A recent trend within video games criticism is for people to accuse players that don’t like a game of ‘playing it wrong’. Not keen on the control method for movement in Heavy Rain? It’s your fault, you just don’t ‘get it’, you simply ‘played it wrong’. By suggesting someone is playing a game in a different, and more importantly, erroneous fashion is to neatly sidestep the worthwhile debate as to whether developers should be taking big risks within game design and praise (and often times blindly excuse) an experimental title simply because it is different to everything else available. Way Of The Samurai 3 is a game that is going to split players into two camps, those that don’t enjoy its flawed combat mechanics, so-so visuals and unclear progression and those that will criticise the first party, most likely on the grounds that they are ‘playing it wrong’.
If you’ve played a Way Of The Samurai title before, which is admittedly unlikely as the titles have never done particularly well on western shores, you’ll know what to expect; a pre-industrial revolution Japan (this time set during the Sengoku period), a mysterious Samurai who happens upon a turbulent township, warring factions and a branching storyline that makes most games that claim to have multiple endings look positively narrow pathed by comparison. If you liked either of the first two Way Of The Samurai titles then stop reading now, get down to your retailer of choice, and pick this up without hesitation. Oh but before you head off, check out our interview with Yen Hau of Rising Star, publishers of the title in Europe.
For the vast majority that haven’t experienced the WOTS series you should know that this isn’t a mindless high action adventure, it is instead a role playing game in the truest sense of the word. You are playing a role in WOTS3 and the title is at its very best when you understand and adhere to the notion that you are becoming a Samurai, albeit a Samurai in which you mould through your decisions and actions. Opening with a battle in which a nameless Samurai falls and is thought dead by his aggressors, the nameless Ronin is found by two wandering villagers and brought back to a small village named Takatane. From there on in the story truly is what you want to make of it, though there are plot lines that permeate throughout, namely the seeming oppression of the region by the Fujimori clan, the rebellions of the Ouka clan and the desire for peace the battle scarred Takatane village so desperately desires. It is the journey through the story that is the most exciting part of the narrative; how your Samurai conducts himself within the society he is a part of. Unsheathing a weapon for example is a clear sign of aggression, and will quickly get you into trouble with the long sword of the law. This mechanic is key to WOTS3, you can draw your blade at any moment, a kind of feudal renegade interrupt if you will and it’s also the clearest reinforcement the game gives you that you must be mindful of how you conduct yourself in this world.
I decided very early on with my playthrough of the game that I would only draw my sword when absolutely necessary, and always choose to knock out opponents rather than kill them, though I could have easily have gone through the entire title as a blood thirsty killer. It’s this self enforced verisimilitude that is the greatest draw of Way Of The Samurai 3, deciding to truly live in this digital world, rather than simply exist within it.
But games are products that live and die by how they look, how they sound and how they feel to play, and unfortunately Way Of The Samurai 3 is by no means without criticism. Visually the game sits awkwardly between the very best PS2 and early current generation era quality graphics. There are moments of staggering beauty to be found, the sunlight dappling between the trees on what is obviously a scorchingly hot day in the Amana region for example, but flat textures are abound, lip syncing is poor and animation can be ropey at times. The English language voice acting is laughable in areas, though there is the option to turn on the Japanese audio instead, which is a nice touch and most likely important to the kind of market Acquire is going for here.
Combat this time round is better than previous releases though still feels stiff and not as deep as one might wish; it’s easy to mash the light attack button through most of the game, using life restoring items to tank through the title’s harder challenges. Speaking of challenges, there are plenty of mini-games, side missions, trophies, weapon upgrades and other knick knacks to keep things interesting. Instant travel also returns from the previous outing, which picks the pace of the title up somewhat, and small icons on the map known as ‘inklings’, areas that will continue the current story, help give WOTS3 a little more impetus and guidance in a title that can, at times, feel overwhelming in its lack of direction.
By far the most accessible of the series so far, Way Of The Samurai 3 is a unique and deeply ambitious title that is unfortunately marred by a number of technical shortcomings stopping it from being truly exceptional. It should be praised for its high level of player involvement and is a big step forward for the series as a whole, but for all of its progression, as an actual game it feels antiquated. However, those that can look past the flaws will find one of the most compelling and wholly engrossing gameplay experiences this generation has to offer.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 Release Date: 12/03/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Way Of The Samurai 3 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a Playstation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.