I knew as soon as Samurai Warriors 4 was announced for North America that I would be buying it. I’ve always had a penchant for Musou games and have thoroughly enjoyed basically all of them—the sheer joy of ripping through a battlefield in the way you do in a Warriors game is hard to beat.
While I like the Empires versions of the games more than any of the flagship titles, I’ve never not enjoyed a good Musou game. And I’ve always ranked Samurai Warriors a bit higher on my list than Dynasty Warriors thanks to the good times I had in Samurai Warriors Empires 2. (I still believe that it was one of the best in the series.)
So I knew I would be picking up Samurai Warriors 4 (SW4) on day one. I would have loved to get it early to review beforehand but that didn’t happen, and I felt that I needed to put a fair bit of time into it and get a good portion of the way through Chronicle Mode before I could write a review, so that’s why you had to wait. Let’s jump in, shall we?
Mostly, Story Mode is made up of smaller stories that deal with the goings-on of the time, that come together to form a larger overview and ending. This time around, there aren’t any events during battles, and the battles themselves feel hollower than usual (especially in comparison to the newer Dynasty Warriors). This means that Story Mode is rather flat and boring, consisting merely of simple battles. It’s still fun, of course, but the conflict doesn’t seem as inspired.
Splitting up the stories based on clan or region may not have been a good idea. Each faction only has a few battles, which means the involved parties are short-changed of any character development. Character development used to be one of the strong points of the Samurai Warriors series.
All considered, the era’s story is told quite well, but I can’t help but feel that it’s also rather lacking.
Thankfully, however, Story Mode isn’t all the game has to offer. The real meat of SW4 is Chronicle Mode. Chronicle Mode has you create and officer and take him out into the world, fighting battles, interacting with other officers, and making friends as you travel around Japan. This mode is quite a bit of fun, especially once you’ve opened up a few areas to explore.
When you begin, you pick your officer, and choose a beginning location. This is the first area open to you. There are nodes you can travel between on this section of the map, and your goal is to fight in the battles and meet with the officers in the area. Battles can increase your friendship with an officer, be they friend or foe in that fight—it doesn’t matter.
There will be times when an officer appears on the map but doesn’t want to fight. These instances let you watch scenes in which you interact with the officer through choice points. Each choice point gives you two responses from which to pick. Generally, one is positive and one is negative, so think about your responses a little.
The draw is this: once you’ve seen three of the four available scenes with a given officer, they become selectable as your officer’s partner. Your partner is a second (non-editable) character that will accompany your protagonist on their travels. They are usable in battles and level up as normal.
There’s another great reward for befriending a character in Campaign Mode: if you’ve unlocked one of these characters, and have also maxed their friendship, that character’s weapon will be usable by the editable character.
When you battle in an area, the area’s “boss” will eventually make an appearance on the map. If you challenge him/her and win, you’ll have the right to expand your way into another area and unlock another section of the map.
After you put the beat down on the boss, you’ll choose and fight another officer who acts as a sort of gatekeeper to the area into which you plan to travel next. Expanding your sphere of influence and befriending other officers is basically your goal in this mode. It’s certainly simple, but a lot of fun.
The sequel has a number of notable changes from the previous titles’ gameplay. The biggest changes is the addition of “Hyper Attacks”. Hyper Attacks are triggered by hitting triangle before any squares. It takes the place of what used to be the generally useless Charge Attacks. Hyper Attacks can be comboed, for example, by pressing triangle, triangle, triangle, square. These attacks are designed to clear an area of minor enemies.
Whether this is a good or a bad change, I’m really not sure. Using a Hyper Attacks can clean out an area full of grunt enemies in seconds, and rack up three or four hundred kills very quickly. It completely negates the chore of killing off grunts with normal attacks. Simultaneously, though, wiping out tons of grunts in an instant makes the game seem very easy button-like.
So, truthfully, I’m still undecided about this change. As a side note, Hyper Attacks are useless against enemy officers, and can be blocked. If blocked, you’ll be bounced back from the enemy, and do a very anime-esque slide on your feet.
Another addition is the “Mighty Strike”. Mighty Strikes are fishing moves that will instantly kill an enemy officer, given the right conditions. The enemy officer must be at very low health (less than 1/4) and stunned. A triangle button-prompt will pop up, and if you hit it, you’ll get a special attack animation showing the finisher. It’s a really neat addition that’s been imported from Warriors: Legends of Troy. It’s quite easy to trigger these attacks, but I find it easier in many cases to simply kill the opponent outright. I really appreciate the flair, though, and depending on the character, Mighty Strikes can be a great help in finishing off enemies just a little bit quicker.
Making a return from Samurai Warriors Chronicles is the switch system! This system allows you to immediately switch between two characters on the battlefield, and helps you take care of the various bonus missions and objectives that pop up throughout a battle. You can, of course, give directives to the character you aren’t currently controlling, but switching between the two gives you a clear edge.
This is where your partner in Chronicle Mode comes in: they are the second character at your disposal during every mission. They come in handy a ton during missions, since it’s very easy to traverse the entire stage to reach a bonus objective if you keep your two characters positioned across the map from one another. This is one change I really do like—it’s certainly more useful than switching characters like in Warriors Orochi, where the characters don’t actually assist you when you aren’t controlling them.
The last big change isn’t really that big at all, in actuality. SW4 adds a “Spirit Gauge” that allows you to do several things. The gauge consists of a bar and several small orbs; each time the bar fills up, one of the orbs will set alight. Each of these orbs can be used to dash during a combo, which can extend the combo and allow you to link combos together.
However, if the Spirit Gauge is full, you can hit R3 to enter Rage Mode, which makes you invulnerable for a short period of time, with the additional effect that your attacks get a big strength boost. In addition, if you use your Musou while Raging, you automatically use the character’s Ultimate Musou, which usually requires your health to be in the red stage.
Overall, the game is still a solid Warriors experience. Not too much has changed, but the addition of Hyper Attacks nuanced the gameplay quite a bit. The available gameplay modes are certainly fun, but Chronicle Mode ends up being the one that’s really worth your time—Story Mode feels stale and lifeless in comparison to past Samurai Warriors games. Chronicle Mode is addictive, especially if you’re after a single character; one night, I found myself playing four hours later that I had planned to sleep, constantly going “One more fight … one more fight …” as I tried to get a hold of one particular officer’s weapon. It’s addictive that way.
However, overall, SW4 experience was lacking, some. The game didn’t feel as complete as the newer Musou games, and the length of the game itself paled greatly in comparison to Dynasty Warriors 8 and Warriors Orcohi 3 Ultimate, both of which were fairly recent releases.
As much as I love Samurai Warriors, I would suggest either of those games before this one. However, if you have both of those and still want more Musou, Samurai Warriors 4 is still a good entry in the series.