By: Brian Gunn
The Way of the Samurai series is a bit of an oddity and the sort of game that doesn’t get made much anymore. Originally launching on the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2008, porting house Ghostlight LTD have brought Way of the Samurai 3 to PC after the success of their Way of the Samurai 4 port. Does it make sense to go further back in the franchise, or is it only a relic?
Part sword-focused combat and part life sim, Way of the Samurai 3 attempts to cram a few too many ideas into the game and often makes things feel limited. Fighting starts off fairly basic, with many moves needing to be unlocked by using the stance style of your sword.
There are some deeper mechanics the game is a little opaque about explaining like pushing and pulling enemies to break their guard, though even as you learn the intricacies, combat can feel stilted, especially when you’re first starting. It takes a while to get in the groove, but once there it can be pretty satisfying.
Being from 2008, Way of the Samurai 3 is certainly no looker. Even by 2008’s standards it was fairly low budget, especially in the environment design. Areas are small and largely ugly, though a few feature an impressive amount of NPCs to interact with.
Not everything has aged poorly though. The faces of important characters, including your customizable lead character, are often great looking, seemingly modeled after the stars of old samurai movies. This release is also sadly limited to 30 FPS, with the game’s logic tied to the frame rate.
The music stands out, similarly inspired by samurai movies. Voice acting is hit or miss, but the game allows you to play in Japanese for those that might find the English voices grating. It also suits the atmosphere of the game fairly well. The clang of sword on sword is satisfying, as well as the crunch of the grass as you speed through an area with your hand on your sword hilt.
Players start off assuming the role of a blank slate warrior that’s found wandering and near death. Some good Samaritans drag you to the nearby sleepy village and from there on out, the game offers a great deal of freedom.
Two warring factions are going head to head nearby, and it’s not exactly making the lives of the villagers easy. At this point you can choose to do a great variety of things. Perhaps you should help the villagers protect themselves. Or maybe you want to join one of the factions that are giving them so much trouble and play a villain. Or perhaps you’ll just leave town and not get involved.
The area of Amana is broken into nine smaller districts, ranging from villages to battlefields. Each one has a variety of things to do and people to visit, whether they are merchants, quest givers, or important story figures.
And you can do what you will with them, generally. Players can attack and kill pretty much anyone they can find, though it will obviously have consequences. You can even lose all your save points if you manage to kill all of the NPCs that let you save.
Of course, not everything has to end up in killing others. There are a lot of ways to make your way in the world. Players can perform odd jobs for money, go train at a dojo, or perhaps even find someone to romance. There’s a day and night cycle and each NPC generally has their own schedule independent of the player.
The focus on freedom means most players won’t be seeing most of the game’s content the first time through. Way of the Samurai 3 is meant to be replayed multiple times, as many story beats lock you out of things once undertaken.
There’s a system to reward players for this though, as pretty much all character progress — such as unlocked skills, money and so on — can be transferred into the next run. There are even some unlockables like additional customization options locked behind replaying.
So on your first attempt you’ll be starting off fairly basic and totally broke so it might not be a bad idea to follow a guided story path, but as you unlock more and more stuff, you can attempt some of the more strenuous goals on a third of fourth playthrough.
It can often be fairly easy to feel lost in the game. Some of the systems aren’t explained very well, and there are some bizarre restrictions. Doing a side-quest will seemingly lock you out of triggering any sort of story events until the quest is done, even in areas uninvolved in the quest, which makes for a lot of walking back and forth. Areas are small, though, and that does lend itself to getting to know the areas well.
As it turns out, Way of the Samurai 3 is somewhat of a dated relic. It still retains some charm, however, thanks to the freedoms that would make many modern open world games quite jealous.