This is actually my first experience with the Samurai Warriors game series. I’ve toyed with some of the crossovers in the past with Dynasty Warriors and a few other brands like Pokemon Conquest (yes I think that one counts), but I’d never gotten into Samurai Warriors and after playing this one, I’m kind of sad I didn’t get into it sooner. This entry is meant to be something of a tenth anniversary title for the series and mixes up some of the combat and storytelling from previous games with the Dynasty Warriors series. Going into the game cold and not knowing much about this I obviously wasn’t aware of all the ins and outs of what had come before, but this is definitely one that anyone can pick up without having played the others. Let’s take a look.
The game itself is set during the Sengoku period of Japan, also known as the Warring States period. This was a time of very violent political and military upheaval where Japan was ruled regionally by daimyo and lasted from the middle of the 16th century and up into the early part of the 17th century. Samurai Warriors 4 does play a little fast and loose with some of the events to broaden the impact and considering the super-human and almost supernatural elements involved it works well enough. They do try to keep this one fairly close to the events as they can which I’ve read is a bit of a departure. There are several modes to this to tell the overall story of the period and each works a bit differently. Story Mode breaks its stories into thirteen selectable and unlockable story chains that focus on particular factions in the period and events therein. Each of the mini-campaigns in the thirteen blocks is of variable length and not all of them focus on the winning factions, which can lead to some serious angst but in a good way. In story mode you’re limited to certain characters within each faction per mission. The cutscenes between each segment don’t always include every character in that faction, however, and focus on telling smaller and more interesting tales even if they’re not always complete or coherent.
Free Mode lets you pick up and play characters from the story mode or your own created characters to play through levels in the story mode that have been unlocked. It lets you level up characters and find items without watching cutscenes as well as pair up characters that wouldn’t normally go together in the game because of how they split up the story line. The Dojo offers up a few different options for the player including creating your own character, an encyclopedia, access to the DLC content, and pre-rendered cutscenes. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the character editor in this one as they let you go to town and mix and match just about anything. You’re limited to 20 character slots but you could make each one of them completely different looking.
The last but probably most in depth story mode is the Chronicle mode. This is where you can field your created character, ally with one of the factions fighting for dominance over Japan and try to gather as many allies to your side to run around with as you can. While the main Story mode is quite good and does a great job, you get a lot of the other characters’ stories here by recruiting them and fielding them with your character and advancing their relationship. With over fifty playable characters and a named cast of around a thousand, some of them were going to get shortchanged on the Story Mode and Chronicle more than makes up for that. You work your way around Japan and get into other factions territories trying to advance your stats and gather weapons as well as advancing your side career. It’s an interesting way to do it and I found myself playing in Chronicle a lot more just to get a deeper look into the world they’ve created and recreated here through my own character and their interactions with everyone around them.
The game itself is very pretty to look at. The character models have some amazing detail to them, the animations look great, the effects work really well with the animations, and even your custom characters end up looking fantastic in play as well which not every game can accomplish. The areas are fairly open and decently detailed, but don’t quite match the character level of detailing. The areas you’re moving through do look fantastic regardless, just not as up to par as everything else. The biggest thing I think with the PS4 version is an added amount of visible enemies charging at you to wade through which does indeed look all the more impressive when you see the waves of them coming at you to cut down. All of the screenshots I’ve put into the review here are directly from my PS4 while I was playing through.
The music in this game is pretty amazing. Just going to throw that out there right now. If you’re into some driving action oriented themes in your games you’re going to love the soundtrack to the game. They did a great job with that. There is a problem if you were expecting a dubbed version of this game. There isn’t one. Only the Japanese audio is here. It is translated in all the cutscenes and when you’re running around in levels and the characters are talking smack at each other it’s an unobtrusive pop-up on the screen so you know what they’re saying to each other and you. There are a few instances where you will have no idea what anyone’s said unless you’ve watched some anime before or taken Japanese. When you’re in stores or places you can trade in you’re going to get some Japanese audio tossed your way that doesn’t get translated at all. It’s not all that important to the game and knowing what’s going on – far from it actually. But I felt the need to mention that not everything in the game gets a subtitle. The voice cast is great and varies from character to character and while I can’t place any of the Japanese voice actors from any shows I’ve watched recently or in the past their delivery is spot on for what they’re trying to do with a particular cut scene.
