Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 Vita Review
Samurai Warriors 4 was a great way to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Koei Tecmo’s Japanese Warring States series. Not only was it the best Samurai Warriors game, but it was without a doubt, for me, the greatest entry in the franchise, eclipsing any of its brother’s huge list of Dynasty Warriors titles. Samurai Warriors 4 was the developers taking everything they had built before and converting it into a focused game that featured flashy combat, better stories, smoother frame rate, interesting weapons and improved graphics. Not bad for a title that was once the little spin-off to Dynasty Warriors.
A year would no longer feel right without multiple releases of Warriors games, which leads us to the release of Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3, an handheld exclusive title for Vita and 3DS that uses Samurai Warriors 4 as its building block. With that revelation, it can only mean great news for this portable hack and slash, as I should be able to crown Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 as one the best, just like the game it is basing its foundations on…right?
The story is one fans will already know, since it continues with using the same Sengoku period as every other entry. To make things different, Chronicles is more focused on bringing a personal tale, with the game kicking you straight into the character creation tools on first boot up. In here you have a player creator that isn’t in-depth, but there is enough content to play with to create a unique looking character to stand out from the eccentric characters in the Samurai Warriors world. From then on out, your character will play through missions based on famous Japanese historical battles, getting to experience the story from beginning to end, but with your character slotted in to see the tale from a outside party perspective. Chronicles 3 is a spin-off made to offer more detailed information about all these characters that fans have come to know, and in fact, it helps for newcomers, as you are given a lot of talk time with people to allow the game to build up personality before you enter battle.
An issue arises with character interactions, because frankly, in here, it’s done in a way that I feel is a double edge sword for the title. Before and after each battle, there will be a general introduction/epilogue chat with comrades, but the timeline progression adds story events between the fights that feature a ton of dialogue cutscenes – the problem is they are mostly monotonous. What is more of a shame is the dialogue options that pop up. Occasionally one of these story scenes will allow you to pick from two options, and saying the correct answer will improve the relationship between both soldiers, but this isn’t a Telltale mechanic where “Oda Nobunaga will remember that,” as you can go back and retry the story event and pick the other option to get the relationship buff, while also finding out that there is virtually nothing it alters in the story.
In all honesty, the cutscenes come across as if the developers threw in content to offer molecule-size gameplay functions to give a feeling of success. Cutscene events are optional, so in reality, it should not impact how good the game is, but stuck behind them are hidden stages that unlock when characters hit maximum friendship, so if you want to see all the content, you are going to have to trundle through all the talking to unlock them. This is an area that I can see being an attractive feature in the future, but right now, there is no soul behind it, no urgency or worry for getting dialogue options wrong, and of course, it could be improved by making it more interesting to participate in, because as it is, the talking is stopping me from getting to the good stuff – the combat.
Everything that was introduced with Samurai Warriors 4‘s combat makes a return here. This means you have the best combat engine in the series, which brought in the likes of the lightning hyper attacks to eradicate groups of soldiers, the large cast of characters with a variety of weapon attacks, multiple combo chains, power up moves (rage), and character swapping, which has now increased from two to four. Each battle is compulsory to include your created warrior, but most fights will include two or three companions that can be jumped to at any point. The addition of two more fighters means that you can cover the map easier by using commands to send the AI to parts of the map to quickly resolve a mini objective that pops up – very handy. For whatever reason, the developers have kept the stupid pause that happens when an objective becomes active to let the player know there is a new task. Simply splashing on the screen in a space can show me that without having to pause the damn game and break the flow of my killing.
Character switching is not all great news, since new stages force in new characters relating to the story. It’s not until you beat the level that you can retry with any of the 55 (once unlocked) warriors. The problem is when these new characters are introduced they come into the story when your warrior is at a higher level, so what once was an AI that could be relied upon to look after itself, now becomes a walking beanbag, as they cannot withstand the damage dealt by the opposing army’s cannon fodder. I ended up just sticking with my custom character and keeping the weaker units close to me, so that I didn’t have to travel far to protect them. It’s better than trying to grind your way through high level generals, as that takes time and quite frankly is boring to do in a game that thrives on fast-paced action. This was never a problem with Samurai Warriors 4, as that story was built around chapters focusing on different characters and was balanced accordingly. Omega Force has kept the “every character starts fresh” trait from past games, but it doesn’t work with a singular tale around a main character.
On top of experience gained from battles, the money and materials looted can be put to use to upgrade shops to sell better goods or weapons, which uses materials to increase stats or add modifiers to weapons, such as element damage. The shop is available to buy material, armour or sell unwanted items. Spending time in the tea house can increase favour with characters, offering a faster way to increase friendship, while seeing exclusive scenes when people gather together for a drink and a chat. Outside of story mode is the challenge mode from Xtreme Legends. It pits a player’s team of four against a timer to clear objectives and eventually take down a boss to clear the way to the exit stairs to bank points (used for upgrades) or risk the points by continuing on to finish more challenges before the timer runs out. Challenge mode is a fine distraction to take breaks from the story, plus, there are little cameos from certain heroes featured in other games that are sure to provide a decent challenge.
I never had a chance to play the Vita port of Samurai Warriors 4, but graphical fidelity in Chronicles 3 has taken a hit compared to last year’s title on PS4. Of course, the Vita is nowhere near as powerful, so things like bad pop-in (mountains drawing in, units popping up in the distance) and fog return from what used to be a undesired feature of the older games. The main characters still look great, but textures have taken a hit on their armour, and the environment is no longer features crisp textures. I’m fine with a less pretty Warriors game on handheld if it performs well, but sadly, frame rate can be all over the place at times. It runs at 30fps, but often drops when on screen action becomes hectic or the camera zooms in for dynamic visuals during musou attacks. This isn’t a game killer, as slowdown has never impacted the straight action in these games, but this, along with the somewhat awkward camera angle, does spoil the presentation.
It’s fair to say I had expectations when going into Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 after hearing about it being based on Samurai Warriors 4, but in reality, while all those quality features do make it across in this game, it’s interrupted with dull additions to the story and rushed ideas that flatten the overall experience. If you are looking for an exclusive Warriors game on the go, then Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 is just about fine to fill the void, but in the back of your mind, you will be thinking that this is second fiddle to the great game on home consoles.