The Samurai Warriors series is one that, much like many other "Warriors" titles, is often met with harsh criticism. Very little changes from title to title, and those changes are only really a thing that can be appreciated by die-hard fans of the series itself. Even so, simply looking at Samurai Warriors 3 and saying that absolutely nothing has changed would be unfair. Just as unfair as calling the game un-fun, simply because it shares some similar mechanics. So keeping these things in mind, what exactly is there to look forward to in Samurai Warriors 3? Surprisingly this latest entry in the series has a lot more to offer than one would expect, particularly those who may have been turned off by previous instalments.
The plot of Samurai Warriors 3 follows the exact same path as the prior games, with extremely liberal retellings of famous battles from the classic Sengoku period. There's no real need to dive too deep into the plot, as anyone with a real drive to learn history will be able to find plenty to complain about in the historical accuracy department. Putting those differences aside, the storyline is really just there to fuel the gameplay. Players will get to choose from a pretty wide variety of characters (37 in fact), all of whom bring a different sort of fighting style to the game.
This isn't to say however, that each individual character will give a brand new experience. There are only so many weapons, imagined or otherwise, that exist in this game. The difference between one sword style and another is often times trivial at first, but as the game expands onward each character actually gains a relatively impressive move set. Killing enemies, completing objectives and clearing levels all offer experience which then levels up the character being played. As characters level, new moves are unlocked and combos are expanded upon. The process goes on for quite a while, so anyone extensively playing the game from character to character will actually feel a decent amount of difference between them. The problem however, may lie in getting that far.
Gameplay elements carried from prior instalments are all still there, and anyone thinking they'll pick up Samurai Warriors 3 without encountering massive amounts of hack and slash action will be sorely disappointed. Good news is that while the general combat hasn't changed, the overall structure for each mission has. Earlier titles across the Warriors series featured very loose objectives such as 'beat the enemy', and then let players meander almost aimlessly across the level. Now battles are strung together by two very well defined elements, mission objectives and tactical objectives. The difference between the two is like night and day, and this change in the system brings what can be seen as a very generic AI grind to an actual challenge.
Mission objectives target the main players of the battle, all of whom must be defeated in order for the fight/storyline to progress. These dangerous characters will start at particular points on the map, and will continue to ravage the battlefield until stopped. Not because they're particularly powerful, but more because the enemy AI is far better than any allied unit in the game. Players must act quickly, either cutting a path to each individual objective or ploughing ahead and hoping that being surrounded with no backup isn't too much of a disadvantage.
Supplementing these mission objectives are tactical ones, which will send players after less important 'key figures' in the battle. Defeating these tactical objectives is the real fun part of the game, as they've now replaced the morale system that plagued prior Warriors titles. Once upon a time simply killing the enemy was enough to make your forces work harder, now your allies will only gain an advantage once these new targets have been killed. Not only that, but there's no tactical bonus unless you kill them in a very specific fashion. Some must be dealt with only after a particular K.O. count is obtained, while others have to be killed under a specific time limit. The challenge changes from mission to mission, but defeating these extra opponents in such a fashion grants anything from level bonuses to rare equipment (which can be equipped outside of battle).
Outside of combat players can equip and upgrade items, which is far less shallow than one would initially imagine. Each item has its own stats, and element (which is not new to the series), and in addition, its own individual abilities. Ranging from damage boosts to item bonuses and special effects, all armor and weapons can be upgraded in-game for gems found throughout the battlefield. It gives grinding all those enemy officers a nice purpose, on top handing players an incentive to go after those tactical objectives (as they can give some very impressive equipment when completed).
Graphically, Samurai Warriors 3 is a surprising treat on the Wii. It's able to handle quite a few enemies on screen while at the same time keeping track of a lot of information happening all over the map. Load times are relatively low, which is impressive considering the platform. Character special attacks still look flashy and fun as well, which is great news for fans of the series. Sound wise, there's not a lot to look forward to. The music is easily drowned out, and the voice acting would qualify as awful if it wasn't for the intentionally outlandish character design paired with it. It's funny for the first few seconds, and then just like any bad joke becomes old quite fast.
There are a lot of pretty repetitive elements to Samurai Warriors 3, elements which are shared amongst the prior titles in the series. The difference however, is that unlike the prior Warriors games, this one actually tries to make the typical repetitive action gameplay a lot more engaging; and it most definitely succeeds in doing so. At its very core, the Warriors series will always be about grinding against seemingly impossible odds and endless waves of enemies, but at least this time around more care and thought was taken into making the experience fun. On some levels, actually challenging. It's not a game that will appeal to everyone, and many will shun the title simply for Koei's past titles, but it takes all the right steps to move in the right direction. With a little more time, and a bit more attention to the combat, we could be looking at a very different breed of Samurai Warriors in the near future.