FF20: Sword of the Samurai

David Anderson
Nicholas Campbell
Nicki Gray
Per Jorner
Will Turton


[David Anderson]

The great sword that allows the shogun of Hachiman to rule has been stolen, and you, as his greatest warrior, must find it before the forces of evil can harness its powers.

Overall, this is a pretty interesting book which presents an interesting environment, and an intriguing set of special skills the player can make use of. My favorite part was a sequence where the player is required to travel to a variety of different worlds and enlist allies for a tournament with a group of demonic monsters. At times I felt shaken by it, though, like when the book asks if you know the secret of using the magic sword's power, and it's a simple "do you/don't you" question. There was a part elsewhere in the book where the player needs to use a letter-number translation scheme to solve a couple puzzles, and it was odd to me to use that for some minor obstacles and not to unlock something that would give them a big advantage in the final battle. Other than the occasional slip, this is a fun book and I enjoy going back to it once in a while.


[Nicholas Campbell]

The land of Hachiman is surrounded by mountains which cut it off from the rest of the continent of Khul, allowing it to develop its own Japanese style of culture. Compared with the rest of Khul, it is relatively peaceful - until now. The Shogun's legendary sword, known as Singing Death, has been stolen and taken away to Onikaru, the Pit of Demons, high in the Shios'ii Mountains. Already the Shogun's control over Hachiman is ebbing away, and if Ikiru, the Master of Shadows, learns the secret of Singing Death, Hachiman will fall under his rule! You are the Shogun's champion, and he has entrusted you with this most important of missions.

You may have guessed that there is a strong Japanese theme to this gamebook, which I like. As well as the standard Fighting Fantasy attributes, you also have an Honour score, so throughout your quest, you must act honourably and adhere to the code of the Samurai at all times, otherwise you will lose Honour points - and if your Honour reaches zero, you are so ashamed of your actions that you kill yourself! You can also choose one of four Special Skills which may well aid you in combat.

As far as the difficulty is concerned, Sword of the Samurai isn't that bad, although there are two riddles, one of which left me completely baffled. An Initial SKILL of 10 should see you through if you make the right choices, and interestingly, there are two completely different routes that you can take, so if you manage to complete the game by going along one route, you can try again by using the other. If only more Fighting Fantasy gamebooks were like that...

With the Japanese theme being so strong, the authors, Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, have taken the opportunity to introduce several new types of monster that don't seem to reside in any other part of Titan. How about Kappa - amphibious humanoids who breathe through water that is balanced on their bowl-shaped heads? Or Shikome - ugly, ape-like monsters that comprise most of Ikiru's army? Or the Mukade - a giant centipede that lives in an underground cave? Then there is my favourite, the Rokuro-Kubi - undead monsters whose heads detach from their bodies at night. An excellent selection, if I may say so!

Sword of the Samurai is excellent, and it covers a lot of the land of Hachiman. The wide variety of monsters, the battle against the Dai-Oni in the Place of Battle, and the build-up to the final confrontation with Ikiru in the Pit of Demons makes for a really thrilling gamebook.

Rating: 9/10


[Nicki Gray]

I will start by saying that I thought this was a rather easy book. When I first bought it - many moons ago - I completed it on my second try then put it away and forgot about it. Just recently, I decided to tackle it again .... Verdict: still easy, but trickier than I had remembered.

Set in the isolated kingdom of Hanciman, Titan's equivilent of Japan, the mission is this - you are a young Samurai on a quest for your lord; battling to retrieve his fabled sword which has been stolen by the baddie of the piece. Ikiru, Master of Shadows.

Naturally, Ikiru is hiding out in the treacherous Pit of Demons and to reach him not only do you have to brave the trials and tribulations of the countryside, you have to compete in a Tournament as well. Fortunately in the Tourney, you are aided by allies you have - hopefully!! - recruited along the way.

Now .. here's the tricky part. There are essentially 2 paths through the book - a left and right path, if you will. Each path will provide you with the allies you need, BUT only one path will aid you in increasing your HONOUR points. Obviously, being a Samurai, honour is essential to your lifestyle, for without honour you are nothing.

