Samurai of Hyuga – Book 3 review.

So, after talking about book 2, and taking a look at the golden eyed wolf that makes the series’ main antagonist, we finally arrive at book 3. We may have taken way too long to get this point, and posted our analysis is a pretty odd order, but we’re finally here.

Once again, this review will contain spoilers for the previous books, and since this whole series is one I recommend heartily, it would be a disservice to the books if you spoiled yourself on them.

Also once again, we’ll be doing what we did with the variable character names in the last two posts, ie the main villain would be Jun/ko, and we’ll just ‘they/their/they’re’ etc, since their gender is defined by player input. I know it’s getting a little grating to have so frickin’ many /’s in these things, but just bear with me for now.

In any case, put on your thinking caps, gather some clues, and prepare to point out those contradictions, because our favourite Ronin has a murder to solve…

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So, in what’s quickly becoming a trend, we start off right where we left our ragtag bunch of heroes, though this time we’re already standing in front of a dead body rather than being afraid that one of our number is about to be made into one.

It’s all looking pretty dire: the chef has been carved up worst than the last guy who mildly unconvinced Jun/ko, and Hatch’s name has been written in blood next to the body in what looks suspiciously like a dying message from the victim. Hatch naturally claims that he had nothing to do with all of this, though the evidence is certainly stacked against him. The Baron, continuing his trend of being worryingly enthusiastic to disperse “justice,” proclaims that Hatch’s fate shall be decided in the evening, and that any who cares to defend the guy better start gathering evidence as quickly as possible. Thankfully, it appears that Toshie/io is something a mystery enthusiast, and is all ready to dive into this murder-mystery, to perhaps equally worrying enthusiasm. I guess everyone needs a hobby…

In any case, Toshie/io does acknowledge that they’re going to need some help on this one (they don’t say it, but it probably doesn’t help that they’ve been awake for nearly three days in a row at this point). Thus, in an effort to unlock the intelligence and smarts that lie within the Ronin, or at least utilise the sharp eyes that being a swords-master has given our vagabond main character, Toshie/io drags the Ronin into helping to solve the case.

So, with time ticking away, questions piling up, and the looming fact that they’re still stuck on a crazy island with what is most likely a powerful demon masquerading as a foreign baron, the Ronin is really going to have to pull out all the tricks up their sleeve to solve this dangerous mystery.

This is where we’re introduced to two new stats, the Ronin’s ‘Observation’ and ‘Deduction’ rating. These stats are exactly what they say on the tin, namely how well you can spot clues and suspicious discrepancies and how well you can utilize these points to figure out just what the hell actually went down on the night of murder. Much like the other stats in the game, they become locked in after a certain point in the game; though unlike the other stats in the game this comes down to more straight right and wrong answers. Being a murder mystery with only one answer, it is fully possible to figure things out on your own as the clues start to add up, though thankfully the ‘case’ has enough twists and turns to keep it from being easy to puzzle out. A neat part about these starts is that they do factor into some minor points even after the mystery is inevitably solved: your Ronin will be able to spot smaller details and easily over-looked factors if your Observation is high enough at certain junctions, such as seeing that an opponent is holding their sword in a particularly odd fashion. Likewise, their guesses and assumptions become a lot more accurate if your Deduction skill is high enough, which can sometimes give a hint to what’s the best course of action. These moments aren’t super numerous, and are likely more to help add to the series’ already excellent sense of character/character customisation (ie, like the moments where your character is either ‘Impulsive’ or ‘Calculated’).

An even neater addition, however, is this book’s use of text-input for its mystery. There will be a couple of times where you are prompted to enter a word into a text box so the Ronin can focus their attention to that particular factor of the crime scene/a testimony. The fact that you have to enter some text seems fairly simple on the surface, but the fact that you have to actually make a judgement on something in the current scene rather than just choose from a selection of options means you do in fact have to pay a fair bit more attention to the description of a scene. This helps to sell the idea that the Ronin is having to actually put some thought into their actions, while before it was kind of assumed from their characterisation that the choices you were making was more of a natural instinct/response. In addition, the extra level of thought necessary definitely helps to put you in the right mind-set to solve the crazy murder mystery that’s going on, and it is indeed satisfying to unravel the truth. While I think there’s still maybe a little bit of wiggle room for improvement, such as making even ‘wrong’ words still prompt some text or thoughts for extra fluff/Easter Egg potential, it sounds like the game’s creator had quite a bit of a struggle to get this feature to work properly. To that end, the fact that the text-input works as well as it does is probably cause enough for celebration, and I’m hesitant to ask for more from this section. The text-input feature can be turned off at the start of the book to make things easier, but it’s not too difficult to figure out what words they’re trying to nudge you towards (or at least it can’t be too difficult if I can figure it out, ha). To that end, I’d recommend keeping it on; after the mystery section of the game is concluded, the mechanic doesn’t show up again for the rest of the book, thus it doesn’t feel like the text-input outstays it’s welcome either.

I actually quite like the idea that the Ronin is going to be slowly accumulating new types of stats/skills as the series progresses, as a sort of show of how they’re growing as a character throughout their journey. That being said, there is a possibility that the stats were more just made in relation to the mystery element that takes up the first third of the book, and might be erased come the fourth book in the series. I’m hoping that won’t be the case, since it’d be a shame to throw away potentially fun mechanics to work with in the future, but the series is kind already juggling all of the other stats already.

