Capcom continues to enhance its publishing credentials this week, bringing two more third party games under its wing for release throughout PAL territories next year. Funnily enough, both are Japanese-born sequels from Spike. Riding Spirits II is a motorbike racing game due out in March, to be followed soon after in the slightly hazier "Spring" bracket by Way of the Samurai 2.
We'll deal with Riding Spirits II in a separate item, but first we'd like to pat Capcom on the back, in fact hug them, and plant strawberry kisses on their sainted cheeks for daring to take a chance on Way of the Samurai 2, the sequel to a critically and commercially unsuccessful game that we've always maintained had plenty of value.
Way of the Samurai, for those who missed it (and that's 99.9 per cent of you, sadly) was set over three days and concerned a wandering ronin's passage through the mountainside town of Rokkotsu Pass. It was a simple-looking third-person action affair - easily dismissed as twaddle with a pretty ropey game engine, some occasionally shocking graphics and sound, and a story that meandered before being terminated completely in the event of death.
However it was actually a rather clever threaded narrative that branched in various directions depending on your actions. More than just whether you said "Yes" or "No" in a particular dialogue tree, characters would react to you differently depending on your behaviour as well as dialogue, and most importantly in turn this affected your options. Engaging in grisly missions would leave the gentle townsfolk cold, unwilling to help when things went wrong, and refusing to pay the blacksmith and then slaughtering him mercilessly when he took up arms meant no sword upgrades.
The combat was also an interesting flavour, although slightly dotty AI and identikit enemies sometimes spoilt the broth. The trick was to fight unpredictably, drawing on all aspects of your character's repertoire. With repetition and practice, combos would grow out of the basic moveset and establish themselves as key components in battle. Similarly, sticking to one particular easy move would soon render it almost useless, quickly gnawing your blade down to little more than a metal rule, and leaving you no match for an accomplished enemy.
Though deliberately brief to encourage players to repeat the game in different ways, along with some niggling flaws Way of the Samurai pretty much sank Eidos' Fresh Games label (along with the bonkers duo of Mad Maestro and Mr. Moskeeto). Poor reviews, zero word of mouth, scant marketing, and a suspicion that the games were overpriced at 40 bob didn't help. And yet we still liked it. And dammit we still do like it, so gawd bless Capcom.
The second path
And wish them luck, too, because Way of the Samurai 2 sounds very similar to its predecessor. Obviously the setting has been shifted from Rokkotsu Pass - this time to a town called Amahara on the island of Dejima at the end of the Edo period in 19th Century feudal Japan. Here the honest, hard-working citizens are being struck down unjustly after a policy shift within the powerful Magistrate's office, and the local 'Aoto gang' has turned to spreading tyranny and fear following the loss of its leader.
Into this bubbling cauldron the player is once again thrust as a lone samurai. This time he'll spend ten days in the region, and instead of just taking his swordplay in different directions he'll actually be able to study one of three specific styles: twin blade, quick slash and 'kodachi', a sort of acrobatic ninja technique. Combining special moves with the basic hacking and slashing is said to yield upward of 400 unique attacks, and parrying and blocking should play a bigger part too, with well-timed moves helping the player retain his balance and salvage momentum, while poorly timed ones will send him backward or even break the blade.
Thankfully Way of the Samurai's Western problems haven't put Acquire off the dynamic storyline, with the player's conduct continuing to cut his own path through the game - whether he sides with the townfolks, the Aoto or the Magistrates, he's going to have to make some difficult decisions that will forever brand him one way or another, and we're told there are four actual plot paths that thread this way and that depending on his actions. The game seems to begin with an encounter with a young girl, who the player can presumably help, hinder or slaughter in much the same way he did at the start of the first game on a bridge outside Rokkotsu Pass.
Obviously we'd anticipate a similar structure beyond that to the original, and as early screenshots demonstrate, Acquire has more or less built on top of its previous game - shots indicate a more detailed version of what came before, with similar character models, level architecture and combat stances, and while that does mean sharp angular figures and identikit enemies are already evident, with a bit of spit and polish it could well do a lot better than its predecessor.
Whatever the outcome, we'll be paying it close attention.