While you’ll find yourself hitting some of the same buttons repeatedly, there’s actually a variety of commands to issue through your controller. Your d-pad can issue commands and controls your inventory use in the different missions. The touch pad pulls up an information screen that’ll help you issue commands to your second character as well as pressing it lightly. From that menu you can give more detailed commands such as picking a specific target on the map. Hitting the options button will flip you between your two characters. The left analog stick controls your movement while the right one controls your view. Hitting R3 on the right analog stick throws you into Rage when your appropriate meter is full. The face buttons all trigger different attacks that work in chains as well as controlling your jump, flip and mount commands. R1 triggers your special skill while R2 controls which map you’re looking at. L1 controls blocking, strafing, and flipping while L2 calls your horse and also mounts it. Everything is pretty responsive and does it when you want to and the same can be said when you’re playing on Vita as well.
Your attacks in the game are a series of chains based off what you start with. Your normal attack, triggered with the square button can be followed up by more normal attacks or by hitting the triangle for a power attack. You can start off with a hyper attack with the triangle first and mixing it up further by jumping around to other attacks. Hyper attacks are great against the canon fodder you work your way through as you’re playing but aren’t so good against the named guys you come across throughout the levels. You hit x to perform a jump which you can follow up with square to make a jump attack or triangle for a power jump attack. When a special skill oriented character levels up you can hit your R1 and either the square or triangle button to perform a special attack. These are all your basic moves that you’ll use throughout. If you remember that officers get nailed by power attacks and regular soldiers get mowed down by hyper attacks you can get by with these pretty easily on the lower difficulty settings.
As you level up a character you open up more attacks you can get off in a single chain before you have to start again. They show the length on the move list you can pull up. You have a Spirit Gauge that fills up as you make your way through and it has two uses. First, you can make a rapid attack by pressing x when it connects or you’re blocked to follow up immediately with another attack. These can also break through an enemy character’s blocks. This uses up one slot on your Spirit Gauge. The other option is to trigger Rage with the R3 button which consumes your full Spirit Gauge, and as a result you become invincible and your attributes power up. When all is said and done you can fire off a Musou Frenzy Attack which is like a finishing move with your Rage going as well. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
The Musou Attack is triggered with the circle button. You have to have at least one unit in your Musou Gauge to trigger an attack and each use consumes one unit. The True Musou Attack fires off when your health is in the red. It’s a more powerful Musou Attack. The Multi Musou Attack is a great tool to sit on as it replenishes your health as you attack. This one is triggered by being near another player an ally or certain NPCs. A visible lightning bolt pops up between the two characters on screen if you can trigger it. The Musou Frenzy Attack is the one triggered in Rage mode and is the ultimate finishing move. It also eats up all of your Spirit Gauge. You can fill up either gauge by inflicting damage or using items. The Musou Gauge will also fill up by holding down the circle button or just getting hit. The game does keep track of how many people you’ve KOed as well as your ongoing combo chain which helps fuel your gauges. These attacks really help break up the normal combats and also look fantastic on screen but more importantly can help you clear up a lot of the trash coming your way. Mounts are fun to play with and you can attack from them including your normal and power attacks, stomping or unleashing a Musou Attack. One of the things I didn’t encounter too often was the Mighty Strike which happens on Officers. They’ll get a triangle over their head and you hit your button to perform it. This is usually triggered when an officer is stunned.
Here’s where things can get tricky. While this feels like a button smasher with some combos thrown in, how you play affects your character’s growth as you play. If you do a lot of one type of attacks, those will grow in strength as you level and become more powerful as you play. The good news is that all your character advancement is shared across all game modes, so if you play a lot in Free Mode that translates over to Story Mode and so on. Equipment also plays a role in your stats. You find drops from enemies and destructible boxes scattered around the levels. You can get weapons there but also gems that can be fitted into sockets on the weapons with open slots to upgrade a variety of stats. This is all done in the shop. You can exchange gems, add them to weapons, re-forge weapons and buy mounts. You also have the option to bring a variety of items you’ve acquired in battle with a range of abilities to assist throughout on top of your gauged abilities.
