Samurai Warriors 4-II

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Sept. 29, 2015 (US), Oct. 2, 2015 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Samurai Warriors 4-II'

by Brian Dumlao on Oct. 26, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Unlike previous titles in the franchise that focused on delivering their narrative by exploring the various regions of feudal Japan, Samurai Warriors 4-II casts a spotlight on the characters themselves and tells their stories through 13 exciting new chapters.

Warriors games have a distinct pattern, especially with the Dynasty and Samurai brands. You start with the original entry, which sets up everything with the character roster, locations and modes. The Xtreme Legends version comes out next, a quasi-expansion meant to act as both a standalone title with new content and a way to mix it with the older stuff. Then there's the Empires version, which gives the game a more tactical slant while still retaining the hack-and-slash gameplay. That's the way things have been for the last decade or so, and with Samurai Warriors 4 having come out last year, fans were expecting the Xtreme Legends version to be out by now. Instead, we get Samurai Legends 4-II, an oddly titled game that is meant to be a more refined version of the original.

Much like the previous entry, there are only four modes present. Free mode lets you play with any character you want on any unlocked mission, giving them a chance to level up or get new items and strategy tomes to help them learn new moves. Dojo is where you can check out biographies for your unlocked characters as well as unlocked cut scenes you have or musical tracks. It's also where you can create and customize a character, though the options haven't changed at all from the original release. Still, there's a good number of facial elements, clothing and fighting styles to choose from.

The other two modes compose the real meat of the game. As the name implies, Survival mode is where you take your character up a castle and see how far they can go before they expire. Each floor has you tackling a different objective, such as eliminating a number of enemies. Completing these objectives gives you loads of loot in the form of gold, tomes, and weapons. You can leave the castle once a floor is completed, but moving on to specific milestones nets you more bonuses and the chance to start at a higher floor. Dying makes you lose all of the loot you collected during the run. No matter what, the character you choose for the run gains XP and levels up, so it's worthwhile since each floor is short and full of enemies.

If you want a change of pace, Survival mode also houses several different challenges. Chamber of Trials is more of a time attack mode, as you must see how many enemies you can kill in a set amount of time. Chamber of Riches is the same, except you gain gold for killing them. Chamber of Agility has you trying to finish a level in record time while Chamber of Death has you trying to do the impossible task of finishing a stage without getting hit. In all cases, you get your items and gold but no XP. While each of those challenges is fun, the main Survival mode seems more compelling to play.

The other mode, Story, is a partially different beast from the version seen in Samurai Warriors 4. While that title changed the focus from the big battles to the rise of individual clans, the stories being told here go even further to focus on the tales of specific individuals in these clans. Thirteen of the tales are available once they're unlocked, and each has five missions, including two that feature Naomasa Ii, the only new character in this title. If anything, this focus is a great thing for the series since one of the complaints people had was that the game revisited the same stories without much new information or content. There would be no problem if future entries would do the same thing.

Some other big changes have made it in as well. While you can still sell some of the loot you find on the battlefield, you can also use it to strengthen your favorite weapon or mount, so you can run into battle with powerful weapons that give big stat buffs. The strategy tomes you collect also serve a purpose, as they're now used as another means of powering up your character. Collecting the tomes unlocks skills, such as extra speed, strength, and the ability to have even more tomes appear in the battlefield. Each character has a hexagonal grid of skills, and each grid has a plethora of skills to unlock. Getting a fully powered-up character means loads of grinding, but for a series that has always been rather simple, it's welcome to see this complexity creep in.

Aside from those changes and additions, things remain the same. While you'll still mow down hundreds of soldiers at any given time, you'll do so with a litany of new combos and moves at your disposal once you start to level up. The combos can be started with regular moves or power moves. All missions require you to select a partner character to go with your primary fighter, but you each start in different places of the map. This is a good thing, since you can switch control between characters and warp around the battlefield.

Battles now provide you with a slew of objectives to complete. Like Survival mode, those objectives vary, and they aren't mandatory for you to complete the level, but ignoring them means missing out on lots of loot. They're spread all over the battlefield, but since your movement is faster than before and you have the ability to switch characters, reaching them is less problematic than before. Overall, the secondary objectives are essential in making the game fun since they prevent you from sinking into a rut of plowing through base after base in a beeline toward the general.

If there is one thing that is disappointing about this version, it would be the removal of Chronicle mode. As nice as Survival is, Chronicle felt more personal since you go in as your created character to witness historical characters on the battlefield and fight alongside them. It was just as long and engaging as Story mode and really added to the game's longevity. There doesn't seem to be a logical reason for its removal.

Graphically, the game is very pretty for Musou standards. On the surface, 4-II still retains some signatures, like having loads of people on-screen at the same time, but it does so with a more solid frame rate. Textures are sharper and more defined than before, and there's barely a hint of a stretched or blurry texture. Particle effects are more abundant, with fog everywhere and loads of sparks upon contact in combat. It still suffers from pop-up for distant objects and enemies, but it is more of an annoyance than a hindrance since those enemies don't get an attack advantage. Other than that, there isn't much to complain about here.

The Samurai division of the franchise has usually been cited as stronger in the audio department, and this entry is no exception. The musical score goes for a blend of electronica with traditional Japanese string and drum instruments, and the mix is more appealing than the Chinese rock guitar one in Dynasty Warriors. Fights feel more epic, and the mood to fight is always there. Meanwhile, cut scenes go for a more sweeping orchestral sound that fits best with the philosophical musings of the characters. The voices are completely in Japanese, and they sound rather good despite not being loud enough to overpower the effects and soundtrack. Speaking of effects, they sound rather clear, and the screams of slain enemies don't get old no matter how many times you hear it.

Samurai Warriors 4-II really is an Xtreme Legends game in everything but name, but it's even more limited. Even though the original roster of characters is large, adding only one new character seems paltry. Changing the Story mode makes up for it, and Survival is good, if not familiar and expected. It's a shame that Chronicle mode couldn't make the cut since its omission renders the created characters somewhat useless, but overall, the game remains the same polished product as before. For newcomers, this is a great entry to use as a jumping point into the series. For series veterans, the changes, omissions, and small additions make it a lesser product than its predecessor, but if you're interested in the lore, 4-II is still worth checking out.

Score: 7.5/10

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