To paraphrase the great philosopher Tom Jones, it’s not unusual for Koei Tecmo to release expansions to their Musou titles. Beginning back with Dynasty Warriors 3: Extreme Legends, they have found that their rabid fan base will snatch these up for the added characters and experience. The fact that these are budget priced and standalone, price minded, but curious, gamers also gave these a shot. Since then, every mainline Dynasty or Samurai Warriors has received either an Extreme Legends or a “strategy” focused Empires release (usually both.) Samurai Warriors 4-II marks something different: a reworking of the core campaigns released at full price. It is an interesting gambit that requires some goofing with the review format to give it the best shakedown. So…
For Those Who Did Not Play Samurai Warriors 4:
The natural evolution of the classic brawlers, the Musou series has always been about clearing the battlefield by beating down hundreds to thousands of hapless enemy troops. Samurai Warriors 4 managed to make that an even more cathartic experience. In most editions, the player would flog the light attack button, mixing in the strong attack for variety. These moves differed from character to character and allowed a certain form of adaptability for most situations on the battlefield. In Samurai Warriors 4, this was changed up a tad. Starting combos off with the strong attack button creates hyper attacks. These moves cover a huge amount of ground and are deadly to peon troops. These attacks are easily turned back by enemy officers, requiring the player to revert to the classic style of play. On screen, it looks like the hero is a ground based Neo from the underrated Matrix sequels, flying along and collecting a huge amount of detritus behind him or her, until the real fights begin.
For a Musou game, the graphics are surprisingly good. The characters are detailed, the animation is very smooth, and there was not one stutter in single player mode despite the number of troops on screen or the effects being triggered. This isn’t the top of what the current gen consoles can pull off, due to some weak texture work, but this is the best a Musou title has ever looked.
Omega Force even managed to hammer out what used to be the bane of the Samurai series, the indoor portions. When the initial title was released, this feature was much lauded in its promotion. Anecdotally, though, it went over as well a slideshow about life in a slaughterhouse displayed during a wedding reception. People wanted to be there, but that portion was just uncomfortable. In 4, this has been resolved. The indoor portions flow seamlessly with the rest of the battlefield, and the layouts make sense. Getting in and out is no muss, no fuss. These are finally working as intended, adding more variety to the fields.
With all of these, improvements carried over to its sequel, Samurai Warriors 4-II is an easy recommendation to people who skipped the initial version. This package adds a new character, and has what I feel is the better form of campaign structure, focusing more on individual characters instead of the “bigger picture” that the original 4 went with. For anyone that did not play the original 4, or have never played any Musou games in general, consider it well worth playing.
While packaged and promoted as a substantial reworking of the original 4 release, moment to moment play is the same that can be found in the initial package. The biggest change is in the campaign structure. Instead of putting the story attention on the bigger picture, with clan versus clan in a fight for supremacy over Japan, the impetus is on the individual. The major officers featured get a five to six stage campaign, telling more personal stories about how they came to be who they are and why they did what they did. While the writing can be stilted, this context adds more investment to the story, giving an immediate need for why that oncoming group of a couple hundred troops needs to be murdered post-haste.
The other big change is in the addition of Survival. This mode takes the place of the excised Chronicles that saw players take a custom officer through a self-determined campaign. In Survival, players take their chosen officer into a tower and work to make their way up. Each floor of the tower has a goal given, though this is always “beat the officers” or “beat set number of troops.” The lack of variety with these missions doesn’t detract from the proceedings, as the ramp in difficulty is subtle, yet effective. As players work through these floors, they earn weapons, gold and strategy tomes (points to use on the exhaustive, sprawling skill trees). After finishing each floor, the player needs to make a choice: exit the tower and bank the earned loot, or continue on for the chance of greater riches, running the risk of losing it all. This risk/reward scenario is addictive and fun. With a few tweaks, this mode could be broken off and sold as a fifteen dollar stand alone downloadable title and be well worth the money.
Beyond the changed story focus and Survival, everything in this package is recycled from the initial release of 4. The stages are cannibalized, officer move sets are the same, and even the in-battle assignments are duplicates. There seems to have been some minor balancing tweaks to the proceedings, and there might be some undetectable technical improvements under the hood, but this got put on store shelves for fifty dollars. At that price, it cannot be recommended to returning players. While it is a common, and incorrect, refrain to say that each Musou release is pointless because the game is already out, it actually holds water here. So, for those with a copy of 4, consider it a questionable acquisition.
Being that making a recommendation of Samurai Warriors 4-II is solely predicated on the individual’s previous experience, producing an assessment that applies to everyone is challenging. This release manages to slightly surpass the original due to a more interesting story focus and a great side mode. The problem is that the original exists and people paid for it already. Simply not enough changes were made to make it worth the full price. Action fans who skipped the original, however, will find a brawler that can chew away hours, bringing on the violent meditative state the series can create. It’s also a great two-player game; it’s easy to hold a conversation while beating down troops. For owners of the original release, a fifteen to twenty dollar DLC expansion option would have gone a long way to selling this, but it’s a worthy purchase for everybody else.