Retro review! (Kind of) Samurai of Hyuga

So, we missed our Sunday deadline yesterday, and (even worse) the Yakuza 0 review STILL isn’t finished. The latter point is more because I’m hoping to finish off the game in it’s totality before reviewing, thus proving what blood massive hypocrite I am. In the mean time, here’s a odd thing: a retro review in the sense that the review is old, and not so much the game. It’s for a text based adventure called ‘Samurai Of Hyuga,’ and was written more as exercise than anything else. Due to it’s age, it’s not a great reflection of my current writing, and needed to be touched up a heck of lot, but what the hell. I was reminded of the game it was based on recently, and I thought it would interesting to post some older writing material. So without further ado, here’s the review:

Review: Samurai of Hyuga (Part 1)

I’ve always been a big fan of “Choice Of Games,” a game hosting service that make text based games exclusively, for those who don’t know.
In the eternal debate surrounding the need of story and narrative in video games, I’ve always been of the mind that having a cohesive story was important. Even if the gameplay is the most fun thing in the world, having a context that justifies that gameplay never went amiss. There are hundreds of games where I can kill zombies, but the Walking Dead stands as a game where I actually care about the people doing the zombie killing. This is not saying that every game NEEDS a complex tale filled with depth, nor does it mean that games that lack it hold any less value. Like a lot of things, this is more a matter of preference.
But with that preference in mind, you can probably see why I’m eager to latch onto text based adventures; especially Choice of Game’s extremely character focused ones. These games literally live or die by their story, since it’s the main feature. Rather than simply being the thing that justifies the core gameplay, the narrative and story ARE the core gameplay, and this all while retaining player control and agency.
These games come in many themes, shapes and sizes, but we’ll be focusing on just one for now: Samurai of Hyuga.
As I said before, Choice of Games is more of a game hosting platform rather than a developer. Due to the fact that a little code knowledge (and maybe not even that) is the only technical know-how you need, most entries into their catalogue were made primarily by singular people, editing notwithstanding.
Samurai of Hyuga therefore is the brainchild of Devon Connell, aka MultipleChoice. Connell’s writing style is very character based: while the settings and circumstances are interesting and well made, the most fun I had through SoH were the interactions between the characters and how they bounced off each other. His writing also lends itself very well to a balanced humour and drama tone, with light-hearted descriptions and jokes being effectively used to punctuate moments of seriousness and actual threat.

That established, onto the ratings:

Gameplay: Good level of variety, with plenty of customisation and a good few paths
I said before that the characters are one of the game’s strongest points; I feel like I should add that YOU are part of the equation, both as a character and a player. While certain elements are understandably set for plot reasons (your character’s past will always involve the betrayal of their master, and their life as a killer), this actually works in the game’s favour, seeing as you can’t change the past. One of the ongoing themes of the game is how much you let your inner demon, the part of you that craves bloodshed, has control. Whether your character is a bloodthirsty monster or a sorry soul who’s simply trying to recover from a past they regret is up to you, and each path brings a good deal of drama and character development. It’s also worth mentioning that you can play as either gender and either as gay or straight etc etc. (I mention this off headedly because this is largely a staple of the Choice of Games character creation, so it’s not as surprising as it would have been in most other platforms).
In a more simple fashion, there’s also a great deal of different ways you play in terms of attitude. Do you want to play as a stoic, emotionally distant swordsman with a steady hand? That’s perfectly possible. Do you want to play as perverted, lesbian ronin who’s highly protective of those close to her? Also perfectly possible (no points for guessing which one I picked). These options really let you craft what kind of character you want to make, and nearly every option feels like it makes perfect sense with the pre-established back-story.
This is, however, one of the issues I have with the game. The beginning of the game has you craft your character in an organic fashion: the choices you make effect the stats which you’ll have locked for largely the rest of the game. This is much smoother than just asking you to allocate them, and I’m glad it’s there, but sometimes the actual choices don’t seem to match up with stats. Some are pretty clear: any expression of worry or care for your companions will raise the ‘Protective’ stat, any lecherous motive or comment will raise the ‘Perverted’ stat* and so on. However, there are moments where it isn’t clear which stat is being appealed to, mostly in conversation pieces. There are one or two instances where being unable to hear the tone of voice means that you might accidently click on the Charming option when you meant the Protective one.
While this is an issue, it is thankfully pretty rare, and thus not much of a problem.

