A nameless samurai enters the harbour town of Amihama, a focal point for rising frustrations between the isolationist and expansionist ideologies of Japan at the end of the 19th Century. Breaking up an altercation between the Shogunate Magistrates and a criminal gang, he makes an impression on the citizens – mainly for doing it all in his very western boxer shorts.
Admittedly, he doesn’t have to be near-naked – it’s just funnier. Freedom over your character’s appearance, wardrobe and dialogue choices prove central to Way Of The Samurai 4. Everything has an impact on how the game progresses and it’s not merely a choice between violent evil or mawkish good. It can be as delicate as whether you pleasantly greet the villagers, or walk around threatening them, their perceptions of you changing the flavour of each playthrough. With ten possible endings, there’s plenty to uncover, though much like Sega’s Yakuza games, much enjoyment can be had from simply wandering the world and engaging with the people in it.
Combat is a fairly involved affair, with plenty of combos to master and rules to follow. How you approach it also affects the reputation system, including whether you choose to reverse your blade to render enemies unconscious with nonlethal attacks, or stay sharp and kill them outright. As you progress, you can also learn to wield rifles as the British settlers do, and potentially changing battles dramatically.
It’s a fairly rich and involved world once you understand how open it can be, but it’s also a weird one. A fetishistic trio of sisters, a questionable ‘Night Crawling’ minigame – romance maidens by day, almost force yourself on them by night – and some decidedly odd characters hiding around Amihama add an uncomfortable flair at times. However, the edge is taken off by some very self-aware and self-deprecating jokes worked in.
Fans of the period, Japanese culture or even anime fans will likely get more out of Way Of The Samurai 4 than most but there’s a solid action-adventure experience to be uncovered here for anyone willing to peel back its layers.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen