Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: March 7, 2006
Enter the Tokugawa
Samurai Warriors: State of War for the PSP puts you in command of several warriors to slash your way across 16th-century Japan. First and foremost an action title in the high maximum-slaughter mode, State of War also includes a strategy phase that lets you choose your path, work some magic, and otherwise manage evolving battles in big-picture terms. With a large number of playable warriors, unlockable stories to encourage progress, and plenty of skills to max out for each character, State of War hopes to earn a better reception than the PSP version of its kindred spirit, Dynasty Warriors.
Samurai Warriors: State of War is set in a period of tentative alliances and competing martial philosophies, with opposing forces seeking to unify Japan under a velvet glove or an iron fist, or both. Organized into stories with several battles each, pre-fight captions and text discussions among commanders cover the context for each scenario. When you complete one story, you unlock others, as well as new playable commanders, to keep the narrative rolling along and to try to invest the action with some Warring-States drama.
Before you get to test your sword skills, though, you have to pick your lead warrior from among Hanzo Hattori, Shingen Takeda, Tadakatsu Honda and all the other legends in your stable of heroes. Characters share the standard set of attributes – life, musou, attack and defense ratings – that increase as the enemy bodies pile up before them. Each has his or her own special weapon, too, from the lunar spear to the ban gasa parasol to a plain old dagger, that has its own stats and lends its own battlefield advantages to whoever wields it.
When you've selected your commander, weapon and sub-officers (whose inclusion in the "equipment" menu doesn't seem sufficiently insulting to affect their battlefield performance), the mission map is your next stop. This Battlefield Area System also makes up State of War's so-called strategy mode. It clearly defines your objective, usually busting the enemy's main camp, but sometimes sending you on thieves' errands like uncovering hidden loot stashed in a pattern around the battlefield, or more pious pursuits, like liberating temples in a certain order while preventing the enemy from recapturing the holy squares on the map grid.
Calling the map-bound gameplay a strategic feature is something of an elastic application of the word strategy, though that's not to diminish what fun there is to be had there. You can choose from among a set of predefined paths across the battlefield, opting to bypass treasure for a direct confrontation with enemy commanders or vice versa. The more engaging aspect of the map, though, is using charms to rain fire on your enemies or rally your allies to turn the tide of battle. Thunder and Poison attacks soften up foes before you charge into a square, while the levee-busting Sabotage and ever-useful Fire charm (excellent for clearing thickets to reveal hidden forces and giving soldiers a scorching at the same time) affect the battlefield itself.
Minefields, high and low water, docks and other terrain types work to keep the variety at a respectable level. The differences are more than cosmetic, too, as map conditions can limit your range of movement. Fighting in a square that's in range of an enemy cannon keeps you at a one-square-per-turn rate, for example, in addition to dotting the battlefield with explosions when you get around to the real meat of State of War – the well-nigh endless slaughter of eager slaughterees in action mode.
Several brief – at least on the normal difficulty setting, where your musou meter fills quickly and enemy life energy evaporates with a few hits – missions make up each battle. Individual missions come in a few familiar flavors: kill as many enemies as possible in 45 seconds, defeat enemy Spy Captains before they raise a mutiny among your troops, stop successive waves of Spy Captains, Pilgrims and Miscreants in under two minutes each, and so on. Normal is indeed about as easy as you want to take any of this, at least if you want to preserve much of a challenge while slicing through the throngs in a reasonable amount of time.
Even set at the highest difficulty level ("chaos"!), the action doesn't feel out-of-control so much as your opponents just feel tougher. AI-wise, enemies do a fair amount of standing around, and rifle and archer units rarely seem to hit their marks. Enemy sub-officers, majors, and other unit leaders put up more of a fight, enough that you may actually suffer a death or two, even without the difficulty cranked up. State of War does support up to four players in ad-hoc wireless battles, so even though other players' warriors will be under AI control on your PSP, you won't have to rely exclusively on AI for a decent challenge when it hits the shelves.
Whether you're attacking enemy-controlled territory or defending an allied stronghold under siege, the action boils down to bursts of pure button-pounding glory or thumb-chafing repetitiveness, depending on your action aesthetic. Three basic attacks take up most of your time. The simple slash attack is itself a powerful move on lower difficulties. Charge attacks, different for each character, leave you vulnerable for a moment as you ready your spinning ban gasa or other ranged or area attack. Musou moves are, of course, where it's at, tearing up the enemy ranks with a few seconds of fury. Musou attacks are certainly useful for causing significant damage to higher-ranking enemies, but they also have the practical advantage of quickly taking out masses of regular soldiers in battles where you have to wipe out the mere pawns to cajole unit leaders – your real targets – into coming out for a beating.
Warriors are all about continual self-improvement, so expect to be graded at the end of each fight and rewarded accordingly. Getting an A means being able to advance the maximum number squares in your next turn at the map, while C students only get to move one square. Other stats, like number of enemy KOs and the amount of gold you seize along the way, affect how much experience your commander gains with each round, too. On top of leveling up, skill scrolls build Might, Prowess, Guard and Elemental abilities that boost defensive moves and power more spectacular Blast, Shock and Rampage combos.
The PSP mostly holds the slowdown at bay, even as enemies multiply and the flamboyant musou moves crank up the effects. Attack animations and the ninja suits, armor and glowing swords of your commanders look reasonably polished against the persistently drab backdrops and constant fade-in. Music and voiceover take a back seat to the clashing of swords, though you do notice enough talking to grow accustomed to your hero's standard taunts of "It's over!" and "Die!"
Samurai Warriors: State of War looks to have some potential to please action fans longing for a decent specimen of crowd-slashing combat in handheld form. The brief missions may make the repetition more palatable, and at any rate, fans of the genre aren't as apt to object to the repetitiveness in the first place. If you're the type for whom the experience of plowing through a thousand warriors is topped only by plowing through the next thousand, you have reason to be fairly optimistic about State of War's March 7th arrival on the PSP.
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