*This game wins the award of being one of the handful where being perverted is actually a mechanic.

Aesthetics/sound and music: Imagination out of ten.
                In Choice of Game’s own words: “It’s entirely text-based–without graphics or sound effects–and fuelled by the vast, unstoppable power of your imagination.” That more or less sums up why judging this game by these areas is kind of hard to do. By all accounts, this game (and others like it) has the greatest graphics seen to humankind, since they’re perfectly tailor made to each individual. That being said, we can comment on the descriptive writing.
The game does a pretty good job of writing in descriptions of the areas and characters without getting too bogged down in the details, and creates some interesting areas and settings. That being said, it does sometimes feel like the effort to accomdate the player’s interpretations might weaken it slightly: there’s one character who is definitely younger than the main protagonist, but how much younger (and thus whether they’re referring to them as a ‘kid’ in the teen sense or the child sense) is never clarified. This is most likely to allow the player to interpret the player character’s age to a certain extent, but that sometimes leaves the descriptions of both characters wanting.

Story and narrative: The tale of a ronin finding inhuman enemies, as well as finding themselves.
The setting of SoH is pretty intriguing. Based in feudal Japan, there’s clearly been a fair amount of work to make the experience authentic as possible, with the various ceremonies and locations all having their proper names and motions. However this realism is sharing space with effectively spliced fantastical elements: magic is very much real in this world (one of the core characters is basically a pint-sized mage), but is realistically cordoned off by the government. Demons and spirit animals exist, but are so rarely seen that they’ve become almost like the folklore of real life. This odd balance of fantasy and reality gives the game its own pleasant vibe, and successfully keeps one from guessing what’s going to happen next.
You play as a ronin, a master-less samurai, who succeeds in being the most badass swordsman/woman in the land while also being the most washed up. By the time you take control of the character, your ronin has spent far too much time getting wasted off cheap drinks and drifting from place to place. By an as yet undisclosed method, you find yourself in a ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ situation (props to anyone who gets that reference), namely that you’re travelling with a child who has no place next to the bloodshed that follows you. Only instead of the love of a father to his son, you have a loveably pouty kid mage with you, who is kind of one of the main characters. Some people are going to hate this character, who’s a know it all book worm, but ultimately they mean well and act as a moral compass for your jaded ronin. Regardless of whether you love this character or hate them, they act importantly as a naïve and good hearted person, a strong contrast to your character who sees the world in a far more dim light. I personally had great fun; seeing the interaction between a kid who’s read more than they’ve seen, and a ronin who’s seen too much creates an amusing and sometimes heart warming combo.
Without giving too much away (because for such a narrative focused game that can be a REALLY bad thing), the narrative is an engaging one that really lets you get a feeling for the world and characters. Early on, you’re given a definite goal that’s the main crux of your journey, but isn’t necessarily the focus; the characters participating in completing said goal is. Helping your character out, as well as opposing them, is a varied and dynamic cast, all with their own arcs to go through. With several twist to keep things interesting (some even from the player-character) and a fast pace that never falls into incoherency, the narrative succeeds in holding your interest from start to finish.

Conclusion:
Take note of the ‘Part 1’ in the title. As of the time of writing, Samurai of Hyuga is only up to part 2, and likewise won’t be seeing a part 3 for a very long time. I would heartily recommend getting this game even in its incomplete state, however.
Much like a lot of Connell’s other writing, Samurai of Hyuga knows how to deliver good jokes, good drama, and really good characters to fill out both of those things. It stays true to the feudal setting while also taking some interesting creative liberties.
Would I recommend this game to everyone? Not necessarily; some people don’t really like text adventure games, and that’s perfectly fine. However, would I recommend this to people who read good text adventure regularly, or want to get into text adventure games? Absolutely.

A charming and sometimes heart breaking tale, Samurai of Hyuga stands out as a great example of narrative focused text adventure.

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