Release Date: June 7, 2005
Buy 'SAMURAI WESTERN': PlayStation 2
My god, are crossovers awesome. No matter how educated and pretentious we get, we yearn for the day when we can see Batman force a kryptonite-coated gauntlet down Superman's pretty boy throat. Few of us would admit to it, but we all sat up late at night dreaming up ways a regular guy like Bruce Wayne could conquer the supernatural force that is Superman – which gadgets he would have to use, how he would use them, whether or not he would need to employ ninjitsu, etc. – and felt so much excitement over the whole thing. Ironically, that excitement is usually killed once an official release falls into our laps. We suddenly realize that the improbability of the entire situation is part of the excitement. (I mean, really, for what truly solid and just reason would Batman have to kick Superman's ass?) Nobody really wants them to fight, but we would like to know who would win.
That's where videogames come in.
Videogames exist primarily for gameplay. While over the years narrative has become exponentially important, playability is still the most important ingredient of a game. (After all, what is a game without the game?) This allows liberties to be taken to unparalleled heights when compared to older forms of media. Interactive electronic reality is a much different place with much more bendable rules than even the mainstream comic book format can allow.
Games often get away with incredibly vague settings, characters with suspect moral structures and near-insulting physical improbabilities. All the while, even the most elite of the gaming community sit through these things without batting an eye. And some of us (ahem, me) even go out of our way to applaud such strangeness. This makes gaming the perfect way to bring our dream meetings to life without any of the disappointment. Play Aliens Vs. Predator for PC to see what I mean.
Then are those meetings nobody asked for, like the X-Men crossing paths with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Barring the amusing fact that Patrick Stewart has played characters from both bands of heroes, there is absolutely no value in illustrating such a crossover. We prefer when the unlikely foes have some similarities, like Robocop vs. Terminator, who were both cybernetic killing machines.
We also have crossover ideas that dance on a line right in the middle, such as Atlus' Samurai Western, which, if you didn't gather this already, drags an honorable young katana-head out of Nihon like a fish out of water and drops him smack dab in the middle of the Old West. Nobody really asked for something like this to happen – especially not after Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman on PS1 – but it is kind of a cool idea, eh? At least if you're a fan of the campiest of campy B-movie action.
Our hero, the incredibly talented Gojiro Kiryuu, is poking around the Old West in search of his brother, Raddo. The game kicks off with a band of curious gunmen immediately squaring off with Kiryuu, only to meet with his blade faster than you can say "draw!" Shock and awe is spread across the sleepy western town, and next thing you know, hordes of enemies with the cheesiest damned things to say are popping up all over the place, itching to promote our hero to corpsedom. In short: Awesome. At the very least, things look to be about on par with the above-average experience of Gungrave O.D....
But then there's that gameplay thing.
Samurai Western is a one-trick pony once the hilarious cut scenes give way to the meat of the game. Let me put it this way: while at first it seems strange that both R1 and Circle are assigned with the same move – dodge/bullet parry – it makes a great deal of sense about 10 minutes into the game. These buttons are meant to be pressed so often, and so quickly, that your finger may get tired from the constant action, causing either a long-term switch to the opposite dodge button, or at least constant alternating between the two in order to prevent a repetitive motion injury. This isn't dodge-jump-dodge-slash I'm talking about here. It's more like dodge-dodge-jump-dodge-dodge(x12)-slash-dodge-dodge-dodge-jump-dodge(x22)-slash. I know that Samurai Western was not conceived to sit in the same class as Dynasty Warriors 5, but the sad, repetitive state of its gameplay seems dated at least a generation back, especially when compared to that game. Although it must be said that you do get hats and other mostly useless accessories for murdering endless masses of cowboys! Talk about disrespect to the dead.
And to go with the shallow PS1-level gameplay are shallow PS1-level graphics, too. Most textures are either simple or just plain flat, and not in the cute cel-shaded way but the ugly lazy developer way. Brown blur – oh, that's wood! Light brown blur – oh, that's sand. (Or is that dirt?) The art direction/level design limits the locales to bar-room brawls and downtown scrappin', which grows very old even within the handful of hours it takes to complete the game. To make up for this are stylish, over-the-top animations, which aren't good enough to avoid horrific clipping issues, but they do serve to keep the fantastic style from the cut scenes at least somewhat present during actual gameplay.
Except that feeling is completely ruined by the annoyingly repetitive voice samples spouted by every single enemy in the game, all of whom were most likely voiced by the same actor. When there are literally dozens of enemies running around at once, repetitive, similar samples are a major problem.
The obvious Jaunty-Old-West-Meets-Simplistic-Japanese music compliments the game nicely, though it is not especially good. In fact, some of it is downright laugh-worthy, but that's all part of the image this game needs to have. Remember, there's a samurai running around killing cowboys; if it sounds stupid, it's probably appropriate.
That last sentiment could apply to the whole game with the glaring exception of the dodge issue. This is the meeting of worlds that nobody asked for, but it is executed in a way that makes all who see it smile, despite the lack of any obvious humor. As the game progresses, you realize that while you've never thought about it, you wanted to see a samurai kick some Old West gunman tail. You'll wonder why you didn't spend your childhood dreaming of taking out 50 revolver-wielding outlaws with nothing but a blade. And inevitably, you'll wander away from the game, your right thumb and index finger sore, never to return, regardless of whether or not the end was reached. Your imagination can run as wild as it pleases, but one can only rapidly tap the same two buttons for so much time before returning to the game is out of the question.
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