Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief
In order to explain how a sixteen-year-old game like Kamiwaza, which was never released in the West, suddenly received a remaster in the West, I'd have to discuss a brief history of Acquire. One of my favorite Japanese developers, Acquire developed and released Tenchu: Stealth Assassins. This game alone would pave the way for future stealth games of its ilk for decades to come. Its premise was simple, the player controlled two ninja, Rikimaru and Ayame, each with their own goals in completing their mission.
While each level was identical for both characters, certain enemies interacted with the ninja differently, from respectable to brash. The dimly lit corridors combined with soldiers on patrol that will adjust their route according to how successful you are as a ninja was popular enough to warrant a sequel. Tenchu 2 built upon what made the original good and made the concept great. This alone would birth the Tenchu franchise. A franchise that Acquire would never properly enjoy reaping the fruits of their labor.
This is going to be the first impression of Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief and I don't plan this to turn this into a retrospective on the Tenchu series. That may be a plan for the future as my queue frees up for I am very passionate about the series itself, but the franchise changed hands several times. Activision, who published the first three titles worldwide, bought the rights to Tenchu from Sony, who would then sell the rights to FromSoftware.
Yes, that FromSoftware. Before the team gave us a taste of Souls, they owned the rights to the celebrated stealthy ninja franchise. Instead of Acquire developing the games, K2 was chosen to work with FromSoftware for the rest of the decade. (Except for one terrible Wii game but again, that's saved for the Tenchu retro).
I wanted to also mention that FromSoftware did NOT develop any Tenchu titles as I see so many people provide misinformation. The only game they developed was a weird XBLA Bomberman-style title. Acquire didn't give up however as they would develop games under the same berth as Tenchu, without calling it Tenchu. In 2006, Kamiwaza was born from Acquire's decade of developed titles, and to this day Acquire is still developing games.
The reason for this long-winded explanation is because one look at Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief has Tenchu written all over it. The character models, music, aesthetics, and tongue-in-cheek dialogue all reminded me of the original Tenchu games. Even down to the far-than-agreeable camera that always seems to block my path and the very inconsistent AI. I felt like I was playing a game that was lost in time and in many ways it was. The original Kamiwaza was never released outside of Japan so it will be many players' first time experiencing Acquire in the mid-2000s.
Kamiwaza Way of the Thief stars Ebizo, a "Robin Hood" type of character in the making with lofty goals of stealing from the wealthy and giving to the less fortunate. Unfortunately, his first heist goes wrong as the gang he was working for wound up being malicious murderers, the one thing you're not supposed to do as a thief avoiding attention. Through the commotion, he saves a young girl and protects her from her family getting murdered. Over the next decade, he raises the girl, Suzuna, as his own and makes an honest living.
This turns on its head as he's forced to steal again as he cannot afford medicine for a terminally ill Suzuna. Thus begins a long journey of sticking it to the rich all to make enough money to buy a panacea to cure his daughter. As one can guess, there are multiple endings depending on if Ebizo is successful or not, but there are also alliances and friendships he can make to make his job easier as well. I also mentioned that there's one rule that Ebizo stands by and that's "no killing."
Players expecting to slash enemies in half, making it rain pools of blood, will be disappointed. The objective here is to steal as much as you can, get to the end of the level without getting caught, and pawn the items for money. Ebizo can also give back to the village and donate items to gain favor from the residents there. The game is very open-ended, serving as a result of Acquire's experience with similar titles like Way of the Samurai.
That doesn't mean players can't engage in fights, but doing so will lower the value of the items pilfered. The combat scenes are comical and at times it serves as a balance for the serious plot. There was never a moment where I took the game too seriously or as a complete joke. Players who are jumping into this game without knowledge of the game's PS2 origins or the history of the developers will probably pass. Look past the archaic graphics and controls and you'll have a hidden gem on your hands.
Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is a relic from an era that developers don't make anymore. It's enough to form a cheesy grin on my face as there's something about the aesthetic that's a breath of fresh air from everything trying to be "pristine" nowadays. Moving forward, I would LOVE a Shinobido remaster as that game was Acquire's own Tenchu, yet only its sequel was released in the West on the Sony Vita. Re-release both games in a single package as a remaster and I will absolutely adore whoever makes the ports happen.
Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is available on the Sony PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC