In one of my previous videos, I referred to what I considered to be the triumvirate of games that defined the era of the Amiga home computer: Shadow of the Beast; Agony and First Samurai. Each of these games raised the bar in terms of what we could expect from a computer game. In my opinion, First Samurai stands apart from the other two games as it not only looks phenomenal, but it is the most fun to play.
The game had an attract mode that features the first level boss, the dragon. I remember standing outside a Tandy's store-front, simply gazing at the game running on a TV in the window display. The TV was actually a small black and white portable, which would have come nowhere near doing the game justice, yet it still looked amazing!
As for the game itself, the story recounts a young samurai's quest to avenge the death of his master at the hands of the evil demon king. With the aid of the mysterious wizard, Mage, the samurai journeys across time, armed with a magic sword, to do battle with the demon king's forces.
First Samurai is a blend of platforming, combat and puzzle-solving gameplay. The samurai has an extensive range of attacks at his disposal, each of which is triggered by holding down the fire button and moving the joystick in one of eight ways.
Although initially unarmed, defeating monsters will release soul energy from the defeated monster, which can be be absorbed by the samurai and is represented by the sword bar to the bottom right of the screen. Once enough energy has been harvested, the magic sword materialises and flies to the samurai's hand. The sword increases the samurai's attack power and range, but will be lost if the samurai sustains too much damage. Instead of dying, the sword vanishes and a portion of soul energy is converted to health. However, if the samurai runs out of health and has no sword, then he will die.
|The samurai faces the first boss|
Soul energy is needed to collect bonus items, as well as to fill the many soul pots that can be found throughout each level. Each pot acts as a respawn beacon in the event that the player dies, and an extra life can be earned by filling all pots within a level.
Each level requires the samurai to collect a number of special items with which to defeat an obstacle, such as crossing a large chasm, pit of fire or other such hazard. The items are hidden throughout the level and are, themselves, protected by traps. The samurai will often require the help of the wizard to collect the items, but a magic bell is required to summon him. Bells require the most soul power before they can be picked up, so this forces the player into combat in order to harvest more power.
For it's time, the gameplay felt extremely polished. The controls and combat were slick, and the level design felt well designed. Most importantly, the difficulty was balanced well: the player experienced a decent challenge, but the game always remained fair.
|Dealing with punks aboard a train!|
What is interesting that some of the level maps are actually quite large and that you can see other parts of different levels that you have yet to reach. However, it's possible to actually back-track through levels previously completed and collect missed items, especially the bells, which can sometimes be tricky to find in later levels.
The graphics and artwork produced by Teoman Irmak are what really steal the show. Everything looks sumptuous, with a vibrant and striking colour palette that just make anyone watching the game stare on in amazement. Even today, it looks utterly fantastic.
The sound, too, is remarkable. Nick Jones wrote a simply stunning opening music track to the game, which is instantly recognisable. The in-game sound effects, from the jubilant "hallelujah" chorus when you open a treasure chest, to the dramatic sound when enemies are killed, are all brilliant. The roar of the dragon on the first level was enough to instil sheer terror the first time that I saw it.
|There's worse things than alligators in these sewers!|
Despite being a generally great game, there are a couple of minor issues I noted whilst playing. Firstly, it's impossible to crouch and attack in a single movement, which means that you are likely to get hit my small opponents before you can attack as you have to wait for the crouching animation to finish. The other quibble is that each time you attack, the samurai lets out a loud battle-cry; considering how often you attack, the constant assault on the ears can be a little tedious.
Having never beaten the game before, I'm pleased to have spent the time playing through the whole game and experiencing the full thing in all it's glory. So, let us raise a glass to Raffaele Cecco and the Vivid Image team for producing this simply fantastic game.