Overall, seasoned adventurers should have no real difficulty with this book, although a high skill and/or stamina are certinly favourable to lower scores. With low scores, in some places you may need to be REALLY lucky with your dice rolls.

Rating: 5.5/10


[Per Jorner]

Different books hold a special place in different readers' hearts for different reasons. Many look favourably upon their first book; I have a particular fondness for this one because for a long while it seemed as if it would be my last. It had been three years since I bought a gamebook when I picked this up completely unexpectedly at a flea market in the middle of nowhere for less than a dollar, and as I must have had some notion that it would be fully a decade before I'd buy another, you can imagine that I wanted to suck the marrow out of this one. (I've only ever found one more book second-hand; to properly vex and annoy me the fates decreed that it should be Starship Traveller.)

To my delight, SotS did not disappoint as Scorpion Swamp had once done. Being the only gamebook set in Hachiman, it reads slightly like "Greatest Hits of Japanese Folklore and Mythology", with a few surprises thrown in. Authors Smith and Thomson have a fine way of painting a vivid picture with just a few words, which lends a special lustre to several encounters; in fact a couple of scenes and their respective illustrations - specifically, the appearance of the Undead Samurai and the meeting of elders - rank among my favourite FF moments of all time.

The game is given some added longevity by the fact that there are two completely separate paths for most of the book, which you can alternate between when you have to start over. As it happens, one of them is more favourable and slightly easier, at least if you choose the right special skill of the four available to you. Although you don't know it yet, you're preparing yourself for a kind of arena battle which forms the final obstacle before you can take on the bad guy himself.

This is unfortunately where the book goes slightly out of tune and out of character by introducing entities completely foreign to the setting. I wasn't really looking forward to a "cosmic" encounter with a bunch of monsters arbitrarily plucked from other settings (several of which look like outside references, e.g. the Golden Company is so Moorcock-esque it hurts your eyes). It's not a bad idea, it was just the wrong book to put it in. Traversing the countryside of Japan, er, Hachiman was for me far more entertaining than the Hub part or what comes after it. One could complain that in all there aren't too many different encounters, and that the "scarlet pagoda" sequence is pretty outrageous; but then again, what I like here I like a lot.

Rating: 6/10


[Will Turton]

FF20 is the only gamebook to be set in Hachiman (barring FF42 and FF47 which were on the Isles of Dawn, but seem similar to Hachiman, esp. FF47!). It is therefore the best resource available on the nation, containing more information about the country than Titan does!! Not only does this immediately commend the gamebook, it helps the AFF community map out a relatively unknown area of Allansia (for there are many-to the eternal despair of the faithful).

Sword of the Samurai is a gamebook placing you into the role of a Samurai serving the Shogun of Hachiman, Kehei Hasekawa. Your objective in this gamebook is to recover the famous Dai-Katana, Singing Death, stolen by Ikiru, Master of Shadows who dwells in Onikaru, the Pit of Demons. So, a basic good vs. evil gamebook? Not so!

There is far more depth to Sword of the Samurai than that and one of the best features in the book itself is the Samurai Skills and the inclusion of an extra statistic for yourself, Honour. This is truly fitting for a Samurai.

The Skills are useful throughout the gamebook and not just once or twice. However, you may only choose one (my favourite is Iaijutsu-Fast Draw).

Another good thing in the gamebook is that Mark Smith and Jamie Thompson chose to give you a choice of two routes to your objective. On either of these roads, you are assaulted by a plethora of events (some of which are attacks by Japanese Tatsu (like a dragon) and a collection of villagers who can attack you...in a ghoulish way.

There are two more things that make the gamebook stand out. One is your chance to collect allies using items obtained in the land of Hachiman for an excellent Gladiatorial Combat at the end of the book. The other is the truly superb illustrations drawn by Alan Langford.

There is little to criticise in Sword of the Samurai. The lack of a map is almost criminal in my eyes, it would have been lovely to have a detailed map of this ignored corner of Allansia. Otherwise, I can only criticise that if you have Singing Death, it tends to fight Ikiru and his minions for you denying me a good combat at the end. Without the sword however, you've got a challenge, which I believe is only proper at the end of a gamebook.

To end, I can only say that it is a pity that the trio did not get together to compile a sequel to this most excellent gamebook.

Score: 10/10