Sword of the Samurai (Way of the Samurai to everyone else) is an ambitious stab at a blending of RPG style character building into a slashy-sword game. But it really doesn't pull it off and is left standing waiting to be butchered like the peasant son of Bushido Blade it is. It is to me nowhere near as good as the classic game on the PSX and the graphics while being a leap above those of Bushido Blade don't have the same spark or life to them as the other game. Sword is supposedly set in the tumultuous times of the Tokugawa Shogunate and concentrates on the actions of the player, a lone Samurai warrior who is skilled, but also compared to the other heroes of the time - nothing special. So after the pretty nice opening FMV you are thrown into the world of chop-slashy action once again, at the opening of a wooden sword (bokken) tournament.
It is an ambitious game and perhaps I am being overly critical after seeing such as Kengo: Master of Bushido, which to me has a lot more to offer in the way of sub-games and fun than this romp, that I did find a tad mediocre and boring to be honest. Perhaps though wading through a mire of dialogue is your thing and you like me are kept entertained by storylines that mean something. So it's not all that bad, Sword has a pretty twisting plot and the player's actions alter the way the game plays and ends. You can fail to beat one of the characters and you may well be given the option to beg for your life, this can send the story into a whole new avenue and you may find an alternate ending or cut-scene you never thought possible.
Usually in the dialogues you can choose from three or four paths, kill the bad guy, rescue the girl, walk away and do nothing. And it is to this game's credit that it does actually change things depending on what you do. It just didn't wholly jump out at me and hack off my head with anything special, so I was left feeling more like a fifth wheel than the heroic swordsman I was yet to become. But to be fair, we are supposed to be good at our craft but nothing like the heroes of Japanese legend, the key to achieving that goal lies in the way of practice, practice, and practice. In the game your character can learn new moves, styles and ways of combat...it's here where the RPG elements start to show themselves off and you find yourself travelling to Dojo after Dojo to learn new killing techniques and moves. Train well and you will be rewarded with better fighting abilities. You can also take on commissions and missions, compete in tournaments and so forth. But they seem to be very limited and the game is let down by the often at times clumsy controls of it's predecessor Kengo.
You'll also need to keep an eye on your sword's durability in game, because unlike a lot of games in Sword the blade can heat up, wear down and be in need of repair. Hardly surprising really when you think about the fact that the old swords were supposed to require many hours of care just to keep them sharp without use, imagine if you are using one daily to chop people into kindling how much damage the blade is going to go through. Still, quick trips to the blacksmith to strengthen or improve your blade will often yield much better and safer results than allowing it to snap during an impressive tournament before a key figure.
Get a better sword and one that's upgraded and you'll find that this increases certain bonuses and the like in game, another factor we can attribute to the good old RPG. And it doesn't go amiss here, so perhaps these features lift the game from the realms of mediocrity and into the rank of 'not too bad but worth a rental' in the gamers eyes, this gamer especially.
The animations in Sword are however very well done, they are some of the nicer of this genre of game and have a real feeling of competence about them. Your character and the opponents behave as though they know the sharp end of a sword from the other and overall it gives a good visual cue as to how well you're doing in a fight. The control system is a little odd for a while, takes some getting used to, but once you get the feel of it you will find that the combat system is quite nice. If you shove a character around, you'll notice they do go off balance, it's even possible to kill someone with a single stroke (or be killed yourself) leaving them to fall before your sandaled feet, and not a Conan in sight.
The only problem with the game's graphics is that compared to the characters, they seem to have done a haphazard job of integrating the backgrounds and other elements into the game, so it drags the whole thing down with it. They often look 'stuck on' and the whole suspension of disbelief thing vanishes in a moment, as if it had been suddenly cut out from beneath your feet. Texturing is grainy, suffers from blocky-ness and the indoors often lack any of the finer details that could make them appear to be anything more than a game's graphics. Where they could have had some rolling hills, deep forest and some nice views - we're left with the washed out exterior locations that have dogged older games before developers learned of the finer effects like bump mapping and progressive texturing etc.
The game uses a time-based checkpoint system and you go home after you do the various tasks, here you can save and do other things, set up your sword-styles and work on sleeping off that sake. Though I can't say I liked the idea of a partial save system compared to a full system, it would have saved a lot of restarts and frustration if they had gone for a proper solid system. Instead, when you load a game, your save is erased for the progress you had made, meaning more restarts if you fail in your task. Confused, don't worry, so was I.
It does have multiplayer and an amount of unlockables, as well as the fairly competent AI of both single and multiple opponents, the sound leaves a lot of be desired and in a word the voice acting is terrible but after you put all of these things aside you are left with a solid game that would appeal more to the historical sword collector in us all, than the raging Samurai hacking-slashing his or her way across the blood-soaked grassy paths of ancient Japan. Not a massive hit, but still a good game if you like that sort of thing, worth a rental if nothing else.