Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is an absolutely absurd stealth action game from the PS2 era that has finally made it's way to the West with an HD remaster.
- Title: Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief
- Release Date: October 11, 2022
- Price: $39.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated T for Teen by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch, Steam, PlayStation
- Recommended for fans of: Stealth Action, Yakuza-style absurdity, and HD Remasters
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief. It caught my eye when it showed up in a recent showcase because semi-janky stealth games are always worth some fun. What I hadn’t realized was that the semi-janky look wasn’t coming from an indie team doing a retro throwback. Instead, this is an HD remaster of a PlayStation 2 game that never made its way West.
While I think this game does a great job of upgrading the visuals while still absolutely maintaining the retro edge, there are a few gameplay quirks that could have benefited from a modern coat of paint. Still, Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is a fun, goofy stealth action game with a surprisingly heavy story.
Stealing in the Name of
The tutorial of Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief drops you into the first mission of a young gentleman thief. Alongside a brother in arms, you venture through an Edo-era estate filling a bag full of ill-gotten gains, comfortable in the code that promises that you and your clan will never kill. Eventually, you and your brother come across a young girl, and you head off to take her to a room where a few occupants are being watched over by other members of your crew. Before you can drop her off, you witness those goons slaughtering their hostages. In horror, you take the child and run away from the estate and your life of crime.
Years later, your character works an honest job as a carpenter to support the girl he's raised as his own daughter. It seems like they've led a pleasant life, but now she is sick and you can't afford to buy her medicine. Naturally, it's time to go back to your old life for one last heist.
Once the story of Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief really kicks off, you find yourself exploring a small fishing village broken up into a series of PlayStation 2-era “open worlds”. We are talking, like, five streets and two indoor areas per chunk of the world, with a short loading screen between each one.
You quickly join up with the local thieves guild that operates out of a bathhouse. Joining this organization grants you access to a fence that will offload your stolen items, a trainer who will teach you new tricks and techniques, a shop that sells tools for distraction, and a quest giver who will sell you contracts for heists.
I'm only a few hours in, but so far the gameplay loop has been to pick up a quest, then run across town to the neighborhood where your target is. Once you get there, you sneak through the area picking up every item you can find as you close in on a hotspot on your minimap where the actual quest item is. Once your bag is full, you head back out and turn in your loot to the thieves guild or donate your ill-gotten gains to the community.
The bizarre aspect of the gameplay loop of Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief is that the game is really, really silly. Sure, you've got a crouch button that you use to sneak around, but when you get spotted you can hit a dodge button at just the right time to do a fancy cartwheel and evade detection. Instead of a dedicated “steal” button, you hit the same button you'd use to fight off enemies in combat to pick up goods. Only, instead of actually picking them up you just sort of beat up inanimate objects until their health bar depletes and they pop into the bag you wear behind your head.
Oh, and that bag? It grows as you steal stuff. It gets absurdly huge, and the way your character wears it means you end up looking like you've got a big old balloon on your head. Of course, sometimes there are items out of reach, so you can also drop your bag on the ground and kick it like a soccer ball to knock high-up items to the ground.
I'm not really sure if this is meant to be a comedy game, but the way that every single bit of action is exaggerated had me grinning the whole time I played it. It's kind of got Yakuza vibes in that tone.
Like I said earlier, I'm only a few hours into Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief. There are a few systems and mechanics choices that aren't quite clicking with me, but I'm hoping that spending more time with the game will help them feel more comfortable.
First up, I'm terrible at being sneaky in this game. A lot of the time you can just avoid enemies, but it seems like the game wants you to be able to do some sneaky pickpocketing as well. I swear I've pulled this off once, but every time I've tried since I just end up punching the person in the back, and then it becomes a whole thing. There's a sort of “wanted level” type system where wanted signs around town end up looking more like you the worse that you do. The signs literally identify me by name right now, and I have no idea what to do about that.
Secondly, the health of your daughter seems to be a ticking clock in this game. You are encouraged to bring her food and medicine to keep her strength up, but I'm not really sure how that works. How much worse can she get? Can she die? Would that effectively be a game over? All I know is that I actually bought some medicine from her at the thieves guild and apparently it was more black market than I thought… it actually made her condition worse!
I think I really like Kamiwaza: Way of the Thief. The silly stylization makes the stealth sequences engaging even when I'm horrible at them. It would have maybe been nice for this to get more of a remaster with better controls, a, and one big open world instead of tiny areas… but for a game I'd never heard of before I'm having a lot of fun with it.
If you're a fan of weird PS2-era games, this is definitely worth looking at. Just be aware that even though it's a remaster it still mostly looks and feels a few generations out of date.