Hours and Hours. Minutes and Minutes.
Great video games incentivize players to return time and time again. Some games accomplish this through collectibles, a new game plus mode, harder difficulty levels, multiplayer, or different play styles. Bulletstorm, while an absolute raunchy, “arcadey” thrill and one of my favorite games, only witnessed a single playthrough. The mature banter, kill combos and over-the-top moments kept me hooked, but left me wavering after the campaign. Games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas and the Mass Effect series, however, easily garnered second, third and sometimes even fourth playthroughs. There are tons of nuances in these games to bring players back into the digital worlds. Similarly, Way of the Samurai 4, a third-person, hack and slash role-playing game, utilizes many elements from the latter three titles in order to keep players playing. The one major difference between replaying Way of the Samurai 4 and the other grand RPGs, however, is a player’s investment of hours in the campaign. A single playthrough of Way of the Samurai 4 may take up to anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Through creative use of a choice-driven story line, a rewarding new game plus mode and a variety of unlockable items and weapons, Way of the Samurai 4 offers a replayable campaign without the burden of dedicating absurd amount of hours to a single playthrough.
Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, and the Mass Effect games offer huge explorable worlds and lengthy narratives. Crossing the map from Markath to Riften, trailing through the broken wasteland in order to find every Nuka Cola Quantum bottle or jumping from world to world in Mass Effect are extended endeavors. Fast-travel, of course, is an option, but trekking through the latter games’ explorable areas, sidequests and campaigns undoubtedly rack up plenty of hours. Way of the Samurai 4 can be literally beaten in a few minutes. Players do not need to exploit any glitches, narrative bugs or even fight a single battle. They may willingly choose to leave the fictional island of Amihama almost as soon as their samurai arrives. This choice to leave, just one of the many choices to make in-game, does indeed count as finishing the story. A player is even given end-game stats such as total hours played and how many samurai-like decisions were made. This manual restart mainly reflects how malleable the campaign is in Way of the Samurai 4.
Like in Mass Effect and New Vegas, player-choice drives Way of the Samurai 4, unraveling a changing narrative with each playthrough. There are three main groups in Way of the Samurai 4 that progress the story line. Players may ally with the different factions or work for themselves. Of course some decisions may lead to an early death, completely stop the narrative’s progression or actually provide one of the ten final end-game cutscenes. Each of these scenarios forces a player to restart his or her game. Fortunately, unlike heavier RPGs, Way of the Samurai 4 doesn’t boast a lengthy campaign. The story mode is relatively short, so it doesn’t burden players to chug through tens of hours of the campaign to unlock a new ending or start a different path. Players also have the option to skip or fast-forward through cutscenes. If a player already knows where he or she intends to go in the story or wants to choose differently at a certain point in the narrative, Way of the Samurai 4 allows them to progress very quickly. The focus to have a player-driven narrative is as strong in Way of the Samurai 4 as it is in either Mass Effect or Fallout. Each game features branching story lines, but Way of the Samurai’s campaign manages to encourage multiple playthroughs in shorter amounts of time.
With choice-driven video games, there is a tendency to just load a previous save slot in response to unwanted outcomes. While Way of the Samurai 4 absolutely allows this, every weapon discovered, purse of cash collected or item unlocked follows the player in a new game plus mode. Even if a player is dissatisfied with their ending, he or she still benefits from playing. For example, the main character, despite what good or bad in-game decisions are made, is always progressing, upgrading weapons, learning new moves or discovering multiple fighting styles. Some playthroughs may even completely avoid the main story line altogether. Instead, these sessions may be used to collect more money, unlock extra character-creator options or complete some of the more unique side quests. Way of the Samurai 4 rewards its players generously every time they complete the campaign. Playing through Mass Effect’s story, say, three times versus beating the Way of the Samurai 4’s campaign three times would show two completely different numbers of hours invested. New game plus modes already incentive players to go through the campaign again. But, because Way of the Samurai 4 has a short story, replaying it doesn’t turn into a long, stagnant experience. Players are given a fresh take on this mode in Way of the Samurai 4, because the commitment-ceiling to start and finish a new game is very low.
Starting a new game in Skyrim holds a ton of appeal because players can take unique directions with their characters and narrative. While Way of the Samurai 4 cannot match Skyrim in its character depth, it does allow some play-style customization that’s more accessible and quick to use. At any time, whether trained in swords, spears or martial ability, a player may switch between any unlocked styles on the fly. Fighting styles, however, are just one of the many nuances that shape Way of the Samurai 4 as an accessible game. Alongside weapons and clothes, there are special events that change the game world. For instance, one mission asks the player to escort an English lecturer from the docks to the town’s school. Upon completion, the player can interact with the English-speaking citizens in the Japanese town. New dialogue options become available and the state of the in-game world is changed. There are similar world-altering events in Skyrim, such as the siege of Whiterun, but a player must plow through hours of main quest lines to reach it. In Way of the Samurai 4, these unique events carry over to the next playthrough. The game handles unlocked content, especially world events, superbly. It doesn’t force players to trek through hours of the same content over and over again. Once a weapon, fighting style, item or world event is unlocked, it’s accessible in Way of the Samurai 4 at anytime and across all playthroughs.
Video games with huge, crafted open-worlds offer digital escapes where it’s easy to lose oneself in for days or even weeks at a time. Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas and the Mass Effect series epitomize such games. They also offers so much in replay value. Reaching up to 200 hours in a single adventure is very easy to achieve given how detailed and lore-centric the world of Skyrim turned out to be. Walking off beaten paths to find treasure, dragons or enemies spelled an adventure around every single corner. But until I spent some time with Way of the Samurai 4, I didn’t realize how demanding it was to go through a second and third playthrough of Skyrim. Way of the Samurai 4 is a short game, especially when juxtaposed to titles such as Fallout and other open-world RPGs. However, it greatly employs many elements from successful games to keep its replay value high without having players spend tens of hours going through the campaign over and over again.