The Last Samurai Warrior.
I take comfort in the sounds of battle in the morning. No past. No future. And then at once I am confronted by the hard truth of the present circumstances. I have been asked to review yet another samurai game. Apparently, this is the only job for which I am suited.
Koei's Samurai Warriors comes from a long line of Warriors games, only this time the events take place in the Land of the Rising Sun rather than ancient China. But despite the change in scenery, this brawler follows in the footsteps of its ancestors as an action-packed but ultimately monotonous slashfest.
I am to become a Japanese hero, cutting down wave after wave of enemy soldiers. They are an army of conscripts; most of are peasants who fight like they've never seen a weapon. They are led by heroes who command enormous respect, but in truth are no more threatening than schoolchildren. Defeating them is a pretty simple proposition and one that is fairly easy to execute: just mash the attack buttons and aim for the ones with names over their heads. It is undoubtedly a repetitive process, but one that is strangely addictive.
The path of the warrior is paved in blood, a fate made clear in the game's main Story mode. Here you take one of about 15 characters through a collection of missions. Luckily, each of the heroes has a different storyline and a different path to success or this war would get old quickly, and completing the game with heroes unlocks even more heroes to take into battle. Replay value is a sweet spoil of war, it seems.
While this is a nice change from Warriors past, the gameplay is the same as it ever was: just mash the buttons like a demon until everything is dead. You can string together some combos and use the patented 'Musuo' attacks to clear space, but in the end you spend most of the time smashing the attack button and cutting a swathe to the opposing heroes. A warrior's greatest weapon is his thumb.
But what does it means to be samurai? To utterly devote one's self to a set of moral principles, to seek a stillness of mind and master the way of the sword, to level up after every battle and seek out special weapons and items on the battlefield. That, my friends, is the way of the Samurai Warriors. From Power Bracers to Tengu Sandals, Solar Gems to Vixen Tails, there are many skill-boosting items to discover over the course of the game.
There are other ways to boost abilities in battle. After completing a mission, a number of skill points are acquired based on performance. These points can be spent in four categories - Might, Prowess, Guard and Element - each of which includes a host of specific skills and abilities. Maybe it would be a good idea to boost your vitality, increase the effect of healing items or add elemental effects to your attacks. They may not have a big impact on the game, but it's always nice to see an RPG element in an action game for a bit more depth and some unique character development.
Still, this game is all about the rough stuff. I once thought of myself as a warrior of refinement and grace, but now, I feel like a mindless berserker, mashing buttons in a frenzied rage and eradicating all enemies who stand in my way. Mostly I am treated with a kind of violent malevolence, as if I had just said something regarding their mothers and an amorous goat. No one is polite. No one smiles and bows. I must suffer relentless attacks and the favor of an occasional projectile in the back.
But beneath their lack of courtesy, I detect a deep reservoir of ineptitude. My enemies have a one track mind. From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the destruction of whatever they pursue, mindlessly wading into the thick of battle with little thought for the repercussions. I have never seen such discipline. Enemies will often make a beeline for me and do nothing to preserve their own well-being. No blocking, no side stepping, nothing. I have come to the conclusion that they have a death wish or are simply as dumb as the rocks underfoot.
So it's a good thing there are other ways to attack this game. I can go into the Story with a friend in co-op, go into battle against a friend in a versue match., or just train up my own character in the new Officer mode. This last mode allows me to take a new character through a set of seven custom training exercises and take the trials of acceptance into one of the major clans. The choices I make will have a direct affect on the characteristics of the new hero, leading to a heightened sense of customization. Master the riding trials for better horsemanship or perhaps become a master archer in the archery trials. It's a smart addition and offers a respite from the endless hacking and slashing.
Which, eventually, is all this game is about. There is much here that I will never understand. Why aren't there more moves? As a commander, why can't I command anything? And why am I still playing? I've never been a churchgoing man; what I have seen on the field of battle has led me to question the purpose of it all.
The days grow long, the nights endless. I have tried to give a true account of what I have seen and what I have done. I do not presume to understand the course of my life, but I do understand the course of Samurai Warriors. Despite its addictive quality and nice replay value, this warrior's creative shortcomings, excessive button-mashing and total lack of A.I. keep it from truly ruling the battlefield.