Your map is extremely useful over the course of a battle. Besides showing your ultimate goal and where you need to break morale by killing enemy officers and taking their barracks, it also gives very helpful hints when other events are triggered and can help you in directing your secondary character if you want them working on something else while you create your own carnage. The triggered objectives are announced as you make your way through a battle and have a wide variety of objectives but usually include killing a specific person or group of people. There are some objectives with stricter requirements either requiring characters to be present to complete them or that you have to finish someone off with a particular attack. So as you can see there’s a wide variety and complexity to your button mashing if you want it. If you just want to wade in and kill everything without much thought you also have that option. Either way you’re hitting some really repetitious combat as you move through the different stories but they change things up often enough that it generally takes quite a while for stage and combat fatigue to hit you.
There is a pretty good incentive for re-visiting missions and levels you’ve cleared even if you’ve unlocked the other sections of story mode to play or all the characters. They have different goals and difficulty levels you can set each time you start a mission which can vary depending on which character you’re running in that mission. Then there’s also running to level that character up again. If you have a friend with the game you can play online with them in co-op. You’re limited in your character selection this way as one person gets the primary character and the other person the secondary and swapping between the two gets turned off. For trophy hunters you’ve got a lot of work to put into this one to get that platinum. Chronicle Mode alone can keep you coming back to this one long after you’ve beaten everything in Story Mode. So if you’re worried you’ll run out of reasons to keep playing the game if you love the gameplay, don’t.
The game does have a very healthy amount of content for the price. I can imagine it taking someone ten to twenty hours just to go through Story Mode alone. Granted you could blow through much faster and not getting bonuses on the easiest setting but that’s not nearly as much fun. The easiest setting is extremely easy. They’re not lying there. It’s a breeze. The little challenges they throw at you to complete as you play through a level add a bit of difficulty as you make it through as it can involve backtracking or running to the other side of the map. Some of them aren’t very fair if you’re playing characters you didn’t develop in earlier parts of story mode when you’re playing on a harder link in that story chain. Beating the last boss is about the same but there are a few where it’s just on the edge of being an unfair challenge to complete. The Chronicle mode is a bit steeper on the curve than Story Mode as you level up much slower there, but you’re playing that character for much longer than in Story Mode so it works overall.
Despite being the fourth entry and the tenth anniversary entry at that, they’ve done a few things to try and shake things up a bit. They changed some of the gameplay from previous entries, incorporated things from games in another Warriors series, changed up how they present their Story Mode, and spiced things up a bit in the Chronicle mode with options from the Chronicle titles to change up their Mercenary Mode. Overall though the game looks and plays very much like previous titles. It’s a decent enough shake-up, especially if you’ve never touched the series before, but if you’re looking for something really new from the series, you’re not going to find it with this one. This is a bit of retread ground but done in a really nicely packaged way. I do have to say despite its repetitive nature, the game is hard to put down. I’ve gone whole chunks of time playing this through remote play on my Vita while I should be sleeping and just kept going. The various levels can be quick to play through or you can take your time as you need which makes it an easy choice when you have a short amount of time to kill lots of people before work.
The last time this series was on Playstation in this form was Samurai Warriors 2 on the PS2. Samurai Warriors 3 was exclusive to the Wii. So the series coming back over to my console of choice is very tempting. Them adding some nice additions to the PS4 version in terms of visual quality and enemy density because it can handle more than the PS3 or the Vita is a nice touch as well. It’s a well polished game and a great tenth anniversary version that is accessible even to people who haven’t played the series before. There’s a lot to like here. I didn’t encounter anything weird while I was playing it, and while there isn’t much customization done for the Vita’s Remote Play, the default works beautifully as you’re not going to end up using too much beyond the left analog stick and the face buttons anyway. So if you have a Vita and a PS4 but only have this on PS4 you can still play it really well when you’re at home on your Vita with some PS4 quality visuals.
Short Attention Span Summary
Samurai Warriors 4 acts as the tenth anniversary edition of the game series, incorporating several features from other games in side releases, expanding on a few others and delivering a fantastic looking entry on top of it. There’s plenty of content to play through and they’ve changed up the story mode a bit to make the stories a bit more personal and involved for the characters with each separate arc within. Character creation for the Chronicle Mode is fantastic and it’s very easy to get lost wandering around in your own personal Japan within the game. While the gameplay itself can get a bit repetitive with its constant button mashing, the objectives within each level do break some of that up along with the brief snippets of dialogue within each area and of course your charged up attacks that can clear a large group of people coming your way. More importantly the game is a blast as you fight through waves of enemies and mowing through them to that final boss can be extremely satisfying. This entry is one fans of the series should love but is also friendly to newcomers.