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For Musou fans looking for the next evolution in their favorite brand of hack-and-slash action game, Samurai Waarriors 4 is here to deliver. With new modes, new fighters and a few much-needed tweaks in tow, this latest offering from Omega Force and Koei could be the best one yet.
First, a brief explanation as to why this article is not a full-on review of Samurai Warriors 4. Our review copy of the game arrived the very day I was heading out of town for vacation, leaving me no time to play it or ship it off to a colleague. This was, obviously, no fault of Koei's. Back from my trip, I've only had half a dozen hours to sink into the game and, while I doubt my opinion will change much between now and when the credits roll, I don't feel I've sunk enough time in to give any sort of proper assessment.
However, I prefer to be as timely as possible and, since the game released earlier this week, I decided that getting some observations online for our curious readers now would be better than making everyone wait for a full assessment well after the launch date.
If you've played any previous Musou games, then you pretty much already know what to expect. For those curious about this particular brand of brawler, however, I'm happy to report that Samurai Warriors 4 feels like a perfect launching point, providing all of the signature combat with a few user-friendly additions that should make for an excellent adventure into Sengoku era warfare.
Even if you've never played a Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors or Warriors Orochi game before, you've likely seen these bad boys in action. You've got a big roster of characters to pick from (55 this time around), each with their own weapons and fighting styles. You run around a massive field of battle laying waste to anything that stands in your way, fighting bosses along the way and completing the occasional objective. Bare bones, that's what the Musou experience boils down to. Samurai Warriors 4 delivers on all of those prerequisites, as well as plugging in some brand new customization options, a new “Chronicle” mode and more.
Within the Story mode, you can take part in multiple missions for the 12 warring clans of Japan. Omega Force once again proves to be a friend to history buffs, pouring on details of the actual battles and revolutions that took place during the Sengoku era. I'm not entirely sure these historical characters dressed in such flashy armor or could actually fly through the air, dispatching hundreds of enemies at a time, but all of that visual flair certainly makes for a more interesting game.
You can actually take two generals into battle this time around but, instead of simply being able to swap between them on the fly, you can now issue simple commands to create more helpful strategies. If you're still busy trying to take down one batch of enemies while a new army is invading from the west, simply tap up on the D-pad, select where you want your general to go and order them to go get the party started without you. When you're finished with your current objective, you can simply tap a button and instantly switch to your other general, who will already be in the thick of a new battle.
Bolstering these new strategic options are a whole new set of moves called Hyper attacks. You, of course, have access to your standard and more powerful attacks, which can be strung together like always to dish out more damage. Working from strong to weak attack combos, now, unleashes Hyper attacks, which are perfect for clearing out weaker groups of baddies. This arsenal is complemented by a guard break to get through enemy defenses, powerful Musou powers, a souped-up Rage Mode and flashy finishers that can be executed at the tap of a button when prompted.
Further beefing up the gameplay is the introduction of sub-missions, standard bearers, barracks captains and consumable items. While you tackle your main objective, a horn blast will signal the introduction of a sub-mission (kill a certain number of enemies, escort a cart, etc), which can be completed in order to gain even more rewards. If you spot a guy with a flag running around the field, that's a standard bearer. They provide your enemies with additional morale and, if you take them out first, the rest of your foes will fall more easily. The same goes for barracks captains, which produce additional soldiers on the field of battle. Leave them hanging around too long and you'll have to fight even more enemies. Take them out, and a barracks general of your own will join the fray and produce even more friendly soldiers to help out your cause.
As for consumable items, you'll earn these by finding them on the field or completing various objectives. They range from times elemental enhancements for your weapons and stat buffs, to health recovery items and more. You can equip three to your generals before each fight and use them on the fly, giving combat even more depth.
Finally, I have to make special note of the a couple of new tweaks that address long-running issues I have with the series and make things more friendly to newcomers. The map now features a handy route marker, that makes it easier than ever to figure out where, exactly, you need to be. There's a lot going on at once in Samurai Warriors 4, which means it can be easy to miss important details as they become available. The new route marker is basically a godsend, especially since some of those maps can get pretty tricky to navigate as is.
There's also the fact that some of your progress carries over following a defeat. I haven't played ever Musou game out there and maybe I'm totally wrong on this one, but it seems like, in the past, falling in battle basically kicked you back out to the start screen, no questions asked. If you lose a mission in SW4, all of the experience and items you picked up will be kept intact. You still have to begin the mission from the beginning on your next try, but at least it doesn't feel like you've completely wasted your time when you get a “Mission Failed” message.
Also new in Samurai Warriors 4 is a spiffy Chronicle Mode, which adds some hefty customization options and lets the player put a personal spin on their involvement with the battles. You'll explore a world map and take part in loads of missions, gaining new gear and allies along the way. The Story Mode is shaping up to be pretty big, but I imagine players will lose just as many hours to Chronicle Mode, too.
So, there you have it. I'm only a handful of hours into Samurai Warriors 4, but already I've been impressed by what the game has to offer. It's easy to look at the Musou genre and assume that the gameplay never really evolves, but SW4 makes a strong argument to the contrary. It's a familiar experience for fans of the series, but there's more than enough new bells and whistles to make this latest romp worth the price of admission. While the game is available on the PlayStation 3 and Vita, you'll also be treated to the best-looking game in the series if you happen to be gaming on the PlayStation 4.