Not every game has to be a 60-hour tour de force epic! Sometimes a decent, well-implemented idea with an interesting gameplay loop is more than enough. That’s what Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story is hoping for, anyway. It boils the Way of the Samurai formula from a bizarrely deep choose-your-own-samurai adventure story into an engaging action-RPG with dungeon-crawler elements that, frankly, kind of works
Life as a wandering samurai isn’t easy. Sure, you’ve got a cool outfit and a badass sword to go along with it, but in the Meiji era there’s not quite as much use for that sword. You’re mostly just looking for work and a place to stay. That’s why you’re willing to help out when you come across a blacksmith, Dojima, whose daughter is kidnapped by seedy loan sharks. Unless Dojima can keep up with his loan payments, his daughter’s going to be sold off! You have to do something because it’s the right thing to do! Alternatively, you have to do something because you want to marry his daughter, I guess, which is the option the game would really like you to take.
Anyway, that means you’re going to have to help raise the necessary money to make sure she doesn’t get sold off. That typically means sleeping all day and then going into the dungeon of Jikai at night to battle enemies and collect goodies. It’s a fairly standard dungeon crawler with the iconic combat that the Way of the Samurai series is known for – weapon-shattering sword battles and all. You’ll collect healing and combat items to throw at enemies as well as a vast variety of swords to upgrade and equip, keeping in mind that swords have durability and can easily break so you’d do well to keep your weapons well-maintained. It’s not going to be the next Diablo-style ARPG hit, but it’s compelling.
When you aren’t trudging around Jikai, though, you’ll fulfill weapon shipment orders given to you by the three factions that surround Dojima’s workshop. Naturally, you’re arming these factions so they’re better able to fight among themselves. Stoking tensions by providing more swords will result in more battles, in turn resulting in a greater need for weapons, so you’ll get more sword orders…it’s something of a vicious cycle, but it’s necessary if you want to keep up with Dojima’s debt payments.
If you favor a particular faction they factor a bit more into the story, but it’s not as significant a shift as you’d expect from the Way of the Samurai series. Katana Kami’s mostly about dungeon-crawling, so that’s what you’re getting here and the blacksmith simulator – such as it is – is more of a sideshow.
You can even do that dungeon-crawling with other players…sort of. Katana Kami’s multiplayer works something like how Dark Souls handles the idea. You’ll turn on online functionality and multiplayer (two separate options) before entering the dungeon, then you just might run across other players while you’re exploring. Chances are they’ll want to kill you because you’ll drop tasty weapons, but it’s also entirely possible to work together. What isn’t possible, sadly, is choosing who you want to play with; don’t buy Katana Kami if you’re looking for a game to go through with friends.
You also shouldn’t buy it if you’re after a Crysis-level graphical tour de force. Katana Kami sticks faithfully to the Way of the Samurai series’ classic no-frills look. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means that Katana Kami might have been perfectly at home on the PS3 – or even the PS2 if that machine was feeling spunky that day. As for sound effects and music they’re fairly standard, though enemy death cries can be a little irritating and might lead some to reach for the mute button.
Katana Kami: A Way of the Samurai Story doesn’t quite have the surprising depths of a mainline Way of the Samurai game. It’s also hurt somewhat by its lack of traditional multiplayer. Still, as a dungeon crawler, it’s a surprisingly pleasant experience, and the minor faction interplay elements add a little bit of extra flavor. If you’re itching for a little dramatic samurai action and need something to help scratch it, Katana Kami is worth checking out – but watch some gameplay first to make sure it’s what you’re after.