UPDATE--Sammy Studios has confirmed that the North American version of Seven Samurai 20XX will feature brand-new dialogue and voiceover, despite the fact that the Japanese version of the game is already in English.
Early last year, Sammy Studios announced that it was working on a game based on Akira Kurosawa's legendary 1954 film, Seven Samurai, in collaboration with the late director's son. As if that news alone weren't surprising enough, when the game itself was actually shown for the first time at the Electronic Entertainment Expo last May, it turned out to have no obvious resemblance to the source material. Namely, the game was set in the future, and it featured anime-inspired hack-and-slash battles against armies of robots. Seven Samurai 20XX was recently released in Japan, and we picked up that version to take it for a test-drive. And, in short, the surprises haven't ceased.
First of all, let's get one thing straight--they should have called this game "Seven Samurai 2XXX." The "20XX" in the title suggests that the game takes place sometime later this century. But we think it's highly unlikely that armies of robots and werewolves will be stomping across the globe anytime in the next 95 years. No, it would take at least twice that many years.
Anyway: The good news is that Seven Samurai 20XX does, in fact, have something to do with the movie. Though players assume the role of Natoe, who's basically your prototypical cooler-and-skinnier-than-thou anime hero, he'll soon meet up with an elderly samurai warrior who clearly resembles Kambei Shimada, the protagonist of the movie Seven Samurai. In fact, one early scene with this character is a clear reference to Shimada's first appearance in the movie, in which he disguises himself as a monk to lure a hostage-holding bandit to drop his guard.
The story of Seven Samurai 20XX does seem to vaguely follow the premise of Seven Samurai, in that you'll end up helping some oppressed villagers against seemingly unstoppable odds...with the help of a small band of swordsmen. The game doesn't waste a lot of time with exposition but instead thrusts you straight into the hack-and-slash action from the very first level. In between cutting down droves of enemies, you'll get some in-engine 3D cutscenes that give some context to the proceedings.
The gameplay of Seven Samurai 20XX seems like a simplistic hack-and-slash affair at first. It's very easy to pick up and play, and Natoe does a fine job of automatically attacking whichever targets happen to be standing in the general direction of where you're pointing the left analog stick. Natoe can slash with his sword, deflect incoming blows (though you'll spend 99 percent of your time attacking rather than defending), and execute a dodge/somersault move. More importantly, by pressing the L1 and R1 buttons simultaneously, Natoe will draw his second sword and temporarily gain a boost in speed--in this state, he can cut down foes much more efficiently. He reverts back to the single-sword state after a while, but a few seconds later, the dual-wield option is ready for use once again.
The game's enemies aren't so smart, but they sure are plentiful. Relatively frequent battles against boss opponents let you shift your focus from dealing with hordes to dealing with a single, tough opponent. The game looks quite good--notably, the character concept art was devised by famed comic book artist Moebius. The frame rate slows down a bit from time to time, but the effect is more dramatic than annoying.
Seven Samurai 20XX also seems to have more depth than is initially apparent. Natoe gains statistical bonuses to his health and attack power between levels, but this depends on how well you did in the previous stage. Though you can easily button-mash your way through the action in this game (or at least what we've seen of it in the first several levels), you're rewarded for carefully timing your attacks and defensive moves. The action has a good, fast feel to it. We did find that things started to feel a bit repetitive, but hopefully new challenges and an engrossing story can keep things fresh.
Interestingly, all the dialogue and most of the text in Seven Samurai 20XX is already in English. As such, we'd figure that the North American version of the game wouldn't be much different when it ships about a month from now. However, a representative of Sammy Studios confirms that, in fact, there will be some changes: "We hired Marc Handler for dialogue translation--he's a screenwriter and English/Japanese translator who's written original scripts for shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transfomers, and did the translation for US releases of Metropolis and Cowboy Bebop. We also hired professional actors to re-do the voices."
To see new footage of Seven Samurai 20XX in action, check out our media section for the game.