One of the great parts about this job is that I often get to play and write about games that I'm interested in anyway. That doesn't necessarily make those games any better, but it's nice to be able to satisfy my own personal curiousity while getting paid. A lot of times (well, most of the time) I'll play games in my free time without any kind of work assignments attached to those games. And because I am a sucker, sometimes I want to write about these games. This blog gives me a forum to do just that. When I play something that hasn't already been covered to death, I'm going to try to write up my thoughts and share them here. For my first such writeup, I'm going to talk about Way of the Samurai 3.

Way of the Samurai 3 was released a few weeks ago on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to little fanfare. Because I am a corporate shill, I bought it at a GameStop. Apparently, the store I go to was the only GameStop in the Minneapolis area that was getting the game, and they only got two copies. (That was several days after the October 14ish release date, too.) Stores weren't taking preorders for it, either. Odd. The publishing deal is even odder. Agetec is publishing the PS3 version, and UFO Interactive is taking care of the Xbox 360 release. Both versions were developed by Acquire.

Having never played previous Way of the Samurai games, I wasn't completely sure what to expect. The game popped up on my radar after reading this excellent forum post, which at least sold me on the game's concept. I like samurai movies. I like video games. I like unlocking stupid weapons and gimmick costumes. The $49.99 price tag just sweetened the deal.

I've put about eight hours into it so far, and I like what I've seen. You start out regaining consciousness on a bloody battlefield, and what happens next is basically up to you. Three factions are competing for power in rural Japan (villagers and two rival clans), and you can align yourself with one or more, or just look out for yourself. The Fujimori are brutal and powerful, and the Oaku are the ragtag clan trying to defeat them. (The Oaku are also basically bandits, so it's not so easy to sympathize with their drunken pillaging.)

In my first game, I tried to be a good guy, but eventually ended up drawing my blade at the wrong time and made everyone in the world hate me. (Well, I drew my blade and stabbed a few people. OK, a lot of people.) Eventually, I was killed. Fortunately, all of my gear, items and cash transfered to my next playthrough in a new game +. Things were going well my second playthrough until I walked into a cutscene with two brothers getting ready to fight each other. One of the brothers was an ally of mine, so I drew my sword (ending the cutscene) and ended up making them both chase after me. Apparently all they needed to end their feud was a common enemy.

Now I'm playing through the game making an effort to not draw my blade. If I have to, I'm going to attack with the blunt side of my blade. Let's see how easy it is to work through all this drama without spilling any blood.

The game isn't drop-dead gorgeous, but people who say that it looks like a PS2 title need to get their eyes examined. That said, the game's strengths are in the story and atmosphere that it creates. I've tried out different approaches each time I've played, and it seems as though the little decisions I'm making affect the story in fairly significant ways. I've been able to recruit a few partners, and we've done things together like make mochi and kill bunches of angry dudes. Sidequests have included hacking a giant tuna with my sword (?), cutting vegetables with my sword (?!) and tracking down an elderly woman's missing underwear (?!?!?). I've had to apologize for my actions, I've had kids follow me around while punching and kicking my ass, and... did I mention that I had to deliver old-lady undies?

Way of the Samurai 3 isn't for everyone, but players who enjoy over-the-top samurai movies and like the idea of finding their own way in an open-world Japan should check it out. I was looking for something that didn't involve walking around with a giant gun, and it's definitely delivered. It's not perfect (navigation can be a pain, even with the map), but it deserves an audience. Unfortunately, if the game's launch is any indication, it's going to be in short supply. If you're interested in it, I'd recommend tracking a copy down sooner than later.