Mangling a masterpiece.
Back in the 1950's, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa put together the simple story of a ragtag samurai band coming together to defend a small village from bandit attack. Little did anyone know that this film would go on to become the most beloved samurai film of all time, a harrowing tale of courage featuring fantastic performances from an amazing cast and the standard by which nearly every action epic that followed would be judged. It's no wonder that Seven Samurai still continues to captivate audiences five decades after its release.
Caught up in this classic samurai spell are Dimps and Sammy Studios, who last year announced that they be bringing the original magnificent seven to the video game world. Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat with thoughts of finally being able to step into the zori of Kikuchiyo, Kambei, or one of the other samurai to kick some bandit ass. Sure, some elements of the film would probably be tweaked for gameplay purposes, but how different could it be?
Famous last words. When I finally got a chance to see the game in person at E3, I was greeted by a big spiky-haired dude in orange plastic pants with tribal tattoos fighting a skinny kid who looked like a leftover from a Final Fantasy casting call. Where were the terrified villagers? The evil bandits? The greatest samurai heroes ever? Not here, that's for sure. Taking some serious artistic license, the developers dropped the seven samurai into the future, hence the title, Seven Samurai 20XX. Was I sad? You bet, but it could still be a good game, right? Wrong.
The story behind Seven Samurai 20XX is vaguely familiar at best. A young warrior named Natoe is minding his own business when he happens to run into a small group of villagers and a young girl being attacked by angry humanoid robots. Later on, they meet again, only this time they are accompanied by an elderly samurai named Kambei (the only one of the "original" seven to make it into 20XX). Natoe reluctantly ends up joining this party, which apparently is looking for samurai to defend a village somewhere from these very same robots. It all goes downhill from there as the story goes from bad to worse, trying to tie in all kinds of skewed plotlines with the original story. The new plot "surprise" is even given away in the instruction manual. Though fans of the film will enjoy the scenes adapted from the original, it only serves to underline, bold and italicize just how convoluted and disorganized this new story turns out to be.
Even the roughest of plot problems can be forgotten with great gameplay, but this wish goes unfulfilled as well. Seven Samurai 20XX will test the quality of your controller thanks to extreme button mashing. There are three action buttons to pound on: attack, block and avoid. This might not be so bad if the block button wasn't virtually useless and the avoid button mostly unnecessary; enemies are so easy to dispatch, you just need to pound that attack button "til the last one falls.
The inclusion of a two-bladed super attack makes things a little more interesting. By following some timing rules, you can perform "Just' attacks that increase the amount of time you can use two swords at once. Unfortunately, the enemies don't put up much of a fight in the first place, so you never really need the Just attacks. The pause menu shows plenty of different sword techniques, but since carving up enemies with Ye Olde Buttone Mashe is easier than opening a can of spam, why go through the trouble?
Surprisingly enough, you won't get to take control of any other samurai besides Natoe, nor will you get to fight alongside them. Ahem"SEVEN Samurai! It's right there in the title. The inability to really interact with or play as the other samurai is a mind-boggling design choice.
The flow of the game doesn't help things, either. Cutscene, group of enemies, load screen, new group of enemies, load screen, repeat. I'm not kidding. The game is linear, so you just whoop on some bad guys in order to enter a new closed off area where a bunch of enemies will pop up and asked to be whooped. Five seconds later, when you've completed the latest whooping, you'll take a couple of steps forward and be treated to a new load screen and group of bad guys. More whooping! Later in the game, you enter a fairly large city with no help in finding out where to go besides a flashing green arrow. And yes, the enemies and load screens are still here. This kind of game design doesn't float anymore; I've seen better performance in beat "em ups that came out 10 years ago.
So the story and gameplay fall flat, but part of what made the Seven Samurai film so incredible was its revolutionary cinematography. Does Seven Samurai 20XX at least excel in its look? Nope - the streak continues. Seven Samurai 20XX's visual style is pretty much standard issue anime schlock set against bland, lifeless environments. Overwrought lighting and particle effects dazzle for a moment or two, but also lead to serious slowdown.
At least the sound isn't half bad. The voice acting is also pretty good with decent performances all around, and the music tracks fit the bill. I have issues with the incessant guitar riffs that play whenever you yank out your sword, but in the big picture, this is a small potato.
The only things that 20XX has going for it are some cinematic fight scenes and a few sweeping 360 degree camera angles. If you bother trying to learn some of Natoe's nifty moves, you'll be treated to a veritable ballet of swordplay. Of course, the slowdown combined with the excessive explosion/flash effects can obscure your character from sight, which can suck.
With so many problems, Seven Samurai 20XX winds up as merely another great idea turned into a bad game. Aside from the whole neo-samurai shtick and an adapted scene here and there, there isn't any reason this game should carry the Seven Samurai name at all. That being said, Seven Samurai 20XX fails in its duty to provide quality gaming entertainment regardless of its ties with the film. It looks like the only way this warrior can regain his honor is by committing seppuku.