Expectations ran high for Konami's Soul of the Samurai after Activision's Tenchu: Stealth Assassins popularized the notion of playing as a ninja within a 3D game world. But those looking for a ninja game of Tenchu's caliber will unfortunately have to keep on looking.
In fact, Soul of the Samurai has much more in common with Capcom's Resident Evil series than anything else. The premise sets you as one of two warriors (the masterless samurai Kotaro and female ninja Lin) who set out to stop an evil warlord from turning the local townsfolk into zombies for the undead army he plans to march against the shogun. The environments are made of static 3D backgrounds viewed from a preset, three-quarter overhead perspective. And instead of filing police reports RE-style - on a typewriter -to save your game, your character compiles a haiku. Seriously. The parallels are there, albeit, oddly through the looking glass.
The main problem with SOTS is the same one that Tenchu had: The combat is difficult because of the camera. While Tenchu makes up for the flaw by rewarding you for not getting into fights, SOTS requires you to battle. In fact, it demands so much hacking and slashing that it starts to feel like a mindless arcade-style beat 'em up like Eidos' Fighting Force. The control commands include jump, slash, guard, draw/put away weapon, and you use items like throwing stars and bombs. Special moves can be pulled off by executing various combinations of slash and guard while maneuvering the directional pad, but mashing on the attack button appears to work best, and this actually lets you perform one of the specials on its own.
The guard command also works to lock in on an enemy as in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time's Z-targeting function, only not nearly as elegantly. One reason for the shortcoming is that the environments are small and don't allow much room to move about and dodge attacks, but mainly it's because the camera angles make it hard to see which enemy you're lined up against. This is compounded by the fact that multiple enemies will attack at once - instead of the less realistic but more playable "oh, my turn" approach found in many similar games. You might be battling two enemies on a narrow path, and while you're blocking a blow by one of them, the other will likely rain an attack on you from behind. The game starts off extremely easy, but sections like this soon make it needlessly difficult.
The positive side of SOTS is the story, which is told through the use of in-game engine sequences and subtitles. Instead of being broken up into different levels, the game is set in chapters. While the tale is fairly wooden and telegraphs its punches a mile away at times, the delivery is unique and often actually realizes the gaming cliché of "making you feel like part of the story." If there were less filler battles and a better camera set-up, SOTS would be much more fun to play. In the end, the game is more of a curiosity rental than a title you'd want to pick up for keeps.