Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.

The subject of this installment: Katana Kata available on PS4, PS5, XBX/S, XBO, Switch and PC. Developed and published by Stas Shostak, Stanislav Shostak and Samustai Limited.

Recently I was on social media complaining about the sinking feeling of receiving a review code only to find that the game is terrible. Someone responded, asking if that feeling came from the guilt of writing negatively about something I received for free. It’s a good question to reflect on.

Reviewing games is not a glamorous pursuit, and I see it as a symbiotic relationship of sorts. I give up my free time because I enjoy writing about games and hope to discover a gem, whilst developers give free codes in the hope for some free (and positive) advertising. When the game is good, everybody wins.

Unfortunately, while I recognize that every developer works hard on their game, not every game is good, and playing bad games is not a wise use of my limited free time. That said, I work hard to give every game a fair crack, and this is how I remain guilt-free in the cases where my evaluation of a title is that it’s poor.

Katana Kata was interesting because it made me reflect on these things. Sadly, that was about all it has going for it.

I was originally attracted to Katana Kata due to its self-given label of ‘soulslike’. I’m a big Souls fan, and was excited to play another interpretation of the formula. As its name suggests, Katana Kata has a Japanese setting with the player combating enemies while wielding a sword in third-person realtime action. Players are able to level up at Buddha statues and have a stamina bar to manage which governs dodging and attacking. If the player dies, they have to start from the beginning in roguelike fashion.

Despite obviously matching some soulslike genre conventions, I get the impression that the developers don’t understand the genre they’re trying to be a part of. 

Katana Kata does share the punishing difficulty common to these titles, but it lacks the satisfying combat system that is central to their enjoyment. It also lacks weight and precision — there is a lack of feedback from striking an enemy, some noticeable input lag, and a targeting system that is simply not fit for purpose that makes players choose between a small- and a large-radius circle for enemy targeting. Within that radius, the closest enemy will be targeted. However, this system was erratic at best as it didn’t always pick the closest enemy. Even when it did, it was still too easy to miss them.

There isn’t much margin for error in Katana Kata, and most deaths felt unfair. Soulslikes live or die on that feeling of fairness — that a loss is the player’s fault, not the game’s — and without a satisfying or a fair combat system, Katana Kata is punishing without the feeling of skill-based wins to offset the frustration.

Elsewhere, there was little in Katana Kata to keep me coming back.

It has a simple (but ugly) visual style awash with drab colors and a poor environmental fading effect whenever the camera gets caught behind a wall. I honestly thought this was a bug until I realized it happened every time the environment blocked the view of the character. The story is minimal to a fault, and also includes notable spelling mistakes. There was nothing here to be drawn into.

I wanted to quit early but I kept coming back to Katana Kata out of a sense of integrity as a reviewer and my base tendency to want to give developers a fair crack. Unfortunately, Katana Kata was the game that broke me, and I was both unable and unwilling to finish it.

— Gareth Payne

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