Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: November 9, 2004
Buy 'SAMURAI WARRIORS XTREME LEGENDS': PlayStation 2
Ahhh, Xtreme Legends, you’re such a tease. You, and your sister game, Samurai Warriors. Spending time with one of you simply makes me want the other. Fortunately, with a small investment, I can have you both!
…did that sound a little wrong to anyone else? Yeah, I thought so.
For anyone who doesn’t know, this is the “expansion pack” to the original Samurai Warriors game released by Koei some time back. Luckily, it’s also a standalone game. Said standalone game allows you to sample (well, more like completely have) all of the added content, but without the original disc, you cannot unlock the title’s true purpose and full potential.
We’ll get to that in a bit. I’m still obligated to talk about how a game plays, after all.
Simply put, it’s a blast, as always, with either one or two players. The premise to all of the traditional Warriors games is that you and some other featured characters lead an army into battle, while your chosen character possesses a modicum of mystical powers, and infinite stamina. To win, you slaughter as many enemies as you can, and follow instructions to defeat “officers”—think minibosses. It’s a beat-em-up fan’s shang-ri-la. This game is no different, but the backdrop is ancient feudal Japan, instead of China as in the earlier Dynasty Warriors games.
Control is simple, spot-on and precise; you never feel as if you have to fight with the controller to get it to do what you want. The AI “bodyguards” assigned to your player are still hit-or-miss, but are generally helpful, especially when they increase in number. New to Samurai Warriors and its expansion are missions that affect the outcome of your battle in real-time, depending on how fast you accomplish or fail them. The real-time missions are a welcome addition, and add to both the immersiveness and the difficulty of each person’s story and scenarios. There are also branching story paths for characters, a shop where you can unlock special game features and character costumes, and a compendium of character biographies.
Call me crazy (or blind), but I could have sworn that the earlier games had had a fully-controllable 3D camera . I was unable to find one here, meaning that if one wants to change what direction they’re looking in, they have to walk that way for a few seconds to allow the auto-camera to adjust. It can be confusing, but no more confusing than the game can be as a whole, especially during those moments where it seems like it’s you against the world. Therefore, it’s a minor nitpick. However, if this were a platform game… then yeah. We’d have a genuine problem here.
Now, if you’ve played the original Samurai Warriors, then most of the changes made for this iteration of the series will be old hat to you. What makes this game worth picking up is the fact that it’s to Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution what the original Samurai Warriors was to the original Virtua Fighter 4—that is, without that whole “making the first version of the game utterly worthless” thing attached.
Xtreme Legends features the addition of various engine tweaks, game tweaks (for example, it’s possible to level up characters higher than were normally intended, and to get their superweapons in easier modes), four extra characters (only their stories are playable; the entire cast, however, is playable in the “free-form modes”) some added extra items, revised mission goals, and the fact that if you have the original game and memory card save, you can import those and voila! All of these new benefits can be granted towards the original Samurai Warriors characters, and your progress with them. It’s an expansion system that Koei’s seen fir to lay on us for a few years now, and hey, if it isn’t broken…
The game’s looks are well above average—Koei’s been using the game basic engine for a while now, and it certainly shows; however, there is a bit more character detail than in the previous games, and there are now roughly twice as many people on the screen at any given time. Unfortunately, as great as this last feature sounds, it also makes for bouts of slowdown like you wouldn’t believe when things get hairy. This slowdown can cast a long time at that—as long as it takes for enough enemies to be eliminated so that the PS2 can catch its breath. Is the tradeoff worth it? It varies with taste. For people like me who love beating the snot out of various video game models, I consider it a challenge. However, it will turn some users off.
The soundtrack, as always, is very nice—traditional Japanese drums, flutes, whistles, the whole nine yards, are here. I’m especially fond of the music that plays during the menu and preparatory map screens. The English voice acting continues to improve from the Dynasty Warriors games—however, it’s been an uphill battle then, and it still is now. Dub defender I my be, but this is one of the few games where I wanted Japanese voices playing.
The Warriors franchise has always been an awesome marriage of arcade-style simplicity and role-playing game concepts, and Samurai Warriors: Xtreme Legends is Koei's best version yet. Even though it’s only billed as an “expansion pack” (and I thus must score it as such—it’s still technically not a complete game) there’s enough here to make it a good one, and then some. If the myriad revisions to the old Street Fighter 2 games can continue to wow players and critics, then this can certainly hang around.
At this point, though, one has to wonder how far the franchise can be taken, how much it can be tweaked, and how many new features can be added before the concept needs a true reinvention, rather than the not-so-simple makeover that Samurai Warriors provides. Face it, if you’ve played Dynasty Warriors, you’ve played this, even though there are quite a few new rules to the game that you may have to get used to. Yes, it helps accessibility, but it also makes one slightly worried.
But that problem, if it even is one, is a ways off. For now, this is still the most fun you can have hitting random people with random things by the hundreds, while still whetting your appetite for more of the same.
In any case, easy recipe for fun: buy Xtreme Legends, pick up the original Samurai Warriors out of the used or bargain bin, and make them do the Fusion Dance. Boo-ya. Everyone wins, with the possible exception of your PS2, which will surely be worn out from the amount of time the games spend in the unit.