Like its predecessor, Way of the Samurai 2 depicts a fascinating period of history in a unique fashion. In the game, you play as a masterless samurai looking to make ends meet in 19th-century Japan, at a time when the samurai caste was coming to an end, thanks to a social upheaval brought on by Japanese encounters with Western civilization and other factors. This third-person action adventure game lets you forge your own destiny in that chaotic time period as you take sides with a number of different factions, each looking after its own interests, in a small Japanese town. The game has an open-ended structure and more than 10 different endings, depending on the decisions that you make along the way. However, as interesting as Way of the Samurai 2 may sound, the concept of the game isn't well executed, resulting in an awkwardly paced experience that will only be appreciated by patient players willing to look past a variety of flaws.
Way of the Samurai 2 casts you as a ronin looking to make ends meet in the 19th-century Japanese town of Amahara.
No previous experience with the first Way of the Samurai game is expected from those who play the sequel, which essentially revisits the same material as the first game, but in a new setting and with a slightly different gameplay structure. The game takes place entirely in the small town of Amahara, which in gameplay terms consists of 10 very small areas that you're free to explore in any order. Though the story can branch off into various different directions, it always begins the same way, with your half-starved samurai character encountering a mute girl at the gates of Amahara. The girl gives you some food, but no sooner are you back on your feet than you run into a trio of strangely dressed ruffians. At points during the dialogue with these characters, you'll be prompted to respond with one of several different options--and your choices will set the story in motion. You then basically get to explore Amahara for about 10 days of game time. You may affiliate yourself with a powerful local gang; join the magistrates, which is the police force of Amahara; try to help out the little girl you met, and Amahara's other townspeople; and various other options. You may be surprised at how free-form the gameplay of Way of the Samurai 2 actually is.
Unfortunately, it's too free-form. The problem is partly that the game gives you too little direction about what to do or where to go at any given point and partly that Way of the Samurai 2's English translation is very uneven, which results in situations where you're forced to make very important decisions by choosing from dialogue options that make little sense. Gameplay ends up being less about choosing your own adventure and more about pure guesswork. Unless you go through the game with a walk-through that specifically tells you how to proceed at specific instances, you'll be left pointlessly wandering from one part of Amahara to another, wondering where the action is. This is a shame, because if Way of the Samurai 2 marked the map with places of interest, or provided you with a decent to-do list to keep track of your tasks, the game would have seemed a lot more coherent. As it stands, the game's open-ended structure is simply confusing. You never truly feel the passage of time or a sense of scale as you look for something to do in Amahara.
You can drastically change the course of the storyline depending on the choices you make. Too bad the quality of the game itself is stuck at a middling level.
Don't take the lack of linearity in Way of the Samurai 2's gameplay to mean that there are a lot of different types of activities in the game, because there really aren't. Story-driven missions typically involve fighting someone, and the combat is the most fully developed aspect of the game. Other odd jobs may send you off to find abandoned babies or go looking for missing characters to try to convince them to return from whence they came, but these mission types are where the game's translation is at its absolute worst--you either won't know where to go or won't know what to say, and if you fail, then all you can do is sleep off the rest of the day (if you can remember which of the city's regions your home is in) and try again the next day. There's some other stuff to do in the game, like shopping for goods in various stores or getting your sword augmented by the local blacksmith. But these types of activities almost seem like distractions in hindsight. You can reach one of the game's different endings in only about an hour of play if you know what you're doing, or things can drag on for much longer than that if you don't.
It's true that part of the game's appeal lies in going through Amahara at your own pace and uncovering the different, possible outcomes. But even the game's replay value is limited, since the frequent story-driven cutscenes cannot be skipped, though at least you can fast-forward through the dialogue. For what it's worth, Way of the Samurai 2 does have multiple difficulty settings (which affect the strength of your opponents in combat), lots of different swords for you to collect and use, and different outfits and other trinkets to unlock, so there's a good amount of content to discover, which partly makes up for the game's short length.