Goemon is back, baby
While the Dynasty Warriors series is often heralded as the pinnacle of Omega Force’s hack-and-slash catalog, the lesser-known Samurai franchise has been churning out some of the best games in the stable.
Based around the Sengoku era of Japan, Samurai Warriors mixes things up with unique offerings like ninjas, samurai, and historical figures such as Goemon Ishikawa and Musashi Miyamoto. If you can get past the repetition, Samurai Warriors 4 delivers another hearty helping of action the developer is known for.
Samurai Warriors 4 (PS3, PS4 [reviewed], PlayStation Vita)
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Released: October 21, 2014
MSRP: $59.99 (PS4) / $49.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (Vita)
Samurai Warriors 4 is the biggest game in the series yet with 55 total characters, and 12 full story campaigns. It’s massive. Old favorites return, such as Geomon Ishikawa, Kojiro Sasaki, and Musahmi Miyamoto, and there are a number of characters who make their appearance for the first time in the series. Whether you’re a newcomer or an old fan, this is a great place to start.
Warriors 4 follows Omega Force’s tried-and-true two-button combo system, with both light and heavy attacks that morph into stuns, area-of-effect, or juggle attacks depending on the order of operations. The neat thing about Samurai Warriors is that it opens up an entirely new combo system with its heavy attacks, called “hyper combos.” Instead of using the same light-to-heavy moves you’ll also have the reverse available, which gives each individual character at least ten unique powers.
This is added on to the fact that every combatant has their own signature power, which can be a special grapple or even a grenade attack. Omega Force has done a great job of further mixing it up with a rock-paper-scissors system, where enemies, officers, and generals may be more prone to normal, hyper, or special attacks. In Samurai 4, you can to use more advanced moves like air recoveries, shadow dodges, guard breaks, and ripostes. You can also switch between two characters at will, which is a nice touch for instant fast traveling. While it’s not overly complex, it still offers another layer on top of the traditional Warriors formula.
Having said that, missions can blend together over the course of each campaign. There are a lot of actual venues that range from indoor palaces to vast expanses of woodlands, but at the end of the day you’re still going to move from officer to officer, slaying all who are in your way as you carve your path towards the boss character.
Past Warriors games have mixed the action up with siege weapons and additional tactics, but Samurai Warriors 4 brings things back to the basics, for better or worse. While the actual combat system has more legs, missions tend to be linear affairs. Playing on hard will force you to try more, like kill enemy banner holders to lower morale, but it’s still not as deep as prior games. Thankfully there is full split-screen support for the console versions, as well as online play for the entire campaign and free mode to help alleviate the feeling of repetition.
Even if you start to feel in a trance due to the blending mission structure, the sheer variety of the roster will keep you interested for a while. Samurai Warriors 4 does a great job of making you feel like a badass with faster gameplay (especially on PS4, with more enemies on-screen and a superior frame rate). Characters can employ ninja tactics (Kotaro Fuma), use demolition-like weapons (Ujiyasu Hojo), glowing demon swords (Nobunaga Oda), or more traditional methods of combat — odds are you’ll find a style you’ll like.
The actual quality of the stories vary, but they tend to all have some form of cheeseball humor characteristic of the franchise. It’s performed by way of Japanese audio, which is actually perfect for the Samurai line, but there’s just one problem — it’s tough to follow what’s going on in-game with constant babbling, so you have to constantly look at subtitles to figure it out.
While the story and free modes had me occasionally stopping for breaks, the new iteration of the “Chronicle” mode had me playing late into the night. Simply put, it’s an Empire-like open-ended gametype that allows you to take your created character on a tour across Japan. You can start off serving the lord of your choice from the story, and from there, you’ll begin your travels as a foot soldier into something greater.
Not only do the missions themselves have greater variation from the core modes (instead of grand battles every time, you might just stop a band of thieves, for instance), but you’ll also have a small amount of choice in terms of how your story plays out. Whether it’s denying certain missions from your superior officer or expanding your personal army, there is an element of unpredictability involved.
It helps that the character creation process is robust. Not only does Omega Force provide you with a large amount of customization options, but the studio also offers over 20 different weapon styles, from polearms to dual daggers. When everything is said and done, odds are you’ll be able to create a male or female avatar you’re happy with.
Samurai Warriors 4 suffers from the same pratfalls as the rest of the Warriors series on occasion, but the strong offering of content and robust Chronicle mode will keep you interested for quite a while. If you have a friend available to play with locally or online as well, you can expect to play even longer.