You'd think that a game that mixes Resident Evil-style pre-rendered backdrops with a few of the gameplay elements from Tenchu and Bushido Blade would be something special, but Konami's Soul of the Samurai manages to come up short, despite all the developers' hard work. Not even the feudal Japanese setting that seems to be all the rage these days can save this one from itself. But strangely enough, if you're looking for something to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon, it's not all that bad.
The story tries really hard to grab your attention with some stuff about lost gold, a missing sibling, and a creepy, corrupt lord, but the dialogue is soap opera/action movie tripe; and even the whole "demon possession" thing seems as if it were added as an afterthought. It's like a "B" grade version of Resident Evil, which was itself a homage of sorts to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, and of course, whenever you copy a copy, it loses something in the translation.
Players can take on the role of either a male Ronin, or a female Ninja, and play through both scenarios in order to get the whole story. Each character has different weapons and a whole lot of moves, but they both control a bit stiffly, and fighting more than one enemy is a bit of a chore, especially if they're on either side of you. You'll also want to use the Analog stick for this one, as the standard D-pad is really horrible when you need to run, and you find yourself doing a lot of running in this game! There's little strategy to most of the battles, just get close enough to combo the enemy, block when he attacks, and swing away. Once in a while, you'll get lucky and do a special move, then watch as the backgrounds just disappear and you do your thing against a black background, like some old Sega Genesis shooters! Very strange, indeed.
Speaking of strange, the pre-rendered backgrounds are nice, but very dull-colored and there isn't much in the way of interaction with them. This isn't such a good thing, as there's practically no open areas in the game, so you feel as if you're either on a track, or running into dead ends rather than exploring the game world. Another thing is that except for a few major characters, the NPCs (non-player characters) in the game aren't exactly fountains of conversation, offering up stuff about headaches, and places you shouldn't go. The characters in the game suffer from some first generation flaws, like chunky textures, and seams galore, which wouldn't be so bad, if the game was more fun. Uep Systems' Rising Zan has some of the same problems, but the overall excellent gameplay and humor in this particular game make up for whatever flaws it has.
As I was playing Soul of the Samurai, I tried to think of just what type of gamer this one was made for. The story isn't as absorbing as it should be, thanks to the way too generic presentation, and the action scenes are not very exciting, despite all the button mashing. It's really hard to say something bad about Soul of the Samurai, because the developers obviously spent some time putting this one together. The main problem is that the end result is so average, and these days that's just not good enough. Perhaps Capcom's upcoming samurai/horror adventure, Onimusha, will be a lot more focused than this one.
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