While I’m a fan of hack-and-slash games, I hadn’t played any of the non-collaborative Warriors games until now. What Samurai Warriors 4 has shown me is that playing one wouldn’t be so bad, every once in a while.
Samurai Warriors 4 plays the way that most Warriors games do. I’m sure we all know how they play by now, but I’ll explain for those unaware. Standard Warriors gameplay involves running around a map packed with allies and enemies. Often, there are dozens of enemies across a single map, and the majority of your time will be spent defeating swaths of them. You’ll also complete objectives as they come up along the way. Since your AI helpers aren’t usually of much help, only the characters you’re controlling will be of any use in winning the battle for you.
The only difference I saw in Samurai Warriors 4 that didn’t have an equivalent in any other Warriors game I’ve played is that you have a second character. You can command this character to run to points on the map to help allies or attack major enemies. You can also jump to controlling them instead of your current character at will, making your old character an AI you can command instead. That said, once again, this second character is fairly useless when controlled by the AI, other than being a distraction to any enemies you need to keep busy. For example, I only found my AI partner to be useful against particularly powerful bosses as a meat shield. I would also send them to distract any enemies that weren’t supposed to be allowed to escape, since there are often several of these at once.
The Warriors games often recreate a notable set of events for each of their maps, and Samurai Warriors, as its Japanese title makes blatantly obvious, covers Japan’s Sengoku era. My knowledge of Japanese history is mostly limited to Google-fu and what I learned while verifying the accuracy (or deliberate lack thereof) of The Ambition of Oda Nobuna back when it aired in 2012, but this game appears to be accurate enough. That is, with the exception of the DLC missions that ignore history to give amusing scenarios like a fight to determine the ultimate ladies’ man.
In any event, playing like a normal entry in a series that’s well known for samey-feeling entries, I don’t want to focus on the main gameplay here, but rather the modes and how Koei-Tecmo handled the Vita version, which is the one I played.
In addition to the normal campaigns, there are two modes to pick from in the game. First, there’s the Chronicle Mode where you play as a custom character and move around a map, recruiting characters and making decisions. The goal in this mode is to write the biographies of all the major historical figures by stabbing and/or slicing them, somehow. You get to pick a life goal for your character, as well as a partner character you can swap out at any time, and go around fulfilling it. As you travel through the map, you enter encounters featuring heavily truncated versions of the normal gameplay, with assortments of enemies that appear to be, to some extent, randomly generated—they don’t have to make sense. The other mode available is a simple Free Mode, which lets you play any campaign maps with any characters you’ve unlocked in the other modes.
From what I’ve been reading, the various Warriors games on Vita have had major performance issues and gimmicky controls so far, but Samurai Warriors 4 at least tries to break this pattern. Whether or not it succeeds entirely is a separate matter. The game runs smoothly most of the time. I don’t have any way to measure framerate on the Vita, but the framerate appears stable with only a few exceptions. That having been said, special attacks and close-ups cause slowdown, and the game also takes a second or two to fully catch up if you jump to controlling your partner if you sent them to the other corner of the map.
The next thing I feel the need to bring up is how the game controls. I jumped to this game straight from a session of Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus, and the control scheme felt very similar, though there were a few differences I needed to adjust to (muscle memory had me trying to run but instead wasting my special attacks). However, it also looks like Samurai Warriors 4 ran out of buttons on the Vita, since there are two inputs that involve the touch screen and the rear touchpad. The one on the touch screen, which activates rage mode, works just fine since there’s a large button that you can tap to trigger it and it always works. That said, the button on the rear touchpad to call your mount is problematic. It says to tap the “upper-left”, but what they mean is “tap the corner—nothing else counts”. You’re allowed to change this to the same corner of the touch screen or the middle of the touch screen, but the former is still as specific, so I never bothered trying the latter.
Finally, there’s one final, major issue with the Vita version of the game. The enemies have pop-in. I know first-hand how difficult it is to code large amounts of enemies on the screen at once for an action game, but the implementation here is very noticeable. Compare these two images, taken not even 2 seconds apart from each other:
While it’s hard to tell from still images, the enemies in the middle group that were farther away literally popped into existence. After I took this shot, I had enemies appearing and disappearing within melee range in an especially populated map. It’s not just visual—the enemies are outright gone and cannot be interacted with until the density of enemies in the area goes down. Thankfully, major enemy officers are excluded from this… but they aren’t the only the fodder that disappear.
There are special enemies that carry flags that raise morale and make enemies tougher to kill, and they sometimes vanish in these large groups, too, forcing me to defeat buffed enemies before they reappear, preventing me from strategically going after them first. There are also other special enemies that you have to defeat for fodder enemies to stop spawning in an area, and they suffer from the same problem: they disappear in these large packs sometimes. In both cases, the effects of them still being alive are active, but you cannot defeat them. Luckily, this doesn’t happen to these special enemies too often, but they should have been excluded from it entirely like the enemy officers.
Overall, I enjoyed playing Samurai Warriors 4 and will keep doing so, but the issues with the game definitely did get in the way of my enjoyment.
Food for Thought:
1. The character creator is a bit deeper than I expected. I thought they’d limit it to fit into Sengoku era Japan, so I didn’t expect to be able to make an accurate “me” in the game (tall, bulky black man with a buzz cut), but I came very close. They even let you give a character heterochromatic eyes (eyes of two different colours) if you want, which is not something I see implemented often.
2. I love how everyone has ordinary, expected weapons, and then you randomly have one character who attacks with floating magic orbs and another character who can generate a magical barrier to shield themselves from attacks.
3. After I wrote this, I was given the PS3 version to check if the pop-in issues are present there as well. I used cross-save to immediately check the worst offender I’d seen while playing thus far, the Incident at Honnōji. Sadly, yes, there appears to be something similar, if not identical, going on. However, the framerates are consistently higher on PS3 from what I could tell. Also, the extra buttons remove the issue with calling mounts (it’s simply L2). That said, the font was a bit blurrier.