Played on: Playstation 2
When I first bought Samurai Warriors, I quickly dropped it because I made the mistake of playing the character Oichi. She is, in a word, pathetic with her annoying little girl sprite and her really stupid weapon, the Japanese toy kendama. Her biggest combo sees her spinning the kendama around before somersaulting in the air to hit the enemies around her, which is fine with me if she didn’t land on her feet and pose like a freaking Olympics gymnast long enough for her enemies to recover and attack her afterwards.
Fortunately, when I resume playing the game later (I have nothing else to do), I quickly realize that the other characters in this game aren’t bad at all. The gameplay is very similar to that in Koei’s Dynasty Warriors franchise, with the usual hack and slash method accompanied by a musou skill. Even the graphics feel recycled from Dynasty Warriors: Nobunaga Oda, for example, has Cao Cao’s face and voice while Goemon Ishikawa has Meng Huo’s face and voice.
However, there are also skill points to get gained with the completion of each stage that can be allocated to skills that can do all kinds of things like increasing the life gauge to preventing the possibility of an enemy attack dizzying the character. That last skill is pretty important, along with the skill that prevents the character from getting disoriented after an enemy attack, because in this game there are some truly pesky enemies. The archers and the musketeers are of the Dynasty Warriors 3 level of annoyance: they shoot at an insane speed and they are very damaging. You can be killed before you can even come close to them; yet if you leave them alone, they will keep shooting until you’re dead or interrupt your combos and allow the enemies you are battling to hack you to pieces. Then there are the truly horrid ninjas: the earth ninjas will run into you and send you flying across the screen for a huge amount of damage, the fire ninjas stand in a distance and toss bombs at you, the sky ninjas slam onto the ground and send you flying into the air, and the wind ninjas will kick you and stun you. Imagine them in a crowd of enemies. The most horrid thing about these creatures is that they can attack from the back, so there’s no way of stopping them when there are already a huge crowd of pesky people hacking away at you. When that happens, you’re sent flying in all directions through no fault of your own, and then you die because of that. That’s when the Playstation is in danger of being tossed across the room.
Another thing that is slightly different about this game compared to Dynasty Warriors is that there are some quests in each stage. However, the game makers cheat a little because these quests aren’t challenging as much as they are frustrating. For example, a quest will require running off to the top left of the map, for example, and once I get there, another quest is announced requiring me to run all the way back to the bottom right of the map. There is a time limit to complete the quest so any character who is slow is going to be in trouble. This game is also too reliant on the morale factor but there seems to be no way of boosting the morale of one’s own troops. There are too many stages where my allies’ morale keeps plummeting and the ally generals keep dying one by one. That is fine on the most part since many stages can be played just fine as long as the main general is still alive or the main camp hasn’t fallen to the enemy hands. But it becomes irritating nonetheless when the gong sound keeps playing and all those annoyingly weak generals keep saying “Oh no! How can this be!” right before they die and another loud gong comes on to announce their deaths. Imagine ten such allies dying in one row and the annoying sound effects that result.
The characters in this game are more interesting than those in Dynasty Warriors, however, which is saying a lot considering how this is only their first appearance in a game. There are a few factions in this game all fighting for control over feudal Japan. The main “bad guy” camp is the Oda clan, of which Nobunaga Oda plays the omnipotent villain. He wields a lightsaber-like sword and is dressed in a simultaneously ridiculous and impressive black bodysuit inspired by those Batman movies. His attack power is one of the highest in the game. His wife Noh doesn’t know whether to love him or to kill him but one thing’s for sure: she feels that she loves him so much that she’d rather kill him than to let him die at the hands of the enemy. Her weapon is a set of claws and she can also toss out some bombs that do very little damage and are hard to aim. She has very little range but is fast and her combos are excellent for clearing crowds. The trouble is landing her first few normal moves to launch the combos since her range is so short that most enemy generals with longer-ranged weapons can prevent her from coming close to them. Oichi, the utterly irritating and weak waste-of-space, is Nobunaga’s idealistic sister. Eventually she will marry Nagamasa Asai and when Nagamasa fights with Nobunaga, Oichi is torn between her husband and her brother. Two other warriors hover at the fringes of the Oda clan. Mitsuhide Akechi is an idealistic long-haired knight who is soon repulsed by Nobunaga’s cruelty that he leads a revolt against his lord. Ranmaru Mori, Mitsuhide’s apprentice, will be conflicted in his loyalty between the two men that he serves. (The game also hints at a love triangle between the three men, which isn’t so inappropriate given Ranmaru’s famed feminine beauty and the historically-proven sexual obligations an apprentice has to his samurai master.) Both Mitsuhide and Ranmaru use katanas, with Ranmaru having the longest weapon in this game. If you can overlook the fact that Ranmaru looks like a guy pretending to act and sound like a ten-year old girl, he’s actually one of the most powerful characters in this game.
