assume it was between the two warring clans but neither of these clans recognise you, then once you (re)join a clan, you are pretty much immediately promoted to lieutenant. Your character is often merely an observer to other characters speaking in riddles or clichés about honour and other samurai-ish things. This makes you feel completely disconnected from the story, even though you’re apparently having a direct effect on it. Some of the endings become even more baffling, such as when your character sacrifices himself without a fight, to save a girl he’d just met, after making a clan believe he’s some sort of heir to a dynasty. Even though the narrator states just prior that the clan had “discovered the identity of the princess.”
I could go on at length about how dull and confusing the story is but this isn’t the worst of it. After wandering around confused for some time I decided to use a walkthrough to see at least one of the endings. I discovered that you can finish a playthrough in around 45 minutes which consists of watching a boring inkling, then fast travelling to another area to watch another one, over and over again. I didn’t need to use a shop or speak to anyone else. Then there was a big fight at the end and a “boss” whose attacks were so slow he could barely land a hit. The game presents no incentive whatsoever for someone to keep playing.
In Way Of The Samurai 2 you would see characters wandering round with really cool swords, if you beat them you would get the sword…but they certainly weren’t easy opponents! Now, not only is it easy to beat anyone due to the broken combat, but none of the swords look that unique. The swords are also presented in the games ugly menus which are a chore both to look at and to navigate. The map screen is just as frustrating. It’s split up into the local map and world map but apparently, North, South, East & West were not a thing in feudal Japan, because these directions are set up completely different between both maps.
The game does not seem to have benefited from its port to PC in the slightest. Textures are ugly, the framerate has frequent dips even when just wandering around. I have encountered several infinite loading screens, the most frequent of which happens right at the start of the game. (an issue again amplified by the focus on restarts) The crazy physics are an entertaining distraction amidst the monotony. The rain effects look absolutely bizarre. It seems to me that it is a straight port from the PS3 with no improvements whatsoever but if that is the case, it’s probably the ugliest PS3 game I’ve ever played. Not only are Ghostlight content to charge £15 for the game, which was originally released in 2008 they are selling the DLC seperately despite it already being included in the updated PS3 version ‘Way Of The Samurai 3 Plus.’
Literally the only redeeming factor of this game is the soundtrack by Noriyuki Asakura. Though it’s not his best work, Asakura always creates very distinct music which compliments Japanese settings perfectly. Even this is marred by occasional audio bugs which layer different tracks over each other and create uncomfortable dissonance. It’s completely baffling that Acquire, the same company that made Tenchu 2, could create something with such appallingly low production values and that’s so devoid of fun. If there is any fun buried deep within this game, the player is expected to make Way Of The Samurai 3 their full-time job to discover it.