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Samurai Warriors 2

Platform(s): PlayStation 2, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: KOEI
Developer: KOEI


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Xbox 360 Preview - 'Samurai Warriors 2'

by Alicia on Sept. 12, 2006 @ 6:45 a.m. PDT

Samurai Warriors 2 is not a major change since its predecessor although the beat-'em-up will feature several changes compared to the original. You will be able to select from 20 characters each offering different ways of fighting, no load times when the action changes from interior to exterior battles, and new combo configurations and better special attacks.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: September 19, 2006

tl; dr: This is the same game as the PS2 version, but with online play via Xbox Live. Those of you who want to know a little bit more than that can read on, but I bet about half of you are already going for your back buttons now.

Koei's been a supporter of the Xbox 360 since its launch, probably owing to the surprising popularity of their Dynasty Warriors games for the original Xbox. Of course, with Sony's next-gen machine still in development hell, this means they're still primarily developing for the PS2 and porting titles over to the 360. Whenever a current-gen game gets ported to the 360 without special care put into enhancing it for the new hardware, it shows painfully.

This is definitely the case in Samurai Warriors 2. There's no dodging the issue, so let's tackle it head-on: This is one of the least graphically impressive games you'll ever play on a 360; in many ways, it's actually inferior to the Xbox Dynasty Warriors titles. It's definitely not as competent an X360 port as, say, Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires, and if you were expecting something that looked like Nintety-Nine Nights, then I'm afraid I just have to laugh at you. This game is full of PS2-caliber jaggy polygons, horrid draw distances, and suspiciously low-res pre-rendered video. As far as visuals go, it's a dreadfully lazy port, and coming out so close on the heels of the graphically superior Ninety-Nine Nights makes it all the worse. SW2 on the 360 doesn't even have improved textures or lighting, and is actually harder to play in 16:9 mode than it is in 4:3 mode because the widescreen graphics just hack off the top and bottom of the "regular" screen graphics.

It's a shame, because Samurai Warriors 2 finally implements a lot of the gameplay shake-ups that reviewers have been demanding from Koei for three or four years now. The gameplay is rock-solid and almost breathes new life into the increasingly tired hack 'n' slash genre. Characters have unique combo chains formed by alternating normal and "charge" attacks, enormously different super moves and Musou attacks, and radically different hitboxes. On top of that, the AI for named enemies is quite a bit cleverer in this title than it has been in previous Dynasty games.

SW2 never falls prey to the problem that plagued N3 and other inferior hack 'n' slash titles, the inescapable feeling that you're just flogging one button to win and access the unlockables. Frankly, if you just flog one button in SW2, then chances are you're going to die. Most characters have around a dozen different combos, each suited for different situations, and then different special abilities to take into consideration. One character might be good at buffing the stats of allied officers, while another specializes in huge range-of-effect attacks and guard breaks. You have to make sure your combat style plays to your character's strengths and expertly manipulates their hitboxes, so you're getting the most out of your combos and getting around the enemy's guard. The game's design emphasizes this, replacing Dynasty Warriors's emphasis on killing hundreds and hundreds of guys with kill counts that rarely exceed 300 or so, and sometimes don't even exceed 100. Killing mooks isn't where it's at in SW2; it's usually killing designated targets or important generals that counts.

The fact that each character handles so differently is really impressive given how damned many of them there are – 30 or more, by our reckoning. Most of them have a unique Story Mode to play through, and all can be used in the game's other modes (Free, Survival, and Sugoroku). Each Story Mode has a "true" storyline that consists of the first five missions, and then a sixth "what if" mission that usually posits what would happen if some event in the semi-historical SW2 timeline had happened differently. Usually finishing a given Story Mode unlocks a new character to play as, and progressing through also lets you level up the character you're using, their bodyguard, and find new weapons for them. You can also invest the money you earn in battles by buying new Skills for your characters at shops, better bodyguards, and better mounts.

