Samurai Warriors 4 PS4 Review
2014 has been a year full of quality for the Warriors franchise, with some genuinely great entries in the series that have capitalised on what the games are good at and built upon that with interesting tweaks and additional mechanics. The developers, Omega Force, crafted a title for Zelda fans by combining elements from Link’s famous adventures to bring Hyrule Warriors, got the best entry in Dynasty Warriors with Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Complete Edition and received a shiny current generation port of Warriors Orochi 3, dubbed the Ultimate edition. One Warriors game missing from that list for the PlayStation 4 is Samurai Warriors, originally a spin-off that came out on the PlayStation 2, but has become popular enough to now receive its third sequel for Sony’s currently active systems. With a focus on frantic action and some of the best performance from the Warriors engine so far, Samurai Warriors 4 might just be stealing the title from Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Complete Edition as the best Warriors game ever.
Like titles in the series before it, Samurai Warriors 4 takes place during the Sengoku period, Japan’s own historic Warring States age. The location makes for a revitalizing change after battling the Yellow Turbans, not pursuing Lu Bu and fighting the rest of the Three Kingdom’s factions for the past few years. Story mode tells this saga, split into 12 chapters based on various important battles throughout the time period. It can make for an educational time into Japanese history, but I wouldn’t believe everything the game is portraying, as some of these 55 playable heroes weren’t in the current age bracket that the game portrays them as being. Still, for people into history or this time period, the general concept behind the battles and warring states makes it fascinating to take in.
Rather than allowing the player to select any of the characters for a stage in Story mode, each of the game’s 12 chapters limits the characters based around that scenario. All the import characters return, such as Nobunaga Oda, Yukimura Sanada, Ieyasu Tokugawa, and the fun little ninja Kunoichi, who are joined by 12 new heroes, three who were first introduced with the spin-off Samurai Warriors: Chronicles 2nd on 3DS. The new characters don’t play as unconventionally as some of the weird cast members added in the latest Dynasty Warriors game or in Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, but the additions do add fighting styles that are some of the more entertaining to be included in a Samurai Warriors game. A reader with an eagle eye might have noticed the “low” amount of characters, and in relation to the two games mentioned in the last sentence, it is small, but 55 is still plenty to get through and with each one getting fleshed out in their associated story with introductory and epilogue cutscenes for each battle, these characters have more presence than an giant list of 100+ people that can feel like character clones of others.
Mission design has changed to focus more on killing generals and taking control points to remove the enemies’ presence and moral. Moral has a big effect in Samurai Warriors 4; since areas of the map covered in red (strong moral) means all enemies in those zones gain a big buff in defence. These guys no longer fall down like flies when being backed by their flag bearer, so to remove their new found courage, the player needs to take down all the flag bearers in the area to drop the soldiers’ moral and reset them back to cannon fodder status.
During a stage additional objectives pop up on the screen, some compulsory, some voluntary, for the player to accomplish and reap the rewards and experience. These objectives are simple tasks, such as killing 300 people in two minutes, killing a general or stopping a general from infiltrating a key area highlighted with a purple ring on the mini map. Objectives can also incorporate the use of the new second character feature, as tasks will pop up displaying a character’s name to do something relating to the objective. It’s also easy to miss some of the objectives, as optional ones remain hidden until you arrive close to their focused location. Little hints on the stage’s menu screen inform which tasks are left to accomplish. While the objectives are still killing things, the small alteration in the slaughtering adds a change of pace to charging head face to the main location and killing the general.
The inclusion of a second character isn’t in the same vein as the Warriors Orochi series – in that game you can switch between them on the fly on the same spot. Rather, Samurai Warriors 4 has the other player independent from the primary character, with the AI put in control unless you switch to them with a quick press of the options button. The secondary character can also be given simple AI controls, such as protect (stays close to you), go free or allowing the player to point to a location to defend. This is helpful for covering ground on the bigger maps, as splitting the two characters makes it easier to cover ground when fighting against time to beat an objective.
