Review: "Taste the steel of my sword, Yankee!"
"Mmm, iron! My fave!"
What happened to Jackie Chan? His films used to be all about the exciting realism of martial arts and not the computer generated supermen or fruity pillow fighting. Some of his most recent films had me starting to like Jackie Chan movies less and less. These pictures included Rush Hour 2, The Tuxedo, The Medallion, and Shanghai Knights. Shanghai Knights in particular is the mediocre sequel to Shanghai Noon, the one movie of his released before this nonstop train of crap rolled in that I can actually say I enjoyed watching. The premise of a 19th Century Chinese Imperial Guard visiting the Western times of old made for some funny situations and great action when pairing together the master of stunts (Jackie Chan) and that goofy looking blonde with a demented nose (Owen Wilson). When you mix swords with six-shooters, you know something interesting's about to happen. That's probably why Atlus with Spike and the Way of the Samurai series developer, Acquire, wanted to change the direction for what is actually Way of the Samurai 3. Don't be fooled by the shift in the title, as Way of the Samurai 3 (or Samurai Western) is here and is ready to pour sand down your boots and hand you a sword for some bullet-deflecting, blood-splattering, arcadey action.
A tale heard countless times before is about to be unfurled yet again. From out of the blue and into the fading skies, in comes a stranger into a Western civilization that's become corrupted by Goldberg, a man of great power who holds large ranks of evil "associates" for hire by his side. No gunman, no Indian; this pup who's just moseyed his way through the scorching desert heat is an oddly attired Samurai that goes by the name Gojiro Kiryu. With but a blade for a weapon, Gojiro at first appears harmless against the army of outlaws under Goldberg's control. But to underestimate a master of the Samurai teachings was their first mistake. Gojiro's purpose for appearing in this bleak and unlawful town is because he's in search of one man who has done some wrong back in the land of the rising sun. Someone who'll taste his vengeance from the very tip of his blade...Gojiro's own brother.
Ever play a Way of the Samurai game before? Me neither. But I know of the series. Once a BAM! Entertainment and then a Capcom-owned property, Way of the Samurai has seen two titles on the PlayStation 2 from two different publishers already. In an ancient Japanese world filled with sword fighters, the part you played was naturally your own master of the Samurai blade, Gojiro. Unlike Samurai Western, Way of the Samurai and Way of the Samurai 2 were more adventure-oriented than they were of the action sort. While Samurai Western derives from the same developer of those games and does feature the same character from those games, it's under a new title than those games. So like what any Samurai themed product does when it gets Americanized, it goes the action route. All blade swinging, body cutting, and no exploration on the side. To think such a theme as using your sword to bounce things like bullets and throwing knives off of its steel sounds cool. Well, it could be a fantastic idea if done properly. Samurai Western's flavor, however, is just too pale.
You've got a sword. They've got guns. You have the ability to dodge bullets, cut up enemies, and send their bullets back home to them. They can toss bombs, knives, and of course unload wave after wave of bullet fire. This might all sound interesting at first. Trust me though, it isn't. Playing as this Gojiro character, your every objective in every sequential level is to hack to pieces the evil outlaws who'll appear out of nowhere and everywhere allotted around these stages. Quite literally, the second Gojiro runs up and whacks to death these guys in cowboy outfits with machinegun, pistol, or a throwing weapon of some kind in one surrounding, there'll be a new batch formulating right behind him. It's a nonstop arcade-like action slashing-fest, where the main point of the game is to just survive a few minutes worth of slaying a small variety of bandit types within some open and enclosed 3D spaces in third-person, whilst performing your own little myriad of stunt work. And by stunt work, I mean combos. And by combos, I mean tapping the only attack button (square) to see how many hits you can get off of one rootin', tootin', and of course shootin' outlaw. Lame-o.
Even though that's not the complete entirety for what Samurai Western has to offer, that's basically the aim of its gist. To compliment Gojiro's ability to spin out of the way from bullet fire (R1 or circle), he can also pick up environmental objects around (like bar tables) or even enemy carcasses. By jumping in the air (X), Gojiro can initiate a blow stringed from a leap and knock out guys dead. When this happens, he can literally carry their bodies around and use them or a select few of other items to lessen the damage of incoming fire. There's really not much of a point in utilizing this function most of the time, when for one thing, there aren't always items to pick up and use for protection (except for the enemies). Another thing is that it's just as easy to dodge bullets that you can see coming without taking your sweet time to perform an air strike, allowing Gojiro to become injured in the process of stopping and lifting the dead body, which even with the cover doesn't permit Gojiro to attack at the same time that he's carrying unnecessary weight around. There are better ways for handling situations anyway. For instance, if Gojiro cremates enough enemies, eventually a gauge on the bottom of the screen fills up allowing for his blade weapon to fire up in a red tint and give him an extra boost to strengthen his attacks for a brief time. Even better, there's a hyperactive mode where by pressing L1, Gojiro will be able to glide around in his surroundings and become invincible against all odds, whilst dealing out one-hit-kills to all he attacks in this limited window of opportunity.
Aside from the generic murderlizing, Gojiro can also nab items that enemies drop including clothing for Gojiro to wear (like cowboy hats and bandanas) and meat products used for instant health restoration. When in between the completion windows of each stage, this is where Gojiro's properties can be enhanced for his betterment. The cowboy hats and even sword weapons Gojiro obtains or unlocks from his battle exploits can dress Gojiro or be exchanged for what Gojiro already has equipped: laying out a choice between options for stronger, quicker, or equally balanced swords or accessories. Here, the points garnered from each stage can also be spent on upgrading Gojiro's statistics. According to stuff like the number of enemies Gojiro defeats and the time spent on killing them, the amount of points totaled at the end of each level is divided toward upping Gojiro's life, his defense, his weapon's power, amongst other things. This extra RPG element adds to the game, especially when you need all the health you can get for the tough and cheap-move-abled bosses. Although, when it comes to exchanging swords and the clothes Gojiro wears, it's also kind of unneeded because of the fact that newly acquired sword items for instance come at a way lesser value in statistical acclamations. This insufficient means kind of just makes this portion of the game a cheaply drawn last minute add-on.
Of the limited merits that Samurai Western does possess, there is some found in the game's unpretentious sights. Western times must've been a bore if villains wore the same clothes, displayed the same tacky animations, and had many but few types of men feigning the same plain mundanity. The truth is, there is diversity, but there's also multiples of mediocrity. Three tall and bald knife tossers of an identical model standing in a diagonal line and flinging daggers at precisely the same time isn't realistic. Cowboys dressed in dark and faded shades and striped outfits, blasting rifles, automatics, and pistol weapons, throwing big bombs and TNT sticks, all with the added cartoon smoke and blasting yellows does an okay job of getting the point across, however. Gojiro himself is moderately attired in a white and black gui to apply within the arcade theme. Thrashing through tables and chairs, slinging blood, able to smash wooden pillars and let the evil men who stand about them plummet to their doom, Gojiro can twirl around leaving behind dashing silhouette imagery of himself as he dices his way through dusty and spacious Old Western towns and taverns. It all makes for a somewhat effective game that isn't terribly great in style. But hey, it works.
Tumbleweeds drifting shakily along the dust-ridden roads. Vultures gobbling up the remains of a poor strangler in the vast emptiness of the world. And outlaws who don't keep saying the same freaking lines over and over. It would be cool of the developers to go that way. But they didn't. Every single level, enemies will speak uttering only a few badly accented Texan lines at their silliest sounding such as, "Who are you?" and "Stand still!" Can't stupid games skip the overly repetitive cheesy voice overs for once? Jazzy piano, strings, wind, and percussion instruments all collide here for some average tunes that offer a Western flavor -- one that doesn't come with a very enticing invitation. Intermediacy also speaks for the cling of a blade meshing through tumbling wood and tearing body fat. Guns burst and bombs blow up. Bodies fall and floor boards rattle as feet stomp across them. Simply, Samurai Western doesn't find the way to prepare a whole host of sound measurements that are accurate or are above and beyond great.