After my long love affair with the PS One, I finally upgraded to an Xbox 360 in early 2007. I know, I know, it’s blasphemy on this website but it was the cheapest console and I was just so dang eager to get my hands on a sparkly new console. With my new console my family brought me two games for my new device. Uneducated in my love of games such as Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, they brought me the first two games that they saw on the shop shelf. Those games? Tomb Raider: Legend and Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires.
Of course Tomb Raider was a blast, though I only discovered years later how unacceptable it was for me to be playing such a well loved Sony property on a Microsoft device. Hey ho.
But Dynasty Warriors was an odd nugget. In the hand full of times I played it before trading it in, I really was lost. Who were these badly dubbed characters, in their elaborate costumes and laughably big swords? The whole experience is a blur to this day. I ran around, hacked a few people, ran some more, died and, well, that was it. Spyro the dragon it was not.
So here I am 8 years later, with the glorious task of reviewing Samurai Warriors 4-2, referred to by the creators as the “perfect” version of the game. Not an expansion or extension but rather a reimagining of Samurai Warriors 4. As I had not played the fourth instalment in the series, the added extras were not apparent to me, but amongst other things they included all previous DLC, new characters and new survival modes.
Playing Samurai Warriors 4-2 has been a breath of fresh air for me. For the past few months my gaming playlist has consisted of ported titles and pixelated artstyles as I have made my way through a catalogue of indie titles on PS Vita. I’m in no way bashing the fantastic PS Vita indie game library, but Koei Tecmo have reminded me of just what the PS Vita is capable of. Samurai Warriors 4-2 is an absolute joy to behold, with gorgeous backdrops, and incredibly detailed character designs. Maps span enormous distances, battles become chaotic with hundreds of soldiers on screen at one time with the Vita barely breaking a sweat in the process. It is a huge game, with extraordinary attention to detail, and unlike other big Vita releases over the past few years, Samurai Warriors always runs smoothly no matter the scale of carnage appearing on screen.
This is a fantastic port technically, and although it is easily apparent that the game is designed to be played on a big screen, I never felt like I was missing any area of the battle due to the smaller screen size. The camera is easily moveable and never got in the way of faced the wrong way. It is a success in every area technically.
But the most important thing, is it actually a good game? Well that opens up and interesting conversation. I can say now that I have been thoroughly hooked since I opened the game for the first time. There are few different game modes available when you load up the game, but ultimately it is all the same concept. You’re in an arena, there are lots of people with big weapons – defeat them. The largest and most indepth area of the game can be found in Story Mode, which has a large number of different storylines you can tackle. Each one has five separate levels, which slowly get more difficult as you progress.
Cut scenes are extremely well designed and fascinating to look at. The same can not be said for the stories themselves. The game makers do their best to try and make each storyline unique by including characters with different motivations, but none of these are particularly interesting and the game never allows you to really connect with them. Of course there is only so much a developer can do to make someone feel emotionally connected with a Japanese samurai, but you just don’t spend enough time with them to really care about their goals and desires. You get your standard daytime soap opera storylines, including a young man trying to find his place, brothers turning against each other and stories of unrequited love. Not that any of this matters anyway, because as soon as a level begins, it’s straight into hacking and slashing your way through endless waves of enemies.
You can play through story mode either solo, via online co-op or local ad hoc. If you choose to go alone, as I did, then for each level you will choose a companion to join you. Each storyline requires you to play as a particular character, but more often than not you choose who will fight besides you. Everyone starts at Level 1, so it is worth sticking with the same character throughout a storyline, as that will ensure you both level up at the same pace. Characters have different skill sets, ranging from hyper, normal or special attacks, though it doesn’t really matter which type you choose as all character attacks ultimately do the same thing. Being victorious will lead to you earning XP, that will earn your character stronger attacks and a higher health bar. I found it almost impossible switching to different characters for harder levels, as a level 1 character simply stands no chance. This limited my choices when entering harder stages, which was a shame as there are a lot of different characters to choose between. But on the other hand, this does encourage players to replay earlier levels with different characters however.
Gameplay is basic and is easy to muster. You run around demolishing hordes of enemies, with objectives thrown in every now and then. These are usually centered around defeating a high ranking officer, or tackling large scores of enemies in a set time. Although repetitive, I did find these added distractions to the standard gameplay very welcoming, and having to beat an officer in a time limit did give levels a greater sense of urgency. Levels are usually won by defeating the opposing sides boss, who is stronger, faster and harder to kill than his minions. If either of your selected characters are slain, then its game over, no matter how near you are to destroying the enemy leader.
