Samurai Warriors 4 II is a difficult game to place. It’s not quite the Xtreme Legends expansion that Warriors fans are used to, but neither is it a continuation of the Samurai Warriors 4 title. Tecmo Koei have described it as ‘telling the tales left untold by Samurai Warriors 4’. Unfortunately then, that Samurai Warriors 4 did a pretty good job of telling the story of the turmoil around 16th Century’s Japan and the end of the feudal period, and so Samurai Warriors 4 II comes up feeling like a jumble of side stories that really don’t explore the characters.
First off, SW4II is easily the sleekest of any Warriors title. The addition of hyper attacks in SW4 means that the game play is no longer plodding to the biggest group of enemies, swinging your 6ft sword to mow them all down, and then plodding on to the next group. With hyper attacks, your officer can literally swim through the fodder units dealing damage without breaking a stride. SW4II added simple QTEs that occur when fighting other officer units. Press triangle at the right time and you’ll break their guard. Press circle and your officer dances around the enemy, slashing away at their health bar.
On top of this is the ability to control two characters during a battle. Unlike Warriors Orochi 3, where the three units you control disappear Pokémon-style when you’re not using them, the character you aren’t controlling in SW4II acts independently, just like another officer. Press the switch button however, and you’re now in their shoes, literally, and your previous character becomes the NPC. Simple commands like defend/attack/wait can be issued to the support character but generally the flow of battle dictates that they’ll move to the next objective. This feature is particularly interesting when the officers are on opposite sides of the map, working towards different objectives, as switching to the character facing off against enemy officers while the other character runs to the next tough enemy keeps the momentum going. Unfortunately, in coop mode Player 2 takes the role of the other character, so there’s no switching involved.
Couch and online coop is only available during Story Mode and Free Mode. Couch coop in particular is much improved over SW4 and Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires in terms of stability. During a whole campaign played coop I didn’t experience any frame rate drops, even on super-powered attacks. The familiar limitation of the number of troops on screen is still prevalent, though not nearly as much as in Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires. I would like to reinstate my plea to further optimise couch – why are there still identical maps on each players portion of the screen?!
New to SW4II are 13 Story Mode scenarios that focus on individual characters instead of regions in Japan, as was the case with SW4. These are all comprised of five battles and are broken up by a brief overview of the conflict in Japan, and a short conversation between the protagonist of the chapter and the other combatants in the camp, pre-battle. On the first run through, players are restricted to using the story character but after completing the campaign can play as any of the character’s allies during that battle. Disappointingly, custom characters cannot be used.
New character Naomasa Ii (box art dude), who previously was just a cookie-cutter officer unit, makes his playable debut. Strangely, I found his Story Mode chapter to be the least interesting. There’s none of the emotional struggle of brother fighting brother from the Sanada chapter. None of the comedic disappointment as Hisahide repeatedly fails to assassinate Nobunaga Oda, only to be forgiven immediately for his actions. Naomasa’s narrative is as simple as ‘warrior joins fight and doesn’t get killed, despite being young’. It’s the weakest story entry in the title, and frankly a poor way to start the game and Naomasa’s introduction to the series. Thankfully, he’s really good fun to play in combat.
In addition to Story Mode. The other main mode is Survival which replaces Conquest mode as the thing to do once you’re through with Story Mode. Survival Mode borrows a lot of idea from typical dungeon crawlers: you’re stuck in a variety of small-ish maps with only one way out and are required to complete objectives within a time limit in order to proceed up to the next level. At the end of a floor is the option to continue upwards for greater challenge and greater rewards, or the exit the floor and keep all of the equipment, levels, and gold collected. As can be expected, facing higher difficulties brings the risk of death and losing all that sweet sweet loot.
I found Survival mode to be a lot of fun. It contains a sense of risk that is not usually present in a Warriors title and the maps (and small objectives) are of a size that means you’re constantly fighting and not trudging back across terrain because you missed that one guy (see BladeStorm Review). Tecmo Koei touted this mode as ‘infinite’ so I’m not sure if there is an end. I do know that there is a trophy for reaching floor 100 though, and as floors seem to be comparable with character levels, I’m going to suggest having a fully maxed out officer to reach the top with.
The other half of Survival Mode is Challenge Mode, which features a couple of activities that appeared in previous Warriors titles: ‘defeat enemies/collect gold/make it to the exit/don’t get hit in the time limit’ stuff. Interestingly, these modes now offer rewards through upgrade tomes and gold (and not in insubstantial quantities) that can be used in the more fleshed out modes. Hopefully we’ll start to see an increase in rewards being carried across all modes like this in future titles.
My favourite part of SW4II is the new systems used for character development. Each character has a grid comprised of hexagonal titles – not unlike the removed Conquest Mode map in appearance *sobs* – that each offers skill upgrades, such as a passive increase to attack strength or a new skill to restore health to nearby units. Each tile requires a certain character level to be met and a number of tomes to unlock. I particularly like this system as character growth is almost entirely up to the player.
SW4’s items are replaced with skills and are learnt on a per-character basis by spending tomes on the skill grid. Characters can equip up to eight skills per battle and using them simple incurs a recharge time. It’s the simplest this system has ever been and in favour of it. Weapons and mounts have similarly had their upgrade mechanics changed in favour of a much simpler system in which consuming similar weapons or mounts upgrades their level and elemental effects. I’m not a fan of nitpicking game design in favour of lore, but I’m pretty confident that feeding one horse to another doesn’t make it more powerful and would only have negative effects. Different time, I suppose.
The last topic to cover would be Create Character. I’m leaving it as a last minute addition as that’s what it feels like Koei Tecmo have done. All of the Warriors games this generation have had exactly the same custom character creator, with the same faces, hairstyles, and colours available in Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, Warriors Orochi 3: Ulimate, Bladestorm Nightmare, and Samurai Warriors 4. It’s not a bad character creator, but I’ve always loved Warriors games for their own characters, so I’m rarely inclined to use a custom character unless mandatory. In SW4II however, there are only two modes on which to take your custom character: Survival and Free Mode. Seeing as Free Mode follows the exact battle set-up as Story Mode, it feels like they should have allowed custom characters and any officer into Story Mode and had done with it.
So to wrap it all up, Samurai Warriors 4 II does little to move away from the series’ roots and instead focuses on refining the current systems and enhancing the game play, in both fluidity and stability. Fans of Samurai Warriors 4 will know exactly what to expect. Fans of Dynasty Warriors will experience the familiar Warriors game play turned up to 11 and set to overdrive. Story Mode is a fleeting touch on some of the more recently introduced characters. Survival Mode adds a good level of risk and dungeon-crawling elements to small maze-esque maps. All in all, it’s a solid Warriors title.
Mashing square (and now triangle!) has never been so fun.
P.S. All dialogue is in Japanese.
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