I’ll admit, I went into this knowing next to nothing of the Way of the Samurai world, save what I read in a review kit provided by the developer. KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story is a spin-off of the original series, which are action-adventure games in which a wandering Ronin becomes embroiled in conflict between rival clans. Those elements–both the wandering swordsman and the rival clans–are present in this universe, but rather than going around and beating some sense into other swordsmen, KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story sees you delving into a mysterious dungeon that only appears at night and battling feral animals, demons, the undead, etc. Your cause is also quite noble: the swordsmith, Dojima, is in debt and his daughter has been taken as collateral. You’re the only one capable of braving the depths of the mysterious dungeon and collecting ingredients so that Dojima can make the money to get his daughter back.
KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story is divided into day and night segments during which different activities are available to you. During the day time, Dojima’s shop is open, as are vendor stalls, and NPCs wander the area outside. None of them have anything interesting to say, giving the otherwise verdant surrounds an empty feel. During this time, Dojima will automatically sell what swords he’s made–the kinds of which you can affect in terms of rarity as you progress, but not much else. You’re also able to purchase goods and equipment from vendors and have Dojima improve or repair your swords. On the not-so-noble side of things, you can ingratiate yourself with a specific clan in order to drive up the demand for the swords you sell. The sword orders you take in affects tensions between clans and your smithy benefits from the development of tension resulting from a faction gaining military strength. Time moves at an accelerated rate, so the daylight only lasts for a few real-world minutes.
During the twilight hours, you can brave the mysterious and randomized dungeon to collect smithing ingredients and complete quests. Quests consist of finding a particular item, getting to a specific floor, or killing a marker enemy. Essentially, you’ll complete them during regular exploration–just be sure to check the board to activate any available quests.
Combat consists of light and heavy attacks, blocking, dodging, and katana time. Light strikes are quick, but not very powerful, while heavy attacks are slower and more powerful. Nothing new or surprising there. You’re able to sheathe and unsheathe your sword using L1. Once you sheathe your sword, Vitality (also known as hunger in other games) drains and health fills up. You’re also able to run more quickly when your sword is sheathed. By holding R1, you can block. By holding R1 and pressing either square or triangle, you can perform a move that will break through a blocking enemy’s defense. If you block or dodge at just the right moment, you can perform a counter attack called a kiwami that deals a massive amount of damage to your attacker, rewarding you for strategic attacking rather than button mashing. When you kill enemies, you pick up orbs and fill a meter with three segments. Holding R1 and pressing L1 activates katana time, which in turn allows you to attack more quickly. The more segments you have filled up, the longer this lasts.
Your protagonist levels up as you fight, gaining more HP and Vitality as well as regenerating any that has been lost. Swords gain levels, too, but those don’t reset upon leaving the dungeon. Swords also grant new skills as they level up, so it would behoove you to find a weapon you like and stick to it. Unfortunately, doing so is easier said than done thanks to a durability system that seems just a tad bit unbalanced. I felt as though I had to repair my weapons every floor lest it rust in my hands. Sharpening blocks appear frequently in the dungeon and can be used to restore durability to your blade. If durability reaches zero, you’ll be unable to repair it unless you have another copy that you can sacrifice as materials. Keep that in mind when using your favourite weapons. I found this aspect to be unnecessary except to randomly hinder you–especially upon picking up a cursed weapon and being unable to unequip it. A broken blade does less damage than an unarmed attack and combat at that point grinds to a standstill.
Enemies, even skeletons, bleed like stuck pigs upon being struck. It’s almost comical how much red (or black or nothing at all, depending on your chosen setting) spews onto the floor. It gets old quickly, however, as does the loud, dramatic death rattle of the skeletons, which happen to be one of the more common enemies. Every few floors, you’ll run into a cursed area, which is really just a boxed in area where you have to fend off waves of enemies for a preset amount of time or slay a larger than average monster. After, you’re able to proceed to the next floor if you’re confident or return to the surface, after which time will advance to the next day. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Other random finds in the dungeons include enemies that will drop decent loot if defeated before they can run off, floors where a mysterious smith will sell you swords and/or work on the ones you have, shrines you can pray to in exchange for a random buff (or debuff, depending on your luck), and traps. The latter are a royal pain in the you-know-what, as they’re pretty easy to miss and can only be disarmed if you’re still. Disarming a trap means you can use it yourself… But that doesn’t mean you can set it off after. I found that, though they were powerful, the collateral damage of traps with an AOE weren’t worth the hassle.
If you die in a dungeon, a Tsukomogami–a copy of yourself complete with all your lost equipment–appears. This includes foolishly stepping on a trap or being afflicted with a status effect that finishes off what little health you have left. You must defeat yourself in order to get your belongings back and failure to do so means all the time you spent working on that badass sword is lost. With no way to manually save just in case things go wrong, that can be a heartbreaking outcome.
The entire point of the game is to have enough money to pay off your debtor by a deadline he provides. This means careful budgeting of your own expenditures, but also that there’s little room for failure and limited time to grind up to a point where you’re confident before tackling the dungeon’s lower levels. If you don’t keep pace with the increasing demands by going deeper, you’ll fall behind on payments, after which… Well, actually, nothing happens if you fail to pay the debt collector. Even if you end up fighting him, after he kills you you just wake up with all your belongings and a new payment date. It kind of calls into question why you’re bothering. There’s no penalty for late payments, so you could just not pay and play however you want.
Not having a working knowledge of the world won’t lessen your enjoyment of what is a solid dungeon crawler with roguelight elements. What will, however, are the lacklustre features outside of combat. Inventory management is a large part of the dungeon crawling and, in KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story, it’s clunky as all get out. Inventory space is limited, the maximum allowance of which can be increased slightly based on equipment, and there’s no way to select multiple items (typically swords dropped by defeated enemies) to discard–something you’ll need to do as you delve deeper and start picking up rarer items. You won’t want to have an inventory full of rare swords, either, because maintaining the durability of your equipped swords consumes the one you use as materials. I spent a lot more time than I should have wading through menus in order to first differentiate junk from treasure (because a lot of the swords have the same generic name) and then to actually discard unwanted items. You have to select each individual object and then open a secondary menu, select “discard” and then confirm that you’re certain you want to discard the item. Repeat however many times you need until you’ve adequately thinned the herd. Going from fast-paced combat to this and back really threw off my dungeoning rhythm.
I didn’t get a chance to play the online components, so I can’t comment on that aspect.
Just okay. KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story isn’t a great representation of the series, just based on my research on how well received the original PS2 games were. Challenging combat, an accessible UI, and a steady stream of treasures are synonymous with the genre and KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story doesn’t quite manage to blend these elements into a cohesive experience. Perhaps a mega fan of the series itself would enjoy it, but for those looking for an experience like, say, Moonlighter where you juggle between store and stocking up, KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story, with all its flaws, won’t be worth the price of admission.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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KATANA KAMI: A Way of the Samurai Story Review
Gameplay - 5/10
Graphics - 5/10
Sound - 5/10
Replay Value - 5/10
A dungeon delving spin-off of the action-adventure series that won’t satisfy your desire for a core title set in the Katana Kami universe.
- Challenging combat.
- Weapon stances feel significantly different.
- Lacks that “one more run” draw.
- Enemies and sound assets limited.
- Inventory management clunky.
- Shop keeping and order aspects feel tacked on.