What's really convenient about the SW2 level-up system is that money earned by one character can be spent on another, and levels earned in one mode of the game apply to another. So if you're having a hard time finishing someone's Story Mode, you can take them into Free Mode or Survival Mode to gain new weapons, improved combo chains, and levels, and then use them to beat the Story Mode mission that was giving you trouble. Grinding for levels is not incredibly necessary in SW2, but it can be dreadfully fun and addicting in almost Disgaea-like fashion. It's definitely better than grinding for better weapons and levels by replaying old maps ad nauseam, and doing the inevitable unlock chains is actually really fun.

The unique feature for the 360 version of Samurai Warriors 2 is a surprisingly extensive online multiplayer mode. It's not simple head-to-head deathmatching, as you might expect; instead, it's more of a strategic munchkin-off, where each human player tries to defeat their computer-controlled enemies before anyone else can. Each human player is on an individual battlefield and can't interact with other players. The twist is that each player faces enemies set by another player, who naturally wants to make things as hard on their rivals as possible. Enemies have special formidable special abilities they can use against an opponent, and there's a huge variety in both the enemy generals and officers you can select to face an opponent. Much like the Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow head-to-head mode, online SW2 is as much about slowing down your opponent as it is about making sure you can face any challenge thrown your way. As in most X360 games, players can opt to do Player Matches with settings and invites set to their specifications, or Ranked Matches that are all about fighting for the highest spot on the leaderboards.

The other SW2 game modes are more or less exactly what was in the PS2 version. Free Mode lets you play from a limited selection of historical battles, facing certain pre-set challenges. They're interesting primarily as a way to level up characters, get in a bit of quick action, and let you put any character into nearly any battle regardless of their storyline. What gets really addictive in SW2 is Survival Mode, basically a giant randomly generating dungeon patterned after the "Castle" areas you enter to engage in indoor combat on certain maps. Each floor of the dungeon contains a particular challenge, sometimes randomly generated, and you can enter to perform a variety of missions. For instance, you might be escorting another allied general to face an enemy, or simply hunting down bandits while you look for a strong samurai to smack around. It's nearly plot-free, but the dungeon challenges are great fun and there are enough power-ups to always leave you willing to push yourself to see if you can clear one more level.

Finally, Sugoroku lets you play a sort of insane strategy board game with up to three other human players. You move around different tiles on a simulated map of Japan, buying property in Monopoly-like fashion. Each player controls one of the story characters, and uses them to battle other players who are trying to seize some of their territory, or in challenges against the computer to earn extra gold. Sugoroku is enjoyable, but much like Monopoly is extremely slow-moving and deliberate. It combines awkwardly with the fast-paced action the combat sequences require, and some challenges favor particular characters over others so blatantly that the mini-game feels dissatisfying and unbalanced. It was an interesting experiment, but something more like the strategy elements from the PSP Samurai Warriors: State of War would've been a better fit.

SW2 is a good game if you've any sort of appetite for hack 'n' slash. Still, it somehow manages to be a game that's only worth playing if you're a complete fanatic for Koei's pseudo-historical action games and really, really interested in the Live multiplayer. Otherwise it's one of the poorest 360 ports to date, often looking exactly like a PS2 title. At the very least, Koei could've thrown in the original Japanese language track options that the original Xbox titles had. Perhaps worst of all, Koei has already announced Samurai Warriors 2: Empires for the PS2, which is more or less going to be this exact same game with more features. The Empires version of Dynasty Warriors 5 got a 360 port, so it seems inevitable that SW2's Empires version will be similarly ported. Although this game is good, it's not so good that most players would rather play it now than just wait a while for the Empires version to hit.

Koei is a company that consistently pleases a die-hard fanbase of enthusiasts with their releases, which are simply unlike anything other companies are doing now. Even a blatant attempt at mimicking the formula like Ninety-Nine Nights comes off feeling very different, and in many ways, a lot shallower. Die-hards are going to enjoy Samurai Warriors 2 a lot, and rightfully so, because it does a lot with the genre that is legitimately good or at least very interesting. The X360 port of the title, though, stumbles right out of the gate. If a little more effort and polish had been put into the presentation, it would be an absolute must-buy. As it is, most players are likely to view it as a bit of a waste with a superior Empries version likely on the way in a year. Who knows, maybe for that one Koei will find the time to make SW2 actually look like an Xbox 360 game on the Xbox 360.

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