Samurai Warriors: Chronicles Review

April 4, 2011

Samurai Warriors has been a key series within Koei's Warriors franchise for quite some time now and much like Dynasty Warriors, is based around a massive historical drama, albeit with some creative liberties taken for entertainment's sake. Fans of the series can jump into the game with ease too, as the core mechanics have remained largely the same as prior titles. It's still all about the objective-driven hacking, slashing and brilliant, over-the-top Musou attacks in Samurai Warriors: Chronicles for the Nintendo 3DS.

Unlike the other games in the franchise, you'll start off the epic drama as a nameless warrior. You can pick to be either male or female, and can give your character a name. Other than that, there is little in the way of customizing your appearance. Starting off as a nobody in a huge battle is an interesting way of telling the larger tale at hand. Key characters will converse with you before and after campaigns. Not to mention, players will be presented with a couple of dialogue choices that do, to a certain degree, affect your standing with various persons.

In essence, the story is two-fold as it tells the tale of a young warrior in search of himself, as well as the overarching, dramatic battle for control over feudal Japan. Not knowing what your ambition is, you travel from battle to battle, seeking teachings and lessons from important historical figures, all the while honing your skills and discovering what it is you live for.

To be honest, it does very little to draw you in. Throughout the game, you'll be fighting other people's battles and, for the most part, end up changing sides a lot. One moment you'll be fighting for Kenshin's cause to unite the whole of the Kanto region and the next you'll be standing against him alongside his arch nemesis, who now seems to be the good guy. Granted, there aren't actually any real villains in Samurai Warriors, just differing views and goals held by very convicted men.

Taking control of your character, you'll have him complete various objectives on the battlefield, ranging from rescuing a key character to defeating enemy officers and even luring an enemy into a certain zone on the map. The core gameplay remains largely the same and fans of the series will feel right at home: hack and slash your way through hordes of enemy troops. The top screen of the 3DS is used for most of the action while the bottom screen displays a map and various support abilities.

What's new is that you can switch between characters on the fly. So if you've got one objective on the South-Eastern front of the battlefield, you can instantly swap to the character closest to it by simply hitting the character's portrait on the bottom screen. Tapping on the map brings up a tactical version of it where you can select characters and appoint objectives for them to complete. However, while not necessarily a gameplay fault of any kind, you'll more than likely end up flickering your eyes between the two screens at a very unhealthy rate, leaving you with a really bad migraine.

In any case, don't let looks deceive you. Samurai Warriors isn't so much an action game as it is an RPG. You'll be grinding for hours on end in order to tackle many of the missions, and not with just one character alone. Each character that accompanies you into battle will need to be levelled up, especially in the later missions. The difficulty curve ramps up with an unrelenting grudge after the first few and taking into consideration how each mission easily takes half an hour or more on average to clear, it's a bit demoralizing just to think about grinding not one, but multiple characters. The game doesn't open up all the way until you've cleared a certain number of missions either, so you won't have access to upgrading weapons or mounts until then.

The same problem lies with upgrading weapons. Not only will you be pouring resources into creating the most bad ass weaponry for your own character by replaying missions over and over again, you'll be doing the exact same for a plethora of other characters just so they don't get stuck with low level weapons that do balls for damage. This is where the conundrum comes in. While focusing on just your character would be great, it's just not ideal since he or she isn't the only one that you'll be using. Swapping characters on the fly sounds like a great concept in theory, but it just makes for some frustrating and gruelling grinding sessions when put into practice.

After each mission, you'll be able to converse with a number of characters as a means of discovering your destiny. Depending on your answers, you can improve your standing with these characters, which in turn boosts their performance on the battlefield. However, as I mentioned earlier, this does absolutely nothing to engage players into the game's drama as one too many philosophical views are thrown in your face. Despite these differing views, everyone's goals appear to be the same: to unite Japan under one rule, just not that other guy's rule.

As expected of the series, players are thrown onto a sprawling battlefield with the illusion of hundreds of enemies doing their thing. However, you don't feel this epic atmosphere at all as the 3DS' screen is really quite small and does the game's scale little justice. Clusters of enemies only appear if you're close enough, and never hundreds at a time, which is understandable for the hardware. The 3D visuals are a nice touch, although nothing truly jaw-dropping or game-changing. It's more of an aesthetic option, a really nice one. However, don't even get me started on the game's camera. Lacking the ability to actually control the camera, you'll be left fighting with only what you can see, but it's usually what you can't that poses the most threat. Getting hit from behind or from your peripheral is a common and very frustrating thing in Samurai Warriors: Chronicles. It doesn't help that there's very little you can do about it save for adapting your strategy to hacking and slashing in circles.

Visually, the game looks quite stunning, with the 3D effect really adding a lot of depth to the game. Battlefields are vast, despite how restrained they are by the hardware's screen. The dialogue is also quite entertaining, with each character having relatively unique characteristics and speech mannerisms. One even sounds like he's part of theatrical play.

Samurai Warriors: Chronicles certainly isn't a game for everyone. In fact, it's hard to believe it's a game for a handheld device considering how much of a time sink it can be. The core gameplay remains largely the same, with new features like switching between characters on the fly and giving them orders with the tactical map. There's a lot of grinding involved and if you don't have a long enough attention span, this isn't the game for you. Not to mention the lack of an engaging story and a really shoddy camera just makes the already exhausting effort to grind and progress through the game even more frustrating.

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