Genre : Action
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: July 17, 2004
With a fairly large name change for the game (going from Dynasty Warriors 4 to Samurai Warriors), one would think there would be plenty of room to let the series breathe a bit and take a stroll down other gameplay paths, ideas, and elements. The Dynasty Warriors series has always been solid beat-'em-ups that really sold themselves on the fact that the protagonists of the game can easily handle hundreds of soldiers single-handedly as you make your way through the game's large levels. Samurai Warriors does have a few changes and additions to the standard Dynasty Warriors mix, but at the end of the day, despite the name change and the possibilities that it provides, Samurai Warriors is not much different than Dynasty Warriors 3, which was released nearly three years ago, let alone Dynasty Warriors 4.
In Samurai Warriors, you play as your choice of one of five samurai warriors in feudal Japan (in contrast to Dynasty Warrior's ancient China), each of whom are fighting on various sides and for various purposes. A second player can tag along with his own chosen warrior, turning the entire story mode into co-op play. Additional characters are unlocked as you progress through the game, including a character that uses a musket as a weapon (which, historically, is one of the weapons that triggered the downfall of the samurai age). As you fight from level to level, the gameplay remains largely the same as the game's Dynasty predecessors in that you must eliminate the enemy generals, cause the enemy to retreat, or both. However, in Samurai Warriors, there are now specific side-objectives to accomplish in a mission that yield more experience points and skill points at the end of the battle. In Samurai Warriors, story paths can actually branch into separate ways depending on the player's actions, which can often put a little weight behind actually thinking about your objectives instead of simply running off.
As for the fighting itself, if you've played the Dynasty Warriors series, then you already know exactly how Samurai Warriors plays like, which is both a good and bad thing. On the good side, one of the biggest draws of the Dynasty Warriors series is that anyone can easily jump into the fray without memorizing a complicated button scheme or combinations. On the negative side, this has never changed in the history of the series, and if any game were to cause your X button to wear out prematurely it would easily be Dynasty / Samurai Warriors. Now, that's not saying an overly complicated sword fighting simulation is in order, as neither the Dynasty Warriors series nor Samurai Warrior's gameplay would fit well with it but something other than mashing X with interspersions of Y, such as counterattacks or dodges, would not be a totally unwelcome change of pace. The Musou attacks are still performed by pressing the B button and though the moves are different, the idea remains the same. While using a Musou attack, your range and damage are doubled, which can easily floor a few squads of enemy troops.
There are a few gameplay additions, though not too substantial in size. Enemy archers now have another thing to fear - their own arrows - because pressing X at the exact moment an arrow hits your character will cause him/her to deflect it right back to the archer who let it fly. Taking the archers place on the food chain of annoying enemies is the musketeers, whose shots cannot be deflected, fly faster than arrows, and hurt a little more. Also, there are more attacks than of the XXXY variety, but nothing more different than XXYY or XXXYYY (This will likely make more sense to Dynasty Warriors fans, in which powerful attacks always ended with a single Y).
The "Create an Officer" mode of Dynasty Warriors 4 has undergone an extensive nose-dive before arriving at its destination of Samurai Warriors. Its premise is a good one, the training of a budding samurai warrior as you see fit, but the execution is just plain lousy. In this mode, you start off with 12 months to undergo training before finally attempting to join a samurai clan. There are various types of training you can undergo, such as Melee (kill as many enemies as possible in a minute), Burst (run from point A to point B ASAP), Deflect (deflecting arrows), etc., each of which raises some stakes while lowering others and takes a month to complete. This is the good part of the mode, the bad part is that not only can these modes get very difficult, but in between them, random events can also easily cause 2-3 "months" of work in a category to disappear. Even worse still, if you are rejected when attempting to join a samurai clan, your created warrior is deleted. What it boils down to is that if you are not already well-established with the Dynasty Warriors style gameplay, you will not be able to successfully create your own character.
Another possible benefit of a name change would be that it would allow for the creation of a new game engine or even the construction of a brand new look, being as the game takes place in a completely different geographical area, which is another possible benefit left unclaimed in Samurai Warriors. The graphics engine doesn't look much different from the engine used in a Dynasty Warriors game two games ago in the series, as the textures still look a bit fuzzy and the draw distance for enemies can still shrink to mere feet when there are more than a few enemies on screen. The frame-rate is much steadier than as seen in the other games, which is a huge plus. However, enemy animations, the special effects of Musou attacks, and the environment as a whole really hasn't improved at all in the quality department.
Sound quality hasn't done much of anything at all either; it hasn't gotten any lower, but definitely isn't aiming to raise the bar either. Many of the same sound effects from Dynasty Warriors 4 are used and are pretty decent, with the only weak point being some of the sword clashing noises. Music is of fairly high quality and seems a bit more aggressive than as heard in the Dynasty Warriors games, which isn't a bad thing by any means. The voiceovers are sub-par at best and grating at worst, neither of which are new to the Dynasty Warriors series and have almost become synonymous with the series by this point. As a whole, while the graphics engine has plenty of room to improve, especially with the increased power of the Xbox over the PS2, the sound department really isn't broken, and as the saying goes, it really doesn't need to be fixed.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Samurai Warriors is not its flaws, but that it could have easily been so much more than what it is. As it stands now, Samurai Warriors seems like nothing more than if the community were to grab the Dynasty Warriors 4 source and alter it with a few different models, enemies, and moves. The new method of creating your own officer pales in comparison to Dynasty Warriors 4 even though the latter offered much less customization, a comparison that in most respects could be used to describe Samurai Warriors to Dynasty Warriors 4 as a whole. The new abilities, such as deflecting arrows, are a welcome addition, but what the series could really use is a combat system that involved more than pressing two buttons in random combinations, a system that has worked well for the previous games in the series but has finally become stale. A newcomer to the Dynasty Warriors series will likely find Samurai Warriors to be a fun ride as the concept and gameplay will be fresh to them, but anyone familiar with the series or those who own Dynasty Warriors 4 may question why they paid full retail price for a title which seems to be nothing more than the same game that they already own, only with slightly different content.