As you play each level you will collect a large assortment of different upgrades dropped from fallen foes. These can either be randomly dropped by your standard enemy, or by completing an objective. These can be new weapons, or increases to your health and musou. You will also pick up strategy tomes, which can be used to upgrade your characters skill tree. This can be accessed prior to beginning a battle allowing you to add skills to your character. You can customise your loadout by deciding which weapon to use and if you desire, which horse to use in battle. Fallen enemies will also drop gold at certain points, which can be exchanged for skills and weaponry in the shop. I personally never found any need to use this feature, as I was more than satisfied with the weapons dropped at my feet. The more you play a storyline, the more powerful your characters becomes, with stronger weapon attributes making your character become formidable on the battlefield. Using the tools at your disposal is essential, as a stronger weapon can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Koei Tecmo attempts to keep combat fresh and exciting by giving you access to new moves every time you level up. There are rush, standard, special and even a earth-shattering musou attacks which can only be used once your musou bar is full. These are unique for each character and give you a temporary invincibility as you literally annihilate enemies within your close proximity. Although impressive to look at and extremely useful when in a sticky situation, it does get pretty old pretty quick with the same move used over and over again. This leads on to my overall opinion of the games combat. Despite all the different moves, combos and special attacks it all comes down to button mashing. In fact, you could potentially go through a whole battle just tapping square over and over again for your standard attack, which gets more powerful the more times you push it. Only on a couple of occasions did I bother to look at a characters different combos, as clicking a random combination of buttons usually ended up with a positive result. It did feel pointless having different skill sets, as each characters attacks seemed extremely similar.
If playing solo, you can switch between your two characters at any point, which is useful as objectives will sometimes require you to travel to the far reaches of the map. When you are not in control of a character, they will automatically head to where the next objective is. Alternating between the two is simple, but even though you’re not in control, they will still run head first into danger so not be surprised if you take control and find yourself surrounded. It is also important that you keep an eye on the in-game prompts. If one of your characters is struggling it is important that you re-take control as otherwise they will fight till the death rather than flee which would lead to your defeat. Switching characters is a seamless process, and only pauses the battle for a mere few seconds.
Something I really enjoyed about Samurai Warriors 4-2 is just the grand sense of being apart of an epic battle. Your mini-map constantly tells you where two opposing officers are doing battle, and the characters are constantly communicating via dialogue boxes at the bottom of the screen. Enemies litter every corner of the map and there is little rest bite. Unfortunately this grand sense of epic battle can be slightly misleading. If you scrape away the surface, you realise that you are the one controlling the battle. At times it did feel like I was the only one actually making any progress during a battle. Although you will have scores of generals and officers aiding you, they rarely ever seem to defeat important enemy figures for you. I felt constantly that I was a one man army, with even your other playable character rarely defeating anyone unless you are in control.
Although most visuals are fantastic to look at, there was a major issue with enemies ‘popping’ on to screen. Your detailed mini-map highlights where enemies are, but don’t expect to see them unless you are a few inches from where they are standing. The map is there, the structures and everything with it, except the enemies who you are heading to attack. Although not a game changer, it did throw me on a few occasions when my path ahead looked clear, only for a couple of hundreds swordsman to appear right in front of me as I ran through. Perhaps this was the only way of keeping the frame rate so clean.
Aside from the story element, there is also a form of horde mode. This sees you entering a tower, attempting to get as high as possible before eventually being slaughtered. I did find it a nice twist on the done to death horde modes in video games today, as there were various challenges, such as completing a floor in a time limit or defeating a certain amount of enemies. It is a nice extra, and did offer a nice alternative to the standard mode. You can also enter your score onto the online leaderboards to see how you compare with players from all over the world which is a nice addition. Just don’t go thinking that any gameplay element is different here, as you’ll still find the good old fashioned button mashing leading to success.
So what is the conclusion to Samurai Warriors 4-2? I personally have enjoyed every second of the experience, and have found myself coming back again and again. It maybe repetitive, but it is importantly fun and perhaps perfect to play in small bursts on the go. The attempts at depth through story elements falls flat, but this shouldn’t matter when the combat is fun, rewarding and addictive.