Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-84046-732-0
Fantasy, 2006 (Reissue)
Sword of the Samurai could be considered a prelude to Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson’s The Way of the Tiger series. Set in the land of Hachiman, which is modeled after feudal Japan, this one is steeped in Japanese folklore given the Titan twist. Just like the gamebooks in The Way of the Tiger series, be prepared to have a fiendishly tough time in this campaign.
You are Shogun Kihei’s most capable samurai. The land is in anarchy ever since the Shogun’s legendary dai-katana, Singing Death, was stolen by the fiend Ikiru, the Master of Shadows who wants to – what else? – take over the land. Without Singing Death, your Shogun’s authority is now challenged by all kinds of ambitious upstarts wanting to usurp his throne. Therefore, it is up to you to seek out Ikiru’s lair, the Pit of Demons, slay that fiend, and retrieve Singing Death. You do this alone, of course, because it’s obviously much cooler for a hero to tackle insurmountable odds alone.
Early on, you will be given an option of two paths to take to the Pit of Demons, and each path is filled with dangers and sudden deaths. One is more straightforward, the other is more challenging and perilous with sudden deaths galore, and I find both enjoyable, with the more perilous one being a little more memorable than the straightforward one. Both paths require you to collect at least two out of three necessary special items if you want to reach Ikiru in one piece, and it’s going to be a tough one either way. There are some opponents with very high stats here as well.
But reaching the end of the campaign is a most rewarding one. The setting for this book is fabulous. There are so many chilling and memorable scenes, I don’t know which is my favorite. A village full of undead monsters is probably my favorite encounter, although getting out of there alive is always a challenge. A tournament that requires you to recruit allies from various planes is one of the most memorable scenarios I’ve read in this series.
The combat system allows you to choose two out of a few skills available. Unfortunately, some skills are obviously more useful than others, so this doesn’t allow for much experimental mixing and matching. There is also the Honor point system. After all, samurais are stupid good, I mean, lawful good types so you can’t exactly run around lopping off peasants’ heads even if they are irritating gits. And yes, you need a considerable amount of Honor points to defeat Ikiru, so have fun. If your Honor score drops to zero, you will be directed to an entry where you will commit ritual suicide.
Sword of the Samurai is a tough, sometimes frustrating, campaign. But I find that the story and the challenge itself enjoyable. This is not like a Jonathan Green gamebook where the obscene difficulty is introduced because the author is a sadistic DM – this one manages to be tough yet fun. It’s not always easy for a gamebook to be both, but this one manages to do just that.