Kamiwaza: Way of the Ninja – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Acquire and published by NIS America, Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is a stealth action title, with the player completing missions and stealing objects while doing their best to remain unseen. This title was originally released exclusively in Japan on the PlayStation 2 in 2006. This remaster is the first official release of Kamizawa in English available now on PlayStation 4, PC and the Nintendo Switch, with links to each version of the game at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank NIS America for providing the copy of Kamiwaza: way of the thief that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

Now with the Introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story. Please note, I will only be covering the core mechanics of this title, this is because I don’t want to spoil some of the twists and turns that this game has to offer.

Story – set during the Edo period of Japanese history, Ebizo is an amateur thief, who aspires to help those less fortunate by stealing from those who are rich. However, during his first job, he and his mentor witness their own men taking more than just the money of their targets. Disillusioned by this turn of events, Ebizo leaves the scene and the group entirely with the only survivor of the bloodshed, a young girl named Suzuna.

10 years later, Ebizo has lived an honest and fulfilling life with Suzuna as his own daughter, having stuck by his word to leave the shadows. Unfortunately, that was not to last for much longer, as Suzuna suddenly falls ill, destroying the chances of a quiet life. In order to obtain the medicine his daughter needs, Ebizo is faced with a heavy financial burden. He is forced to return to the darkness to save his daughter, but vows only to do so for those less fortunate.

Gameplay – this title is a stealth action adventure, where the player as Ebizo, must complete missions and steal various items in order to obtain the medicine for Suzuna. To do this, the player must sneak around the different parts of Mikado without being seen, avoiding the guards and civilians that populate the areas. When moving around others there are two states that are shown by a color marker on screen, with green meaning it is safe and red meaning others are suspicious.

When the marker is red, there is a potential for others to be alerted that you are a thief if seen. The player has a special set of skills that they can use to avoid detection and collect their loot, as they will be chased down and guards will be alerted if Ebizo is seen while trying to sneak around. Here are the core ability types that the player can use during the game;

  • Hiding Moves – these skills are used to maneuver around the areas. These range from simple crouching to eliminate sound and move quietly, to daring acrobatic and agility focused actions that can be used to quickly get out of sight.
  • Stealing Moves – the main way to collect items into the bag. The stealing moves can be as simple as swiping an item on the floor, leaping up and snatching something on shelves, and even pickpocketing others while moving past them. All stolen items have a value that can be positively or negatively affected by the players stealth skills.
  • Bag Moves – the thief bag is how the play can carry their loot, this bag can be dropped but if Ebizo isn’t holding it, then items usually can’t be stolen. The bag can be used as a weapon or a distraction by kicking it, if the bag hits an object, it will also be possible to add that item to the bag. If the bag becomes full, it must be emptied before more items can be stolen.
  • Disguises – Ebizo can wear disguises while sneaking in order to prevent being recognized by others, however this will alert others and cause guards to be hostile. There are different disguises that can be used with their own stats, which affect their utility during missions.
  • Just Stealth –At the point that an NPC is about to be alerted, the screen will change for a moment, when this happens there is a chance for the Just Stealth skill to be activated by using a Hiding Move. When stealth has been activated, the player will gain a bonus for stealing items and pickpocketing others. This can also be chained with other skills to earn style points, with combos getting higher the better the player performance ( use of style points discussed below).

The different skills and abilities can be expanded as the game progresses, with a leveling system that strengthens the core skill types over time. During the game, there are two places that the player will spend most of their time. These are Ebizo’s home, where the player can give medicine and other items to Suzuna to help her to recover, along with the Thieves Bath House. The Bath House is where the player is able to cash in their loot, get missions and purchase items/upgrades from vendors.

While in this location, the player can pay tribute to the boss, the owner who is in control of the territory and the thieves in the area. As the player pays tribute, they will unlock new items, skills and upgrades that can be purchased from the vendors. When the player cashes in their loot, they will be able to earn Style Points depending on the way that they deposit their spoils, which can be done by kicking the bag at the deposit box.

Here are some details on the facilities that can be accessed in this area (and some outside of it);

  • The Boss – the boss runs the Bath House, where the player can pay tribute to her which will influence the other facilities.
  • The Informant – this man gives missions to the player, with each mission having a target location, item and a time limit that it must be completed within. New missions are added at different times, with the player being told to come back later if there are no missions available.
  • Pops – this mysterious figure is a master thief, who is able to teach Ebizo new skills including new disguises, hiding/stealing techniques and more. These upgrades are purchased using style points, with the options expanding over time.
  • Vendor – the merchant in the base offers some items that are needed to make missions easier. Medicine for Suzuna can be bought here, but the quality of it may not be the best.
  • Medicine King – this vendor sells medicine that the player can purchase for Suzuna. This medicine is expensive, but is better than the medicine that is sold at the Bath House.
  • Peoples Box – this box is in the home village that Ebizo resides. If the player deposits treasures and loot into the box then their reputation with others will grow, making this very useful if the player has caused a lot of chaos.

