The noble samurai is one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. Originating as a dedicated military caste under the Kamakura Shogunate in the 12th century AD, the samurai were to become a dominant force in Japan’s military, political and cultural history for the next 700 years until disbanded after the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. Even after they were rendered obsolete by modern weapons, samurai remained fixtures in Japanese popular culture, which continues to this day.
This has resulted in countless depictions in books, TV series, anime, movies and of course video games. The medium of video games is no stranger to these warriors from the land of the rising sun with many well-known and famous titles such as Ghosts of Tsushimaand Samurai Shodown. But while many of these games are fondly remembered, many have unfortunately been lost in the mists of time. This list will go over some of the more notable examples of forgotten samurai games.
8/8 Samurai (Arcade Game)
Probably the first samurai game ever made, Samurai is an arcade game released by Sega in 1980 for their VIC Dual arcade hardware. This game has players taking control of a samurai and fighting off waves of opponents while dodging projectiles. Like most games of this era, the action takes place almost entirely on a single screen with the goal of surviving as long as possible and achieving a high score.
However, this is a surprisingly deep game for the time it was created, requiring careful positioning and spatial awareness for the player to safely take out opponents. All in all, a simple but fun game, worth checking out for those who can appreciate old school arcade games.
7/8 The sword of the samurai
The sword of the samurai is a historical action RPG and strategy game set in the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period) of Japanese history. The game was something of a spiritual successor to Sid Meier’s Pirates and features similar mechanics, but instead of playing as a floating pirate, players must instead take on the role of a feudal samurai.
Although the game has plenty of action in the form of duels and leading armies into battle, what makes this game special is how it completely immerses players into their roles. Players are encouraged to follow Bushido’s code as they try to advance within the daimyo’s court, with potentially disastrous consequences for infamy. A true classic in early home computing, The sword of the samurai is a must play for anyone who has ever dreamed of living the life of a feudal warlord.
An early computer role-playing game released in 1987, Deathlord takes place in a fantasy world strongly inspired by feudal Japan. This game combines overworld exploration of games like Ultimatewith dungeon crawling and battle off Magic.
Another thing this game took away Magic is its extreme difficulty, Deathlord is notorious among old RPG players for its hardcore challenge. This is partly due to the game’s harsh perma-death system that only allows players one save file and auto-saves regularly. Despite this, the game is still excellent, with a massive (for now) open world and an epic quest.
5/8 The Way of the Samurai
A rare example of a Western-style RPG made in Japan, Way of the Samurai can best be considered a samurai theme Deus Ex. The game takes place at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration era and has players taking on the role of a wandering Ronin who stumbles into a remote village caught in a conflict between several warring factions.
From there, the player is given almost complete freedom, they can side with and complete missions for any of the factions or none of them, and doing so determines the course of the story. Players can customize and role-play their samurai however they want. An overall excellent title that is a real hidden gem of the PS2’s library, Way of the Samurai has been criminally overlooked, but at least managed to garner enough of a cult following to garner three additional sequels.
4/8 Shinsetsu Samurai Spirits Bushido Retsuden
Most fighting game fans are probably at least casually familiar with SNKs Samurai Shodown series (Samurai Spirits in Japan). However, most likely don’t know that the series actually received a Japan-only RPG spinoff. The game was originally released for the Neo Geo CD, PlayStation 1 and Sega Saturn.
The game mostly plays like a traditional JRPG, but with a few interesting wrinkles. Firstly, the player is able to choose their starting character which changes how certain story scenes play out. It is also possible to perform special moves using inputs from fighting games as opposed to selecting them from a menu. Overall, a pretty solid effort, especially from a developer not known for making RPGs. For those who cannot read Japanese, there is fortunately a fan translation in progress.
3/8 Onimusha tactics
The Onimusha series is one of Capcom’s most beloved from the PS2 era. But while its console entries are well-known, few remember the tactical RPG spinoff released for the Game Boy Advance. The game clearly takes a lot of influence from Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogrebut unfortunately not quite as good as the classics.
still, Onimusha tactics is a pretty solid entry into the genre, with plenty of fun tactical battles for players to sink their teeth into. The story is pretty basic, drawing from the series’ history. The game also manages to weave in mechanics from the console titles and adapt them to the new genre. All in all, a decent game that should satisfy most fans of the series, but may leave more experienced strategy players feeling a little lost.
2/8 Bushido blade
One of the most unique fighting games ever made, Bushido blade was the result of Square Soft at the peak of its creativity during the PlayStation 1 era. The massive change that this game made to the fighting game formula was to get rid of the lifebar and instead implement a realistic system for dealing damage. This means that it is possible to kill an opponent with one well-placed blow, and attacks on a player’s limbs had the potential to severely limit a fighter’s mobility. This resulted in extremely tense matches which were severely punished with spanking.
While an excellent game that managed to gain a hardcore cult following, Bushido blade Unfortunately, it never managed to make much of an impact on gameplay. It got a single sequel, and a spiritual successor, but was otherwise quickly forgotten by most of the gaming community.
1/8 Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman
A hidden gem in the original Playstation library, Rising Zan: The Samurai Gunman can best be described as an early predecessor to weird hack-and-slash games like No more heroes. Players take control of the titular hero, a gunslinger in the Wild West who decided to study Bushido’s ways to fight evil.
The game’s tone is very tongue-in-cheek, with even a cartoonish Saturday morning theme song. The game combines high-speed hack-and-slash action with third-person shooting. Unfortunately, the game was released before many genre conventions had been established, and as a result it can be difficult to learn for those used to more modern games. Still, those who can adapt to the game’s steep learning curve will find a unique and rewarding title that was very forward-thinking for its time.
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