Reading the follow statement might seem like I am crazy to make big deal out of it, but things have changed to the core combat mechanics, especially around the change to the heavy attack (triangle) button. Yes, you read that right, the Warriors series has moved on from the recognised light and heavy attack system, the heavy attack has now been replaced with hyper attacks. Take a deep breath fans, as the heavy attack is still here, just now it is activated by first starting one light attack; you can then join into a heavy combo by pressing triangle. Hyper attacks have their own combo chain starting with triangle, which can then be followed up with more triangles or squares to extend the hyper combo.
Hyper attacks make complete and utter sense in this series – these attacks cover a massive range and are solely designed to take down hundreds of soldiers, eradicating them in mere seconds (a massive time saver) and at the same time are enjoyable to pull off. This new implementation makes Samurai Warriors 4 an exciting and faster paced game than any entry before, as players zigzag across the map like some ninja on a high dose of the latest flavoured energy drink. Hyper attacks don’t work on generals, so the standard attacks come into play for those situations. It reminds me a lot of the rock, paper, scissor system in Dynasty Warriors 8, but individualised for groups, rather than singled to a weapon’s or general’s element.
More tweaks have tuned the combat for the better. A new special move is assigned to the R1 button and gives every character a unique attack. Masamune Date will act like a cowboy and whip out his dual pistols to pop a few caps in some ass, Yukimura Sanada can charge up a powerful attack, Naotora Li gets an attack buff and bigger hit range and Ujiyasu Hojo throws gas grenades that forces enemies to take elemental damage from his attacks. Some characters have special moves that are more convenient than others, so I found that sometimes I hardly used them, but the option is there, adding more distinguishing skills for the cast. On top of that, characters can equip items that have limited uses, with better versions dropping from defeated generals, just like weapon drops.
Characters can perform rage attacks, which are more powerful musou attacks – huge special moves activated with circle for dealing massive damage. Doing this does removes built up spirit orbs, which are mostly used for cancelling and restarting combos or dodging from danger, but the trade off is mostly worth it. Overall, the combat has been understandingly developed around making the Warriors experience better and faster.
Apart from Free Play, which is self-explanatory, the other main mode, and one you’ll spend hours upon hours in, is Chronicles, a mode which sees you create a warrior, join a region, travel Japan on a large map to interactive with generals and participate in missions, with an overarching challenge to fill in the book of chronicles with detailed information about the heroes. The character creator can build some amusing models and is deep enough to offer unique creations, but don’t go in expecting some in-depth character creator that you see in big budget role-playing games. Just like the Story mode, Chronicles features plenty of cutscenes involving the cast, letting the player get to know them before and after battles. Basic interaction pops up from time to time with two replies, one good and bad, used to determine your relationship with other generals and changes how they interactive with you. It’s basic relationship stuff that doesn’t do anything spectacular.
The last two titles on the PS4 were graphically weak in using the power of the system. They ran at 1080p and unlocked 60fps, making the games look sharp, but the last generation was still its backbone. While Samurai Warriors 4 is on PS3 and Vita, the PS4 version feels a slight step up from the other titles on the system, thanks to better engine performance that manages to mostly stay at 60fps while reducing the amount of pop-in. Samurai Warriors 4 won’t win any awards for graphics, but more effort has gone into making better textures, wonderful character models, shiny water shaders, and extra detail to make it easily the best looking and performing Warriors game to date. The soundtrack captures that distinct Japanese theme, along with modernising it with pop-based beats, and the audio is strictly Japanese only, great for keeping with the theme of the game, but for me, it suffers the same issues I had before with the other Japanese only voiced Warriors games, I can’t always keep up with the text on screen when the action gets fast, and it gets fast a lot in Samurai Warriors 4.
If it wasn’t clear from my introduction, then it should be now. Samurai Warriors 4 is Omega Force taking the series forward by recalculating its understanding of the franchise and adapting it to be better at what it does best – supplying none stop badassery, frantic, fast action with improved mechanics to the core gameplay and plenty of content to explore, which in turn shifts the title for best entry in any Warriors game to date into this warlord’s castle.