The arrival of European sailors on Japanese shores ushered in a strange and turbulent period in Japanese history. The clash of cultures gave rise to radical xenophobes, scheming magistrates, and unscrupulous traders, all of whom you have the chance to ally yourself with in Way of the Samurai 4. You can also wear a tuxedo jacket and no pants, brandish a giant fish in combat, and be pursued through the forest by a dozen angry sumo wrestlers. Way of the Samurai 4 isn't so much a wacky adventure through these tumultuous times as it is a wacky sandbox that encourages you to live the same few days over and over again, taking different paths, forging different alliances, and experiencing different kinds of sex torture. Though the combat is clunky, the mechanics are dull, and the visuals are dated, there is plenty of goofy fun to be had in Way of the Samurai 4.
The key lies in the structure. The game spans just over four days, each divided into day, evening, and night. Each time period contains a few different events that allow you to further different story paths, like allying yourself with the shogunate to restore order, becoming an advocate for the foreigners, or joining a band of rebels. These events are mapped out in the menus, making it easy to follow the main storylines but also clueing you in to other significant events waiting to be discovered. Each story has enough goofy characters, overwrought dramatics, and strange occurrences to be entertaining most of the way through, and if you start to get bored, well, there are plenty of other things to do.
Talk to the folks in town and take random missions for cash. Dress outlandishly and make every cutscene a ridiculous farce. Beat up thugs and make them join your dojo. Eat some sushi, refuse to pay, and flee from the cops. Flirt with women, infiltrate their bedrooms, knock out all the competing suitors, and then whack your date until her clothes come off. Go fishing. Forge a new weapon at the smithy. Chat with Melinda Megamelons or the King of the Homeless. Jump-kick random passersby in the head. Play a card game. Try to reunite a craftsman with his estranged apprentice. Or just hang out by the horse-drawn-wagon tracks and watch people get run over.
There's a lot of silliness and drama to discover in Way of the Samurai 4, and this helps stave off the dullness of sitting through frequent loading screens and running doggedly around the map. Much of your interaction with this irreverent world is through sparse dialogue trees and other menus. Perusing item descriptions and visiting different shops are the only ways to learn about all Way of the Samurai 4 has to offer, and even then, some elements are likely to elude you until repeated playthroughs.
When you're not scurrying all over town or navigating options, you're in combat. There are multiple fighting styles for the few different weapon types, but combat only makes use of light and heavy attacks, blocks, dodges, and a few combo maneuvers. Hit detection is irregular, so slashing and kicking your way through enemies feels haphazard. This makes combat less like a thrilling contest and more like a chore, though there is still some satisfaction in pummeling your foes silly.
Your first playthrough of Way of the Samurai 4 is disorienting, because the game doesn't do a great job of explaining all the systems at work. On subsequent adventures, however, you have a better idea of what you can do and can better focus on what you want to do. And even a few playthroughs in, there are still strange delights and new events to discover. Way of the Samurai 4 isn't the prettiest package, but for those with a taste for weirdness and a measure of patience, it's a gift that keeps on giving.