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Samurai Warriors

There has been around a half-dozen sequels and expansion packs in the Dynasty Warriors series, but none of them offered any truly significant innovations. When youíre making so much money, do you really have to make some changes? Apparently so, because Samurai Warriors is the first game that actually modifies the popular beat ëem up series with some surprising changes. First of all, the game takes place in Feudal Japan instead of China. There are also a variety of new modes and features. So does the game offer a truly fresh experience? Not as much as I hoped it would, but itís still the same fun weíve been having for years.

The basic gist of the gameplay is quite simple. You control a powerful general fighting in a large-scale battle complete with archers, horses, and various other units. Most beat ëem ups are mindless romps, though that isnít exactly the case with Samurai Warriors and the other games in the series. Since you can single-handedly turn the tide of the battle there is a satisfying degree of strategy to a genre known for its mind-numbing action.

One of the improved aspects of Samurai Warriors is the various objectives you can choose to tackle in certain levels. Completing or failing the objectives can grant you entirely different outcomes to the battle, though more often than not they just make completing the mission easier or grant you with interesting cutscenes. With such a welcome change to the gameplay, itís a shame some of the levels have suffered a massive drop in quality. A small portion of the levels take place inside boring labyrinths that are claim to be castles, but instead consist of seemingly hundreds of mostly identical rooms. These levels are devoid of any sort of strategy and because of that they are all a chore to play through. Fortunately, the new mission objectives make the outdoor levels so much better than they once were.

Though the levels have been changed, the combat mostly consists of the same fun button-mashing. To be fair there are quite a few moves at your disposal for a button-mashing game. You can execute a few different combos from tapping the two attack buttons in certain sequences, and thereís also a powerful attack you can unleash after youíve taken or dished out enough damage. There are also some more unique fighting techniques. First of all, every character has a different projectile attack. For some itís a simple bow and arrow, while others use shurikens, and in one case, a cannon. If youíre feeling particularly gutsy, you can deflect enemy arrows at them Jedi-style. You can even ride into battle on a horse and just charge through squad after squad. All the varied moves donít change the fact that youíre facing wave after wave of enemies without much else to do, but thatís the baggage that the whole genre carries.

While the combat is pretty much the same as itís been in past games, Samurai Warriors has a revamped leveling up system. Depending on how many points you score at the end of a level, your stats go up accordingly. Best of all is the skill tree that grants you new abilities and combos. Mastering each character can take a while, and it also manages to be rewarding at the same time. If only more RPGs were like that.

The new Japanese setting provides for all-new characters (15 to be exact, though 10 need to be unlocked). Most of these characters are either based on Japanese legend or loosely related to actual people, though to almost everyone outside of Japan it doesnít really matter who they are. There are also some new units, such as riflemen and the glorious ninjas. These eternal heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from a fat beast of a man, to the sleek and sexy Wind Ninja.

The main portion of Samurai Warriors is the story-driven Musuo mode. Here you control one of the 15 playable characters through at least five different levels. The storyline is minimal, but it can be engaging once in a while. When it isnít engaging itís simply confusing because there are so many names and I couldnít pronounce any of them. It only takes a couple hours to complete this mode with one character, though the missions branch off and there are two endings for nearly every character. Factor in the excellent co-operative mode and you can find yourself killing a lot of time with the Musuo mode.

The second biggest portion of Samurai Warriors would probably be the Create Officer mode. You pick from one of six character models, and then you enter some sort of dojo where you have 12 months to train. You engage in various mini-games that emphasize different stats, such as defense and horseback riding. Once 12 exercises are completed you can try qualifying for a clan. It isnít as in-depth as I hoped it would be, but itís an entertaining distraction nonetheless.

Thereís also a Versus mode which features three different ways to compete with your friend, or perhaps your immortal enemy. One of the most exciting modes is the chaotic Survival. You have to fight an infinite army and see how long you can last. Getting the high score was a goal I found myself addicted to attaining. Rounding out the list is the Challenge mode, which is simply all the training exercises from the Create Officer mode, except this time you can play with any of the main characters. Once again, none of these modes are particularly deep, but all of them manage to be entertaining in short bursts.

Samurai Warriors received minor graphical improvements to go along with the minor gameplay improvements. Everything is more detailed this time around, from the hundreds of characters to the environments themselves. The one thing that inexplicably wasnít fixed was the horrendous slowdown. Sometimes when playing alone the game seems to move at half-speed, but one 2-player splitscreen the slowdown can become nearly unbearable. Sometimes you or your partner has to run away from the group of enemies just so the game speeds up to a reasonable pace. You think after so many games in the series Samurai Warriors would finally get it right. What a shame.

At least music has received a massive improvement. The crappy heavy rock is now melodic techno which actually sounds pretty good despite the fact this game is supposed to take place in Feudal Japan. Hopefully, one day weíll be blessed with an appropriate orchestral score, but thankfully we donít have to deal with crap rock anymore. Much like popcorn is to movies and hotdogs are to baseball, crappy American voice acting is a staple to all the Dynasty Warriors games. As always, you can turn on the superior Japanese voice acting so your ears wonít have to bleed any longer. It makes the game sound like a cool Kung-Fu movie when you hear all these Japanese guys screaming about honor.

So there are a quite a few changes in Samurai Warriors, but for the most part itís pretty much the same game weíve been playing since Dynasty Warriors 2. That certainly isnít a bad thing because thereís still the same amount of fun, the tremendous replay value, but unfortunately some of the same flaws. Donít expect a revolutionary change to the series; just expect the same fun weíve experienced before.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @akarge.

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