Over the years the Way of the Samurai series has developed a cult following amongst the gaming community. Most of this stems from the idea that the game allows players to pretty much play it any way they see fit. The game opens up and gives you a sandbox to play in, and it is up to you to choose your own destiny. This enables players to replay the same segments over and over again with various results and endings resulting in hours of replayability. Way of the Samurai 3 is the first foray into the new consoles and for the most part it remains true to the original formula. This is however, also the one thing that sets it back from becoming the next great advancement of the series.
What I mean by this is that the original games never felt like they took full advantage of the idea the game was based on. You would think with the advancement in technology that an expansive world filled with lush visuals and multiple available activities would be possible on Xbox 360 or PS3; sadly it still feels anchored in the past. Way of the Samurai 3 rests solely on its laurels and delivers the same, limited experience we have seen from the series without pushing the boundaries of the genre one iota.
You see Way of the Samurai approaches game design from a unique perspective, technically there is no right or wrong way to do things. When the game begins you are stumbling through the rain injured. A couple of men come up and offer help. Here is where choice begins. You can either go with them, get healed and come back to fight another day or just ignore them and cause havoc. The beauty here is that the game is tailored around the idea of multiple playthroughs. It is the ultimate sandbox experience and you even get to carry over your stats from one game to the next. Each play will run you a couple hours and there are multiple ways to approach every situation. If you want you can just opt to assassinate everyone in the game from the get go.
In the immortal words of Uncle Ben “with great power, comes great responsibility” Way of the Samurai fails to capitalize on this idea. Things become sloppy fairly quickly thanks to limited areas to explore and little deviation in design. You see there may be tons of choices to make, but none of them really alter the experience enough to warrant going through the motions over and over again. Tasks also become mundane if you opt to go for the “good guy” route. Things such as fetch quests and errands become standard fare, and eventually you end up just wanting to unsheathe your sword at every opportunity, especially when you hear the dialogue of some of the locals.
Combat plays a large role in the game and for the most part it is functional, but you cannot help but find exploits in the system. After dying several times in my massacre play I finally figured out that blocking and kicking enemies in the shins was the easiest way to win. This opens up your opponent to a quick strike and keeps you from ever being attacked. Sure it’s cheap, but in actuality it is much more entertaining than the actual fighting. You can carry up to three weapons and you can pretty much carry any dropped item as a weapon such as garden tools, but none of them truly feel more unique than the last. There is a ton of customization when it comes to weapons and your character, but the end result is usually similar enough that it never feels worth the time and effort.
One of the biggest deterrents for me with WotS 3 though was how ridiculous it looks by today’s standards. I am not speaking mainly about graphics either. The way the city is built, the character models and the shoddy inventory management really drive home that this game could have been easily done last generation. Little things such as watching items flip around when you try to pick them up when your inventory is full, to weapon switching which makes the new one appear magically on your back really drive home the generic feel of the title. Even the seemingly generic speech bubbles floating around constantly really kill the immersion of the game.
As for the full on graphics package the developers really didn’t even try to make it look like a next-generation game. In addition to the aforementioned problems the character animations are downright embarrassing. Combat looks as stiff as it plays at times and the general layout of the city just feels claustrophobic and drab. For a game that offers the open-world mentality, you feel like you are trapped on a remote island due to the size limitations. Amazingly as small as the world is the loading times are drastically long between areas. Audio wise the soundtrack is fitting with your typical Japanese fanfare music that suits the mood just fine, but the voice work is terrible. The English dubs are some of the worst I have heard in a long time. Thankfully purists can use the original Japanese track, which is much more suited to the game.
Way of the Samurai 3 is a great idea that is just lost in the past. The developers really had an opportunity to fully realize the potential of the game with the new hardware and failed. Still if you enjoy the series there is enough here to get you back into it. Multiple endings, tons of weapon customization and plenty of replay offer up a package that is a must buy for fans of the first two games. Just don’t expect to come into it and be blown away by the advancements in the genre. This is the same game you played years ago and PS2, and it even looks like it.