Samurai Warriors (Sengoku Musou)

Koei answers the thousands of Dynasty Warriors fans requests


The Lowdown

Pros: Lots of ways to upgrade your character, branching paths, many improvements over Dynasty Warriors series

Cons: Nothing new, way too much slowdown, could have used some better graphics

Purchase at Play-Asia
You have to give it to a company that not only knows their fans, but listens to them. Dynasty Warriors is huge in Japan, the PS2 titles have sold a million copies each. Of course a company like Koei would take notice to such impressive sales. The numerous fans in Japan craved a game like Dynasty Warriors, but based in Japan. When Koei heard the cries of their loyal fans they responded by creating Samurai Warriors. Essentially, Samurai Warriors could be looked at as Dynasty Warriors in a different era. Koei decided not to leave the game just as that and instead make a number of improvements to the winning formula.

The Dynasty Warriors series has always had a deep amount of history blended into a beat 'em up game. Gone is the seriousness of Dynasty Warriors and the Romance of Three Kingdoms tale. Replaced by this is a barebones story about a legendary samurai warrior. While the story doesn't have the depth or the history that Koei is known for, few people actually play these games to progress through the story. Instead people play for the non stop action of being hopelessly outnumbered in a large battlefield. Yes, in Samurai Warriors you get to play the role of a powerful warrior, surrounded in a battle with a mission to survive and eliminate an enemy leader.

You do get to pick your character from three different Samurai (Yukimura, Kenshin and Hanzou), a ninja (Mitsuhide) and a cute girl (Oichi). Each character starts out with a different type of weapon and different set of moves. Mitshuide attacks with a sickle and is a fast fighter. While Oichi attacks with a cup and ball that can hit a lot of surrounding enemies. Yukimura has a traditional sword and can deal some heavy damage. You can pick from all five characters at the start of the game and switch between them freely. Each of the characters has their own storyline and scenarios to follow. Successfully completing a storyline will unlock more characters, hence more scenarios. More scenarios means more replay value, which is a definite plus.

A new addition to the simple character building system seen in the Dynasty Warriors series is a deeper character customization system in Samurai Warriors. At the end of a level your character will receive status upgrades such as an increase in life, running speed or attack depending on which and how many enemies you have defeated. This part is the same as Dynasty Warriors. The difference is that your character will also receive skill points that can be used to purchase skills from a skill tree. The skill tree is divided into Assault, Martial Arts, Defense and Elemental. Each box in the tree has a certain prerequisite stats that you need to be able to learn a skill. For instance if you were Yukimura wanted to learn the "Medicine Skill", which increases the potency of recovery items you would need to have 170 musou and 110 speed before you could purchase the skill. Each character has different point amounts for each skill. Going back to the medicine skill Ouichi only needs to have 163 musou and 140 speed before being able to purchase it. This means she'll have access to the skill earlier than Yukimura. There are a lot of different skills to choose from some skills upgrade your life or musou meter, some skills increase ally abilities and the elemental skills allow you to have special attributes in your strikes. With over thirty different skills, each with different levels you have a lot of choices on how you want to develop your character.

You won't be spending most of your time working on your character, you'll be spending it in combat. The story is broken up into different missions. If you complete a mission you receive experience points, get to keep any items you collected and advance the story. Failing a mission will mean having to replay it to unlock the next scenario. The mission objectives are normally defeat a certain enemy and make sure a certain general on your side is not defeated. As long as you can defeat the target enemy before the enemy defeats their target you win. Stopping you from achieving this is a myriad number of enemies surrounding you at all times. You can attack enemies by pressing the square button and the triangle button. Pressing square over and over again creates a combo, more combos can be created by pressing triangle at the end of a combo instead of square. The system is very simple to learn, anyone can get into the game in minutes. Compared to Dynasty Warriors the characters in Samurai Warriors have more dramatic attacks. Instead of just swinging their sword wildly, they'll shoot out flaming phoenixes, cast ninja magic and juggle enemies from the start of the game. All of the new attacks add a fresh feel to the series, instead of using the more realistic moves of Dynasty Warriors. As you attack enemies and get hit yourself your musou meter charges. When the meter is full you can unleash a powerful attack that can knock down all of the enemies surrounding you and give a lot of damage.

While battles are fun single player, the Warriors games have always been more fun with a buddy. Samurai Warriors continues to add the split screen two player support like the previous games. There are a few differences though. One huge difference is that when you play with a partner you both share a musou meter. To actually use a musou attack both players must have their bars filled and when you use the attack both players use it at the same time. This is kind of frustrating because one player could use up the treasured musou attack when another player was trying to save it for future use. Another thing that is frustrating is that if you want to use your musou attack you have to either wait for the other player to manually charge their meter by holding circle or have to wait for it to gradually fill. This is a minor annoyance compared to some of the technical problems in the two player mode. During two player mode you're using a split screen. The in game camera doesn't handle well in single player mode and is even worse in split screen mode. At times the camera can get stuck in a corner or be in an angle where you can't see what is going on. This forces the player to mash buttons and run around until the camera realigns. Not exactly a simple task when enemies are at all angles. Another problem is the amount of slowdown in two player mode. The Dynasty Warriors games have always had some slowdown due to having so many moving characters on a screen at one time. However, Samurai Warriors has an almost unbearable amount of slowdown. You'll notice slowdown that can be so problematic that your character floats in the air when trying to perform a jumping attack. One of the best parts about the series, the two player mode, ends up testing gamer's patience more than in should.

You have to expect some amount of slowdown with the amount of enemies on the screen. Seeing hordes of enemies rush at you is a great graphical feat. It makes you feel like you're smack in the middle of a battle. Although, the enemies you're fighting look rather bland. Many of the faceless enemies are the same reused polygonal models you'll fight again and again. The models look a bit jagged compared to many other games out there, which allows for more characters to be on the screen at once. This does come at some price because the level of detail within the game is defiantly less than other games that are coming out. Graphically, the game also suffers from bland backgrounds. How many times do you have to run over a gray landscape or a wooden dojo? A little more scenery would be a welcome addition.

Technical issues a side Samurai Warriors is a lot of fun to play. The game captures the spirit of the Dynasty Warriors series and improves on them. Although, the game does suffer from the same technical problems that many old NES games suffer from slowdown and lack of graphical detail. If you can put up with that you're in for a good time.

Import Friendly?

Menus and voiceovers are in Japanese. You can probably figure out how to complete missions on your own, if you've played another Dynasty Warriors game. However, understanding the skill tree, which is a core part of the game requires an understanding of Japanese.

US Bound?

Samurai Warriors is set to be released by Electronic Arts on March 23, 2004.

Overall

If you like the Dynasty Warriors series or are searching for a good beat em up game Samurai Warriors is a winner.