Published March 21st, 2017 @ 3:56 am EDT by Paul

REVIEW: Samurai Espionage by Escape Hunt (Tokyo, Japan)

2/5 Claws

Challenge: 5
Awe: 5
Care: 3
Theme: 8
Team: 3
Signature Color: Green


“You’ll find a lot of good reviews of this room online because the company knocks 500Y from your next room for you if you post one.  Sadly, it’s an experience of average quality. I’m putting semi-spoilers in this review.

In the Samurai Challenge, players are defending the Shogun in his palace, and they know of an assassination attempt that will take place in one hour.  The Shogun’s palace is protected by you and by encrypted security features, which, ironically, involve information above your pay grade–so you can’t ask–yet which you have to know about to do your job.  This ingenious, and historically apt, pretext to include the puzzles in the story isn’t exploited very well.  Still, the room has a unified personality, and the Shogun’s demanding character is keenly felt (even though he’s asleep somewhere and we’re just guarding him.)  The first ten minutes or so feels like a conversation-in-code, just like in the movies. This phase is admirable but brief.

There are no joyous surprises, which explains the mediocre Awe score, and the decorations are almost stereotypically tasteful. As you progress, math puzzles quickly intrude.  They, too, are historically appropriate, and the history might (I say might) be more obvious to locals, but as an international tourist, it didn’t engage me.  It could have redeemed the bookkeeping phase of the room a little better.  These challenges involve a time when the Samurai experimented with guns as their weapon of choice but thereafter chose to return to swords (which was absolutely fascinating to me, but I didn’t learn about until afterward.)  The fact that this moment in history is the true heart of the Shogun’s problem is almost movingly clever, but it’s buried too low beneath the surface.  Even for students of Japanese culture who might be aware, when we start dealing with rifles and revolvers, the puzzle seems more incongruous and less natural than it actually is.  It becomes just math, and the math takes up way too much time (otherwise it would have earned a better Challenge score.)

Without giving the solution away, it’s like this: arms dealers owe the Shogun tax.  If one of them is dishonest, the Shogun won’t get as much tax revenue as he should.  That information wasn’t necessary to my solving the puzzle because I figured it out in a way they didn’t plan for.  Knowing this key piece of information would have made my work on the gun-arithmetic puzzle meaningful, and I would have wanted to do it instead of dreading it.

The most irritating puzzle involves assembling some life-sized Samurai armor that’s as authentic as a replica ought to be for this purpose.  While it’s an irritating task on the one hand, on the other hand, you should leave feeling kind of great about having done it.  That’s well and good but I don’t know if that makes it “fun.”  It was in a way, and days later, I’m glad I did it.  That’s worth something.  But I’m not sure it “reveals” the data it’s supposed to reveal when done correctly, though I’m taller than the average guest [Editor: Michael is exactly six feet tall] and that impacts the way a certain image appears, so maybe that’s not a fair complaint either.  But just look at all the excuses I keep making on their behalf; that’s not a good sign.

Overall this is a room about noticing and manipulating your environment, which is why its Signature Color is Green, and its best quality is that it feels like the room does have its own way of thinking; there’s a consistent personality to it.  I do like the way knowing history might make the room more rewarding, and that it’s also optional: we aren’t here to go to school, we’re here to play a game.

Maddeningly, the staff admitted that they saw several faults in the room and never fixed them.  They bribed people for good reviews.  They’re nice, but they feel like their room is finished and doesn’t require maintenance. Their resetter even left one lock open for me by mistake, and barely apologized for it even though it completely reversed the whole room in terms of flow.  Honestly, this is the exact opposite of Care and if they weren’t at least polite to my face they would have gotten an even lower score in that category.

A final note about Samurai Espionage overall: it introduces a moral choice which impacts the type of puzzles the players will face afterward.  That’s really fantastic!  But it’s a feature barely integrated into the whole experience.  The puzzles often have unintentional solutions that leave you feeling like you “won” but didn’t do much.  It’s a unique theme with puzzle types I’ve never encountered before and it’s worth about half what they charge (so look for discounts before booking.)  It’s themed after Japanese culture in a way that’s not completely superficial. A history buff might tsk, tsk here and there, but hey, it’s something.”


KN Asakusa Bldg, 6th Floor
1-10-5 Asakusa, Taito-ku
Tokyo, 111-0032

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