After playing through three of this generation’s most tedious shooters back-to-back – Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Sniper: Ghost Warrior and 007 Blood Stone – I decided that the next game to be tackled in my towering unplayed game pile would be Way of the Samurai 3.
Although it’s a series I’ve heard of before, it’s not one I’ve experienced, so I was pretty much going in blind. I expected something po-faced like Bushido Blade on PSone, but that’s a poor comparison – Way of the Samurai 3 has a pleasingly daft sense of humour. Actually, scrub that. It’s as mad as a box of rabid swans. Ever wanted to run around feudal Japan dressed as a cat while wearing sci-fi style sunglasses? Here’s your chance.
A raging battle has taken place, resulting in heavy losses for both factions. In fact, you’re the sole survivor. Battered and bruised, the samurai limps off the battlefield. Straight from the start you’re given the choice to be good or evil – corpse looters, who believed you to be dead, help you off the ground and you can either thank them or pull your sword out in anger. Every cut scene can be interrupted at almost any time by reaching for a weapon. How awesome is that? Very, is the answer.
The first couple of hours were spent simply learning how the game works, and those two or three hours weren’t unpleasurable in the slightest. There’s a comparison with Dark Souls to be had here – your hand is never held, you’re left to discover things at your own will. Like Namco’s brutally tough RPG, it’s worth having a look online for hints and guides too – there are so many nuances, hidden elements and ways to quickly improve your samurai’s arsenal that you’ll never discover them without a helping hand.
It’s the structure that impresses the most. Aside from a few interior locations, the whole game world can be fully explored right from the start. There are no set paths or objectives – you’re free to do as you please. Want to help the townsfolk with their daily chores, such as chopping up vegetables and gutting giant fish? Be our guest. Want to join a clan and carry out missions for the gang leader? So be it. Want to join the rival clan and carry out missions behind the backs of the clan you’ve already joined, and then murder the leaders after gaining their trust? It’s entirely possible.
The game can even be ended at any time simply by leaving the city. You won’t get to see one of the five endings, but you will have your progress rated and a few more outfits will be added to the customisation screen.
The genius here is that after ending a game any weapons and items can be carried over to the next. Our first play through was spent learning how the game worked, gaining a better sword and seeing what missions were available. The second time round we had a much better idea of what to do and where to go, not to mention a decent sword in our possession to make combat a little easier. Because of its free-roaming nature starting again didn’t feel tedious in the slightest.
Incidentally, the first mission we accepted was to retrieve some missing underwear belonging to an old lady. The first time we tried to complete this mission the underwear ended up being stolen by crows as we carried it back to town. This didn’t happen the second time round, thankfully. With experience came knowledge. The old lady even offered a kiss as a reward. Humourous moments like this are frequent – the townsfolk converse via speech bubbles. Watching them go about their daily duties can be highly amusing, especially if there’s an enemy slayed by your own sword now laying on their doorstep.
It’s also possible to find a partner and hire bodyguards. For what seemed quite a simple game on first glance, there’s an awful lot to it. Random events are another thing that kept us playing. There’s a day and night cycle in place and being at the right place at the right time can trigger an event, ranging from a chance to meet a princess to putting a stop to a bandit posse. You never know what’s going to happen next.
If you’re starting think that today’s developers are running low on ideas, Way of the Samuari 3 could very well alter your line of thought. If it wasn’t for the fact that my pile of unplayed PS3 games is starting to eclipse the Xbox 360 pile, the PlayStation 3-only Way of the Samurai 4 would be on top of my virtual shopping list.