Sakura Samurai: Art of the Sword (Hana Samurai in Europe) is an action-adventure game developed by Grounding and published by Nintendo for the 3DS eShop. In it, the titular Sakura Samurai travels throughout the land defeating rogue samurai, ninja and militiamen; collecting gold and health power-ups; and visiting towns to rest and buy items.
Sakura Samurai features an overworld map through which the samurai can access the combat areas and towns scattered across the land. The accessible areas are on rails, similar to what is found in a game like Super Mario World, so the Samurai will travel between each area in a straight line (there is no free roaming). Clearing an area opens up at least one new area on the map to which the Samurai can travel. The Samurai may revisit combat areas that have already been cleared.
Once in a combat area or town, the view shifts to an over-the-shoulder third-person view and the player will have full real-time control over the Samurai. In towns, the Samurai cannot wield a sword; instead, pressing the attack button initiates a conversation.
Combat areas are simple flat arenas that take place on a variety of backgrounds. There are no environmental obstacles (except for the "walls" of the arena) or platforms to utilize.
The Samurai cannot jump but instead dash-dodge in one of four directions: left, right, away from the enemy, and towards the enemy; or block attacks with the Sakura Sword.
When defeated, an enemy will drop gold coins, health, or whetstones.
The Sakura Sword is the Samurai's primary weapon; it is a blade that leaves a trail of cherry blossom petals with every slash. The player will fight enemies utilizing a dodge-counterattack flavor of gameplay similar to what is found in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! and Infinity Blade. Attacking enemies straight away will yield no favorable results--only attempts that are blocked. The player must wait for enemies to wind-up to attack, anticipate what kind of attack is coming (sideways slash, overhead slash, stab, etc.) based on the visual cues that the enemies provide, and then dodge accordingly. Then the player must immediately counterattack (or dash in first and then counterattack as appropriate).
When enemies attack with melee weapons (sword, pike, etc.), they leave behind a colored weapon trail (a stylistic trait of many weapons-based fighting and action games). The color of the weapon trail can generally clue the player into whether the enemy is throwing out a single attack or a combination attack (with a scant few exceptions). A red weapon trail indicates a singular strike, whereas a yellow one indicates that the enemy will quickly follow up with at least one more attack.
- An example is the aged ronin enemy who begins with his sword sheathed. He will either attack with an ultra-quick slash out of his scabbard and then leave himself open, OR follow that slash with another one in the opposite direction, forcing the player to perform two quick backwards dodges in succession. Quickly observing the color of the sword trail helps you determine whether you need to dodge once or twice before moving in and attacking.
Enemies can also attack with projectile weapons. Archers will employ the bow and arrow, shooting anywhere between one and three arrows in succession. Ninja will employ smoke bombs that obscure your vision; explosive bombs that will not damage on contact but must be avoided with several dodges to avoid the blast radius; and throwing stars. One boss character will employ projectile weapons in addition to his melee blades.
The Samurai can use projectile weapons of his own. Throwing knives can be purchased to directly inflict damage on an enemy. Oftentimes, normal enemies can be taken out with these quite easily even without the Samurai having to dodge an initial attack. However, boss characters generally cannot be damaged by these knives, as they will simply block them out of the air. The Samurai can also throw frogs at an enemy. This does not directly cause damage, but it flusters the target and causes him to drop his guard, allowing the Samurai a free hit. Again, bosses generally do not fall prey to this tactic.
Finally, if the Samurai has precisely dodged a number of attacks, a meter in the upper-right corner will fill up and allow the use of a special wide-range attack. If several enemies are within the radius of this attack, they will all take damage. This attack does work on boss characters, but it must be employed when you would normally counterattack or the boss will simply guard against it.
Health and Blade Sharpness
The Samurai starts out with three hearts. Clearing out a combat area for the first time earns the Samurai a half-heart upgrade. (Two half-hearts grant the Samurai an additional heart.) Early on, enemies generally reduce your health by one heart with each attack, but stronger enemies can hit for two or three hearts. Though the game is over when you lose all of your hearts, a single-use power-up can be purchased from towns that revives you to full health when you've been beaten. You can also supplement your health throughout a battle with rice balls, which restore multiple hearts' worth of health.
Your blade can dull as the result clashing with other blades during battle, which makes blocking an attack an undesirable defensive maneuver. This also forces you to counterattack selectively and immediately, instead of either rushing in straight away or waiting too long after an enemy leaves himself open. Your blade will show progressing levels of dullness (via the meter in the upper-right) and halves the amount of damage it does with each progressive level of dullness. Carring whetstones (purchased in town) into battle with you will allow you to sharpen your blade instantly in the heat of battle. Alternatively you can also have a blacksmith sharpen your blade in town. A blacksmith's sharpening seems to last much longer than that of a whetstone.
A precision point is awarded each time you successfully dodge an attack at almost the last possible second (the timing is a bit lenient). However, Precision Points comprise a streak and not a cumulative count, so if you have your attack blocked or are hit, your precision point count goes back down to zero immediately. The precision point counter encourages players to improve their mastery of dodging and attacking by offering a monetary reward for performing well (see "towns" section below).
Towns offer respite from battle and have no enemies creeping about. Instead, the Samurai can visit various establishments:
Visiting an inn allows you to:
- Rest - Recover all of your health for 5g
- Register - Save your game. This is free. There is only one save slot.
Item Shops ("Frogs Plus")
Item shops offer the following goods and services:
- Rice ball - Recover several hearts in battle for 5g each. Carry a maximum of 5.
- Frog - Distract / fluster enemies, leaving them open to attack, for 3g each. Carry a maximum of 5.
- Whetstone - Sharpen your blade in battle for 10g each. Carry a maximum of 5.
- Throwing knives - Damage enemies from afar for 2g each. Carry a maximum of 10.
- Invisible Feather Cape of Invincibility - A cape that deflects a set number of attacks for 50g. It's a single, automatically-used item that you must re-purchase from the shop once it's depleted. It does NOT render you invisible.
- Kappa Amulet - Revives you if you're knocked out in battle for 50g. It restores all of your hearts. It's a single, automatically-used item that you must re-purchase from the shop once it's used.
- Precision Point Purchase - The proprietor of Frogs Plus is a "collector" of precision point records. He will offer you varying sums of gold for giving him your record. Obviously, the higher your precision streak, the more gold he'll give you. Once you sell him your record, it goes back down to zero. Revisiting very early combat areas and building up precision points against weaker enemies is a surefire way to amass a large sum of gold.
Blacksmiths ("Lookout Bellows")
Visiting a blacksmith allows you to:
- Forge your blade - Increase your blade "level" for increasing amounts of gold depending on what level your blade is and what town you're in. Note that the blacksmith in any given town will only forge your blade once. For example, in the first town, the blacksmith will upgrade your blade to Level 2. Attempting to ask for another forging will go nowhere; you must wait until you get to the next town's blacksmith, who will charge you more gold to boost you up to a level 3.
- Sharpen your blade - For 20g, sharpens your dull blade. It seems that sharpening your blade at Lookout Bellows will keep the blade sharper for a longer period of time than using a whetstone in combat would.