Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is a remaster of a once-Japanese exclusive that probably should’ve stayed on the PlayStation 2. While the focused combination of stealth and stealing is rare in the gaming sphere, Kamiwaza’s graphics and gameplay feel rather dated and jerky.
The Wonky Side of Thievery
The main hook of this game has you looting certain items where you mindlessly button-mash on an object for a full minute, followed by casually avoiding security around the map who couldn’t give two cents about their role. Not that you need to sneak around anyway, as the game’s notoriety system virtually makes itself redundant at almost every corner. But since time is of the essence in Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief, it’s usually more efficient to just run past all the guards and swipe what you need in the process. Because of this, playing the game stealthily can be frustrating, as it’s difficult to know which people (security or civilians) are actively on the lookout. Especially since the notoriety system isn’t properly explained—amongst several other mechanics—it makes understanding the finer details quite difficult.
There are some manoeuvres to avoid detection like using fireworks to distract, stylishly cartwheeling just before a person sees you or punting your trusty bag of goods right into someone’s face. But at the end of the day, these mechanics can’t disguise the wonky AI, stiff controls and shoddy hand-to-hand combat. Albeit, the epic launch kick is pretty hilarious, I must admit. Even so, if you get overwhelmed and caught by the guards, it’s much smarter to just select the option to skip/serve out your sentence and get on with your journey. As opposed to trekking through the prison’s awkwardly constructed labyrinthine tunnels that’ll probably waste even more time and energy than your brain deserves.
Although Kamiwaza offers some cheeky sleuthing moments here and there like lock-picking and pickpocketing (only from the front, for some reason) the mission-based, go-and-fetch gameplay does become stale. Since each burglary has you revisiting the same areas, over and over again with little to no variation. The descriptions of the target key loot are often too vague as well, which led me to button-mash even more on all sorts of things that I thought were critical to the mission. The map does give you a rough location of where said loot resides, but most of the time I just happened to stumble upon it after 20-30 minutes because a pop-up said I’d found it. Riveting gameplay, huh?
The branching storylines and characters aren’t the most memorable either. The narrative follows Ebizo, the main protagonist as he returns to his life of noble thievery to gather funds and save his daughter, Suzuna from an unknown illness. The only problem is, she needs one dose of a relatively expensive panacea each day, otherwise, things will get hairy. Her safety is the driving force of the plot and gameplay, as a missed day of medicine can prematurely end the story, raising the stakes and pressure the game puts on the player. For sanity’s sake though, it’s good practice to manually save often and retry if a prompt tells you that the guards know where Ebizo lives. Because sometimes it can take a while for them to leave, which can be extremely aggravating. If you enter the house at this point, it will result in an instant game over, booting you straight back to Kamiwaza’s opening scenes.
There are a couple of interesting in-world features going on, like wanted posters that get more and more detailed in line with your notoriety (which can be stolen to decrease it) or The People’s Box, where Ebizo can deposit loot; raising his standing in the community and being delivered handy items by the townsfolk on occasion. While these are some cool systems, in theory, it’s usually more optimal to trade in your hard-earned goods for cash or not even bother worrying about your notoriety. As the main concern is trying to raise funds for Suzuna in a timely manner, you’ll most likely be spotted more than once per in-game day. And since a few of the stealth mechanics don’t quite hit the mark, it’s best to just try and gun it for the key loot.
Along with the threat of Suzuna’s imminent demise, the head of the Thieves Bathhouse (the main hub) also requires you to pay a “tribute” consistently, further adding to your misery. This is where Ebizo can learn new techniques and purchase items to help in his journey. However, this place and Ebizo’s house are the only two locales available for fast travel, which is majorly inconvenient. Because you’ll find yourself running back and forth between town areas on the regular, while also having to deal with active supervision before you’ve even reached a mission location. Couple that with the game’s bland PS2 graphics and Kamiwaza’s repetitive electric guitar melodies that completely stop before they start again, and you’re now neck-deep in frustration.
2006 was the year Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief premiered back on the PlayStation 2. While it’s great to see more titles being released for the first time outside of Japan, I don’t think this game was the best choice. It has some interesting concepts, for sure, albeit they either don’t land correctly or aren’t explained thoroughly enough for players to fully comprehend. There are some funny hiding positions that Ebizo can take up, and the launch attack that propels enemies in the air is undeniably hilarious. But aside from a handful of wacky antics in the story, characters and gameplay, the whole experience feels too shallow.
By Anthony Culinas – Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief should have stayed a Japanese exclusive. Multiple mechanics fall flat and the tedium of go-fetch quests quickly starts to stack up several hours in. Constantly spamming one button for a full minute to steal valuable items isn’t fun. Neither is repeating the same generic mission setup with extremely vague target instructions. Doesn’t help that the branching storylines and characters aren’t particularly interesting either, apart from a few interesting designs here and there. So if the wacky, over-the-top silliness can’t grab your attention, it’s hard to say what else will.
This game was reviewed using a download code provided by NIS America. The Beta Network uses affiliate partnerships, however, this does not influence reviews or any other content published. The Beta Network may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links that are on the website.