At the other end is the really boring Takeda clan – the Shu clan of Samurai Warriors, if you will – with Shingen Takeda and his silly mask and his battle fan leading the utterly boring “I am loyal! I am boring!” Yukimura Sanada (the Zhao Yun of this game – Yukimura also uses a spear like Zhao Yun) and the irritating female ninja Kunoichi who speaks like a Valley girl on crack, has speed but no range, and does little damage on an enemy. Shingen’s archenemy is Kenshin Uesugi of the Uesugi clan, a gravelly-voiced swordsman who has no personality other than to call Shingen his “nemesis” and to call on Bishamonten the God of War every time he starts a stage. Kenshin and Shingen will be feuding with each other in their storyline game modes.
There are also some free agents in this game. Keiji Maeda is the Lu Bu of this game with his crazily powerful combos and his long-ranged spear. He starts out an Oda warrior but he will eventually defect to the Uesugi clan. Magoichi Saika uses a musket and he’s the leader of the Saika mercenaries. He is a charming free-spirited rogue who lives only for women, wine, and song. He is hired by the Ikko rebels in their attempts to ward off Nobunaga’s attacks and Magoichi’s failure to prevent the Ikko rebels from being wiped out will torment him as he becomes increasingly obsessed about killing Nobunaga. I really like Magoichi’s looks and attitude in this game but he has serious problems with crowd control and he rarely fires his musket in his combos, which is odd considering how he has a freaking musket as his weapon. Then there’s the mystic Okuni who wanders around clobbering people with her umbrella when she’s not sounding like a hideously constipated man pretending to be a woman. She doesn’t have much of a story here other than her collecting funds for her temple back at Izumo and her love triangle involving Keiji and the thief Goemon Ishikawa. Gaemon, the token slow but strong brute character, has a cannon strapped on his back as well as a powerful mace as his weapons and his main mission in this game is to hunt for the plover urn belonging to Hideyoshi Hashiba, a non-playable character who’s also an Oda warrior. Hanzo Hattori, a ninja, is in an odd position because he belongs to another powerful faction, the Tokugawa clan, but he’s the only playable character from that clan.
At the end of the day, despite the monotonous gameplay system, Samurai Warriors has enough about it to be addictive. There are plenty of items to search as well as fifth weapons to be collected for each character. The fifth weapons are supposedly the best weapons for each character that can only be obtained after performing a series of complicated tasks in a predetermined stage, but there are actually better items that can be found randomly with better stats than these fifth weapons. For example, Nobunaga’s fifth weapon, a sword called Orochi, gives him horse attack and ranged defense bonuses (all pretty useless bonuses because horse attacks in this game are pathetic while there are better things to have on a weapon than a ranged defense bonus – defense, speed, and attack range come to mind) along with a measly attack bonus of 26. I however has a fourth weapon for Nobunaga that I found by chance, which gives him a bonus attack of 60 along with defense and life bonuses – clearly a weapon that is ten times better than Orochi! Getting the fifth weapons however is pretty frustrating at times because the requirements are very rigid and sometimes the weapons don’t show even if I have successfully completed all the requirements needed!
There are also two endings (although Okuni has eleven endings) for each character to unlock, a create-your-own-character mode that can be incorporated into the main storyline gameplay mode, and plenty of Easter egg hunts to keep one occupied for a while.
Therefore, while the system of the game is stale due to overuse and lack of innovation, there is still enough in Samurai Warriors to try out when there’s nothing better to do on a rainy day.