Monday, September 22, 2008

Katanas And Joysticks: The Newest Wave Of Video Game Samurai

New for the Sony PSP (Playstation Portable) is 侍道 Portable (Samurai Dou Portable, or Way Of The Samurai Portable). This comes only in a Japanese language version but will work with any PSP. It's a handheld version of the popular series (with part three of the console version due to hit this November). It puts the player in the sandals of a ronin who drifts into town, and allows them to choose his role in a conflict brewing between rival samurai clans, merchants, thugs, and townspeople. This is done by having conversations with various people you meet around town, and the path the game takes branches depending on your answer. You can join any faction, join them all and play one against the other, or screw over all of them. There are lots of swordfights along with many missions and tasks given (depending on the faction you ally with), not to mention a multitude of different swords to collect.
This time, the story centers around a state called Gishuamari during the Sengoku period. By slaying the late ruling family, the Sakurai clan, a man named Fujimori became the state's Daimyo. As a ruler, he keeps an iron fist on his domain and the way he dispatched his former lord made him enemies of the peasants and old noble families. With the freedom provided in the game, you can betray your old employers and go with a new one, remove yourself from corrupt forces and join the battle for justice, or simply kill everything that moves. The game has excellent replay value, providing all sorts of endings both good and bad for the player to discover. The series is a particular favorite of mine-it's like an interactive chambara film that never unspools the same way twice.

Also out for the Japanese Wii and Japanese PS2 systems is the popular SNK fighting game, Samurai Spirits: 六番勝負 (Samurai Spirits: Rokuban Shoubu-'Sixth Match'). As the title would indicate, it's a compilation of five previous entires in the Samurai Spirits franchise along with an all-new sixth entry (天下一剣客伝-Tenka Ichi Kenkakuden-'The Legend Of The Country's Greatest Swordsman'). It's like getting six games in one! Online play is also a strong component of the release (at least for the PS2 version) along with lots of options to customize characters, along with extra training and versus modes in addition to the games. I haven't tried it myself since I usually don't care for fighting games, but it seems like a great value for a very storied line of games.

Released back in May was Kunitouri Zunou Batoru Nobungaga No Yabou (国盗り頭脳バトル 信長の野望-Nobunaga’s Ambition: National Domination Leader Battle) by Koei for the Nintendo DS (will work on any DS system, but is in Japanese language only). You might see this on assorted game sites as Owari Zunou Battle-not really sure where they came up with Owari, though, as that’s clearly wrong. This is a portable version of Koei’s extremely popular Nobunaga’s Ambition series, and is a bit different than the regular entries in the series. Here, you push ‘chess pieces’ representing famous generals over a map of Japan (board game style) in order to fight battles and conquer provinces. The elaborate province and government development of the normal games is absent, but it’s a fast moving, involving, and fun game. I’m finding it very enjoyable-nice graphics and portraits for such a small unit as well. You can download a trial playable demo for the game HERE.

Nobunaga No Yabou 2 (信長の野望 2-Nobunaga's Ambition 2) made its debut on the Nintendo DS (any system, but Japanese language only) in July. Looks like it's a port of the old Super Nintendo game Nobunaga's Ambition:Lord Of Darkness and will be back to the traditional province grabbing and developing routine.

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