Allow me to blow your mind and say Way of the Samurai 4 is one of the saddest games I've ever played. I know right away most people will call bull on it but the fact is outside of Silent Hill 3 a game hasn't made me feel this sad in years. I'll start of by saying Way of the Samurai 4 is strange. It seems to exist as a parody of everything ignorant westerners assume about Japan. It's a hilarious satire and the game knows it. The hilarious names of the English characters, the absurd fighting styles and appearances, the fact that the game is playing itself completely straight but it knows it's absolutely insane and of course there's the Night Crawling. Night Crawling seems to have been made as a parodic deconstruction of everything that moral guardians think these games are. You woo the lovely lady or fella of your choice with some truly charming dialogue options then when night comes you find their house sneak in and beat up unaware occupants who might get you arrested if you're spotted. After that you find the bed of your beloved remove the covers and go to an inn. At the inn you engage in a "battle" and if you land enough "attacks" you "win" and earn yourself a hysterical fade to black with horse neighs, sword sound effects and character noises. Simply put it's satire brilliance. The combat is nothing to sneeze at as there's a massive variety of styles to use and different weapons to gain and train in and even develop your own custom style. It's massive and in depth but you can still rely on the starter style to get you through. Square is for light quick attacks and triangle for heavy slow attacks. There's also Spring Harvest or as I call it the Red Circle of Death where with enough energy your character can cut through a horde of enemy in seconds. It's fun and later a necessity to ensure victory. Defeating enemies also allows to use parts of them for custom outfits on later play throughs and this is a must if you want to be female as the default character is a male samurai no matter what. You also gather points to unlock stuff like more parts for your character, more weapons and even the hard difficulty. Overall there's a lot of replayabilty for such a short game. Then again it kind of needs it. The actual plot of the game is bit straighter, you are a samurai from another land who arrives in town during the start of a conflict between the Town Samurai, the xenophobic Prajna and the foreigners. You have 5 days to shape a path. Who you side with, who you antagonise and who you kill all play an important part in the story. And this is where my sorrow starts. I instantly sided with the foreigners because it was quite clear that they were the only group who weren't obviously flawed. I spent my time doing missions for them winning their favour whenever I could. And then the Chief Minister Kinugawa showed up and instantly I knew something would go horribly wrong. Not to spoil anything but it did. I'm gonna give away massive spoilers for the route here so be warned. After Prajna members kill foreigner Jet Jenkins the only sane character in the plot Laura Lita tries to reason with them. It's absolutely heartbreaking watching this idealistic girl realise all her help and effort was unwanted. After a brutal fight with the Prajna forces leaving them wiped out for good Kinugawa showed up explaining his intentions to have Laura killed and her death blamed on the Prajna. His men swarmed the streets and I, with minimal health and several swords on the verge of breaking tried my hardest but it was all for nought. Laura died and I was left to hold her corpse. The day ended there. I was angry. Angry at myself for letting her die, angry at Kinugawa for his actions, angry at his men for blindly following orders and killing an innocent girl who couldn't defend herself, as my character sat in the harbour I had one thing on my mind : revenge. I went to the foreigner area one last time to see if anyone was still around and it was empty. Devoid of all life. I knew I couldn't leave this be. So I decided to make myself known. When a guard asked me to state my business I didn't say a word. I drew my blade and made my intentions known. None of them where going to live through this. What followed was an amazing one man army final mission not unlike that one really long fight scene in Kill Bill with the Crazy 88s. I was outnumbered but I didn't care. I killed countless men in pursuit of revenge. And then I learned from the ministers daughters that he was find left for another land. I didn't let them live either. I don't know if I got revenge. The game ended telling me no one was sure what happened next, that the battle had been lost to history. Whatever the case was i still felt empty, it wasn't bringing Laura back and it wasn't correcting my mistakes. I let the one person who didn't deserve to die die and I had to live with that fact. And to think this started off so light hearted. Way of the Samurai 4 did something I didn't really expect it to do. It made me feel genuine regret for my actions. I did not go into this game expecting to feel like I did when I failed. If I wanted misery I've got games for that but the fact is it's impressive in it's own right the game did this to me as a gamer. Sure there's grounds for ridicule here but still it's something special for a tongue in cheek game that satirises the Japanese as a whole to do this. If emotion isn't what you're after the fact is the game itself is pretty fun, with a decent amount of replay value and a wacky sense of humour. Definitely worth looking into.
Turn based RPGs as a genre is something I've never gotten into. Especially not if it's based on real life events since I know how they turn out. The Fire Emblem series is an exception mainly cause of its plot and characters but also for being rather basic in how it plays. Not that these games are easy by any stretch this is a franchise that defines Nintendo Hard even this one.
The story revolves around Magvel a where the country of Grado has up and decided to start killing everything around them. The game revolves around two twins Ephraim and Eirika who the royal children of Renais the first country wiped out by Grado forces.Their father is dead and Ephraim is off to find answers so Eirika, along with loyal knight and destroyer of all Seth, has to try and fight too.
The actual gameplay is interesting and simple. On easy mode the game introduces every mechanic available starting with the Weapons Triangle. Lances beat swords, swords beat axes and axes beat lances, it starts off simple enough but then they introduce bows and magic and then magic gets its own triangle, Anima beats Light, Light beats Dark, Dark beats Anima. Then it gets worse when they introduce reavers which are specific weapon which reverse their role in the triangle for example a Lancereaver is a sword that can beat lances but can't beat axes. And this is particularly frustrating if a weapon breaks during battle and you need that reaver to deal with a Wyvern Lord who has the one item that makes Bows(the weakness of flying units) useless.
Overall strategy plays an important part in all aspects of gameplay as you need to make sure you're not sending units to an early grave. Or you could send out Seth and be done with it the other units can up on their own time.
There's also Supports a main feature of the franchise. Supports involve putting two characters together and having them stand next to each other. Each Support goes up from no rank to C rank to B rank and finally A Rank. The main point of Supports is to give characters extra help during battle through stat buffs but it also gives the characters extra depths and some even get unique endings if they pair all the way up to A rank. Just remember you only get to see 5 Supports per character per play through so you can only get one full Support (unless you deliberately chose to Support 5 characters to C rank with one character).
The other main feature of the franchise is permadeath. If a character falls in battle they're gone for good. No way to get them back. The only exception are the twins who if they die you have to start the whole mission again. Not that it really matters since most players will (hopefully) want to keep all their characters alive so they'll restart anyway.
Characters in Fire Emblem games tend to be introduced, do something to help once and then drop off to the roster screen never to do anything important again (looking at Duessel in particular who switches sides from Grado to aid Ephraim in killing Grado's King.) it's why Supports are important to the franchise otherwise these characters mean nothing to the player. But that doesn't stop them from being a strong likeable cast everyone here has something that makes them admirable be it Vanessa a Pegasus knight who's shy crush on Prince Innes makes her easy to route for or Rennac a rogue who clearly didn't sign up for any of this and Seth who is a mix of shark, meteor and Godzilla in terms of dealing with enemies.
However a good hero means nothing without a strong evil to thwart and for the most part the game does this really well. Grado is treated as a legitimately dangerous threat throughout the whole game but there's implications that this whole thing is massively out of character for the King of Grado (it is) and it's unnecessary slaughter. The villains are all comically evil or noble men reluctantly following a corrupt cause (one Grado knight in particular blindly follows through with the madness and loses all sympathy for such obvious zealousness). It's fascinating to me at least that some of these villains are so over the top in their evil it's hilarious.
Yes the game explains that the Grado King has rehired guys who are clearly evil but efficient and this makes me wonder about all those low level bosses, were they all inherently evil or were they just waiting for this to happen so they can start kicking puppies and eating children?
Ridiculous villains aside the fact is Fire Emblem games as a rule tend to be well written and give out incredibly tragic moments throughout especially Sacred Stones which dishes out the tragedy at an alarming pace during the second part of the game. Not to give away anything but there's revelations about a certain character who's been with the group for a while and it all ends in misery.
Speaking of the second part the game is actually divided into 3 separate parts, first there's Eirika and her attempts to gather aid from other countries and also find her brother. During the second part you can play as either twin. Eirika is off to stop the bad guys destroying the titular Sacred Stones whilst Ephraim takes the fight to Grado directly. Finally whichever twin you picked during the second part remains the player character and the true final battle begins.
Thanks to Awakening a lot of people have gotten into Fire Emblem as a whole myself included and this is my second experience with the series. And I've noticed that Intelligent Systems always tries to make things easier for western audiences. This game introduces the Tower of Valni where monsters spawn over and over. The tower exists as an extra challenge but most people use it for the exp you get which eliminates a lot of the challenge from the game itself. Of course you can grind as much as you want but weapons don't last so you'll just look foolish sending that level 20 knight into battle with a javelin they can only use one more time then they're unable to defend themselves.
Overall Sacred Stones is a fun game which tries to be nice to newcomers the Tower of Valni exists so those newcomers have a sense of familiarity but it ain't gonna stop them losing units at an alarming rate.