Speaking of juggling, let’s talk about the book’s pacing. In a complete contrast to Book 2, the pace of this book is unrelenting. We only rarely linger in any situation/area before we push onward, and thus we keep a much tighter focus on the main quest. Indeed, we really burn through quite a lot of ground in our journey: we manage to get around to slaying two demons in this book, thus putting us back ‘on track’ (ie, three books = three dead demons out of the six). Whether this means we’ll be killing a demon a book or alternating between killing none and killing a few in the future is currently unclear, especially since Jun/ko kind of muddies the water. Regardless, this faster pace does mean this book dodges some of the problems that weighed on the previous book: the characters feel like they’re much more focused on the goal in front of them, and are actively trying to plan for the inevitable clashes. Likewise, the demon/s of this book are much more ‘visible,’ both in how much of an evil presence they’re creating on the land, and how much of a problem it’s going to be to deal with them. Because of this the book definitely feels like it has a pretty strong villain presence, and creates some pretty good scenes with its villains being closer to the forefront (hell, even Jun/ko manages to get a few good scenes, despite being mostly absent for the book). All of this adds up to make the Ronin’s quest have a good sense of tension and progress, and leaves us firmly on the next step of the ladder for the journey.

This does come with a pretty clear downside, however. Because of the relentless pace, we often speed past potentially interesting side-characters, and even members of the main party have their sub-plots moved at a fairly rapid pace to make sure they aren’t left behind. Don’t get me wrong, the book is making time for the characters and sub-plots; Hatch in particular has some real growth as a character, and we get to see the Ronin connect with members of the party in some pretty neat ways. However, these moments feel fleeting, like the ideas and scenarios aren’t being given enough room to breathe properly because we’re trying to keep up a pretty quick pace in the main story (ie, slaying the demons  + the Ronin’s personal development). For example, while Hatch’s sub-plot and the new side characters are given a fair number of scenes, we kind of speed right into them and then right back out, leaving the sub-plots feeling somewhat quickly placed rather than feeling organic. It feels especially noticeable since the previous book had a such a steady and sure (if slow) pace that this sudden burst of speed kind of leaves me reeling a bit.

Another slightly questionable route the book takes is in the romance department, which would kind of make it the second time I’ve been a little unsure of the romantic stuff in the books. I previously mentioned that book 2 had a little bit of an issue with balancing Momoko’s sub-plots with the overall slower pace of the previous book, and I think a sizable contributing factor was that (if your Ronin was attracted to women), it felt like the connection between her and the Ronin came on a little too quick. It’s understandable from the angle that Momoko seems to have fallen for the Ronin’s kind of dashing (if rough around the edges) charm, and is confusing the attraction she feels for something deeper, something that a few lines from the Ronin allude to. The issues started to crop when the Ronin, who hadn’t expressed much more than just appreciation for the woman’s…err, physical “assets” seems to be kind of not against the idea. This would be fine if the player had a little more input in the early stages of this development, but you didn’t really have much of a say of the matter until you were already in the hotel room with her. It made the sub-plot feel like it was forcing you down a particular route, and while it was necessary (for Hatch’s revelation at the end of the second book), it still felt like the balance was a little rocky.

I bring this all up because the new romance feels like it has a couple of shades of the problem from the last book, though perhaps not as intensely. I won’t spoil who the potential love interest is for this leg of the journey, but I will admit that I kind of buy the idea of a relationship between them and the Ronin slightly more than I did Momoko. The main point is that, while this potential romance is slightly more likely, there is still this kind of odd pacing. It feels like the romances kind of starts too abruptly, which makes the entire premise of a relationship feel like it comes out of no-where. Like, the character in question was indeed starting to grow fairly close to the Ronin, and in return the Ronin was starting to open up a little more, but it feels like there should have been a slightly more clear transition when these feelings were starting to turn towards romance.

Still, these are only a few negative points, and a lot of the scenes aren’t mandatory. The book still has a lot of new and interesting mechanics, continues to have some excellent twists and turns in the story, and the characters continue to be both highly entertaining and highly endearing. Likewise, it manages to put the Ronin in quite a few situations where they can show off several unexpected character traits, and brings some insight into what exactly makes the character tick.

So, overall: I still had a really good time with the book, and seeing the continuing growth of both the main character and the side characters is satisfying to watch. However, I kind of feel that Devon Connell (the series’ writer/creator) has a type of writing style that stands out strongest when he lets the scenes and ideas breathe a little more. I’ve said before that I had a lot of admiration for how Connell can mix in both humour and drama extremely close together without either side feeling forced, and the writing continues to be pretty damn excellent. I just kind of hope we can afford to slow down a little in the future, and let the Ronin’s journey select its own pace.

Not that there’s much cause for conern, though. Afterall, regardless of how fast we’re moving or how many mysteries we have to unravel, you’re still the toughest Ronin around.

[Thanks as always for stoping by! The next post will be our usual spoiler-talk, which will cover some of the spoilers from all three books in some more detail. I except that will have to have another spoiler-talk in the future when more instalments come out, but we’ll see. On that note, we’ve been missing the next upload after the spoiler-talk, since there will be some stuff I’ll be taking care of. Hopefully we’ll get back to normal soon after, though.]

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