This title features a day and night cycle, where time passes with one minute every couple of seconds. As time passes, the world will change depending on the choices that the player makes during the course of a playthrough. It is important to keep the on screen clock in mind, due to the potential for Suzuna to get worse if too much time is spent without giving her medicine. An effect that can occur due to the player choices is the wanted posters that appear, becoming more detailed if the player is careless alerting the law on sight.

Another effect that the players’ actions can cause is their reputation with the people will change. The different actions that the player makes may cause the people to turn on them, leading to them attacking Ebizo when they see him. However, if the player does things that benefit the people, they will treat him better and do things like stealing wanted posters to aid him. This reputation is depicted by a counter in the corner of the screen, with the higher the number the better the reputation.

The last thing to talk about is the branching storylines that can occur during play. As the game progresses, different potential storylines can play out offering new stories for the player to explore. These stories are told via cut scenes that will play during the course of a playthrough, introducing new characters and threats for the player to deal with. There are several routes that the player can pursue, with good and bad endings occurring depending on the choices that were made.

Once an ending has been triggered, the player is able to start a new game plus cycle, with all player levels that have been earned retailed. However, the skills, tribute paid and resources that have been gained previously are lost. This allows players to retain some of the progress that was made in a previous cycle, giving a potential head start when trying to complete the storylines in the game.

Now with the gameplay covered, I will be moving into the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.

Controls – the control method for this release is laid out in a manner that allows all of the key skills to be used easily, with the general abilities tied to the face buttons and thumbsticks. The stealth skills are tied to the triggers, with the key sneak buttons on the right side of the controller. When playing the game, the inputs are reactive for the most part but there are some minor inconsistencies, especially with the skills that share the same button. Overall, the controls are comfortable in all control set ups.

Difficulty – there are three difficulty settings for this release, with Easy, normal and hard options to select from when starting a new game. These settings allow the player to modify the challenge that is faced during play, with the higher difficulty options requiring a higher level of planning for missions. The difficulty curve over all three modes is fair and balanced, but there are some missions that are harder than they should be due to flawed placement of items.

Presentation – the visual style for this title is pleasing to the eye, especially as it uses the original assets for the PlayStation 2 release, with additional polish to go with the increased resolution scale. This visual style translates fairly well to the switch on both the big and small screen. The up-scaling of the models is good but is a little fuzzy, which is expected from a title that was developed in 2006. The cutscenes are where the models look their best and their softest, but this does add to the charm of the experience.

There are no issues with frame rate, performance or lag to be found which is what is best for a game where stealth and timing are important. The sound that this game features is excellent, with a mix of tense electric guitar compositions and haunting vocalized melodies mixed with traditional Japanese instruments. These sounds add to the atmosphere and the Japanese only voice track, gives even more depth to the overall package, as it ties the whole presentation together.

Final Thoughts – when I first started playing Kamiwaza for this review, there was a familiarity with the way that the game looked and felt, with the stealth and environment featured. I was reminded immediately of the Tenchu series that I had to played long ago on the original PlayStation, which used mechanics and systems similar to Kamiwaza. So imagine my surprise when I looked up Acquire and discovered they developed the original game and others in the series.

As a new old game, this is a solid stealth action title that offers a challenge and stories for fans of the genre, remastered by the company that made it for new platforms. It does have some unfortunate issues, like the poor placement of items, inputs that can be confused with others that share the same button and some repetition to missions. However, the overall package and experience is something that I can recommend to those who are fans of the Acquire library.

There is a lot of content on offer in this package, with multiple story threads to follow and an atmosphere that adds further depth. While it has its flaws, this is a story that deserves to be appreciated by a wider audience and makes me hopeful that other titles from the Acquire library get re-released in the future. This title is well worth the time investment, as the multiple endings/routes, new game plus cycles and open ended exploration can pull you in for hours on end.

In the end, I give Kamizawa: Way of the Thief a final score of 4/5. This is a solid and challenging stealth action title, offering a lot of content for players to sink their teeth into, with branching story arcs, multiple endings and interesting characters. If you want to check this title out for yourself, links to each version of the game will be below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

Link to Steam version (HERE)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: