Hack and slash enemies, Sengoku style.
Dynasty Warriors is a recognizable name within the industry despite its divisive reputation, while the spin-off series Samurai Warriors remains shrouded in relative obscurity in North America. That's not to say it doesn't have its fans, but the ratio of Dynasty Warriors to Samurai Warriors talk skews in the former's direction. Samurai Warriors 4 attempts to shift the conversation with its PlayStation 4 debut, and the result is a pleasant surprise. It contains many of the same issues that plague the entire Warriors franchise, but the wealth of content and stronger focus on depth partially compensates and allows players to focus on hack-and-slash fun.
Like all other entries in the series, Samurai Warriors 4 focuses on the Sengoku period of Japanese history, also known as the Warring States period. It was a time marked by constant political strife, and the story mode directly utilizes that influence with its numerous tales of military conflict. The game features many different campaigns with over 50 total characters, which emphasizes a quantity-over-quality approach. The amount of content stands out as one of Samurai Warrior 4's biggest strengths, but it also creates a scenario in which that content also signifies one of the game's biggest weaknesses: repetition.
Yes, it touts numerous campaigns in its story mode, but each of those campaigns feature similar missions that wear thin in structure. Walk over here and fight these guys. Now walk over here and fight these other guys. Protect the ally. Fight the boss. Rinse and repeat. All of this happens with text boxes right in the center of the screen as characters incessantly chatter on and on in the middle of battle. It's one of the more befuddling design decisions and only adds to the tedium. Fortunately, the real heart of the game—the combat—allows Samurai Warriors 4 to shine again.
In a strange way I'm hypocritical for noting the game's repetitive structure and then praising its combat. Battles in Samurai Warriors 4 also prove repetitive for players who just mindlessly hit buttons in true hack-and-slash fashion, but there's something cathartic about button mashing in a Samurai Warriors game. Perhaps it's the way in which I mow down thousands of troops with ease, made all the more impressive on new hardware. The PS4 version of the game throws all kinds of enemies on screen at once and maintains a solid frame-rate throughout, which allows me to mash those buttons with even more conviction.
But Samurai Warriors 4 contains depth for those who seek it. There are more intricate combos in the game that unlock as players level up. Each character also has its own affinity for different attack types, and those attack types increase the more players use them. I was a big fan of Hyper Attacks, so I often stuck with quicker characters and increased their affinity with that to focus more on crowd control. In addition, weapons are collected during missions and can be outfitted with special gems to add new skills and buffs. All of this adds a layer of complexity that most audiences probably wouldn't expect from a standard hack-and-slash release, but it's not even the best part.
Most of my time with Samurai Warriors 4 was spent with Chronicle mode, which allows players to create a brand new character and take them on a journey to chronicle the Sengoku period. Creation options are limited, so more artistic types out there won't be able to do much with the provided tools. Nevertheless, I created my red-head warrior lady, Odessa, chose her land of origin, and set out to write biographies of all the famous officers. Chronicle mode boils down to a simple map, in which players travel and take on quests. These play out like the missions from the story mode, but along the way players can purchase new armor and forge friendships with new characters.
In addition to fighting officers and recruiting them, players will strengthen relationships and choose life goals, which then unlock additional options and paths. It's a surprisingly deep and rewarding mode that proves addictive despite the fact that missions offer little variety. Anyone who enjoys persistence in action games will likely spend most of their time with Chronicle mode.
Normally, this is the part where I say fans of the series will enjoy Samurai Warriors 4, but I feel it does enough to create a broader appeal than some other Warriors titles. Nothing about the game stands out as particularly amazing, but it partially masks its issues with a content-heavy package and the noteworthy Chronicle mode. Players who can withstand repetition and enjoy ridiculous 1000+ hit combos will likely appreciate the experience Samurai Warriors 4 provides.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on PlayStation 4 version.