Samurai Warriors 4-II was my first trek into the musuo sub-genre. I had played games that imitated the style but they always left a sense of longing for a true musuo game. Samurai Warriors 4-II scratched that itch and further piqued my interest in the series and its Dynasty Warriors counterpart, although a bit hesitant towards them seeing as my enjoyment continuously diminished.
Samurai Warriors 4-II is a loose interpretation of Japanese history. The pieces of history are certainly there but SW4-II dramatizes the story. The story doesn’t reenact events 1:1, rather it takes its own spin on them. Without proper knowledge of Japanese history, the game will have you pondering who really did what and this may be odd for those uneducated. Characters are romanticized to an amazing degree, both in personality and in design. They offer much more character than their realistic counterparts would and can be really likeable. This doesn’t mean that SW4-II strays from using overused archetypes however, most characters follow this paradigm and it can be quite annoying depending on your tolerance for these tropes. You’d expect a bit more, but their interesting backgrounds more than make up for it.
There are 13 story scenarios in which the player may undertake, bundled with 5 battles. In each scenario, you will take the role of one of the officers and the story will revolve around them, rather than around the army or faction. This takes on a character-driven approach, which can be quite nice when there’s an overabundance of characters. Sadly though, some of the characters chosen for the limelight are dull compared to the people around them. Also, the Sanada family’s turmoil has been covered in the multiple iterations and adaptations of Samurai Warriors (or Sengoku Basara) and yet the developers decided it’d be a good idea to include them again. It feels unnecessary and uninspired, especially since both the brothers are such boring characters.
Before and after most battles, you will be presented with an ‘Event’. These events offer the more personal looks into the character’s story and what really makes the game character-driven. Characters will talk amongst one another and discuss their motivations and the upcoming battle. These events are entertaining and don’t take up too much time, making them all the more enjoyable. Some are goofy while some are much more serious, revealing the personalities of the characters. Whether or not you will relate to any of the protagonists is completely subjective and dependent on your enjoyment of these events. Unfortunately, these events are hindered by their presentation. While the text boxes aren’t too intrusive, the character models and their animations look robotic. Compared to the animations seen in battle, it really makes you wonder what happened.
The core of the game lies in its gameplay, however. Musuo games have always been known for the player being able to take out thousands of enemies singlehandedly and pulling off insane moves, impossible for their historical counterparts or anyone in reality. While you will be mashing away for the most part, swatting enemies like flies is incredibly satisfying and adds to the charm of the game, albeit incredibly repetitive. Enemies that would normally challenge you in another game are cannon fodder in this one. Although, this doesn’t mean that the game won’t offer a challenge from time to time. I found myself struggling against enemy officers quite often, as they have the same abilities as you, the player. The enemy officers handle like other players. They will utilize their arsenal and armies against you and will utilize the same moves you use against them. They will catch you in a juggle or in their musuo attack, dropping your health significantly.
With every scenario, you are given access to two playable characters: the protagonist of said scenario, and another one of your choosing from that faction. Forcing the protagonist to take up one of the two available slots when it would be better saved for another character is quite annoying. There’s such a grand amount of characters, but the game forces you to play as the set protagonist of the storyline, and some of them are just not as fun to play as.
The mechanic of playing as two characters is really handy when you are given ‘Objectives’. While you may be focused on defeating an enemy officer, the other character will often run to the objective and handle it accordingly. If not, you can always open up the menu and direct them to take out an enemy officer or clear out a zone. That being said, the objectives really lack in variety. There’s really only 5 objectives throughout the game, and it becomes quite repetitive having to repeat them throughout the course of the 13 scenarios.
After completing a battle, you are able to visit the shop and use your accumulated coins and scrolls to upgrade your weapons, mounts, and characters. Accumulated weapons and mounts can be fused into one another to give special bonuses and to level them up. Characters have a grid-based upgrade system, akin to that of Final Fantasy X. You can really only go left or right but the grid will eventually come full circle and fill out, should you be so diligent. These systems are a pleasant surprise and I wasn’t expecting them out of a musuo game. Leveling up and gaining these items are chore, however. You will have to constantly replay missions in Free Mode if you want to really fill out a character’s grid and gain access to their full repertoire of moves and abilities. This will test your patience and, personally, it felt like a slog.
Should you grow bored of the character designs, you can always create and customize your own, although the options are quite limited. You are given preset outfits and fighting styles to choose from, mostly emulating other characters. You can even adjust their growth type so as to really make them your own. This character can only be used in Free Mode or Survival Mode however, and the feature feels tacked on because of it.
Samurai Warriors 4-II looks and sounds stunning. The game keeps a steady FPS (with the occasional dip when using a grandiose move) and does so even with the large number of enemies on-screen. Traveling through the oriental locales is surprisingly boring as they’re basically just a sequence of hallways and slightly open corridors, but at least they look pretty.
The soundtrack for the game is fantastic. While it consists of oriental music, the songs are fast-paced and really fit with the action. Some songs are peaceful and others battle anthems, really diversifying and offering a refreshing collection. Should you so please, you can always listen to the tracks in the Vault, though, you will have to unlock them through the Story Mode.
Samurai Warriors 4-II was a fun game to play at first, but it eventually became mind-numbingly repetitive. However, this isn’t to dismiss all games of the muso sub-genre, as I wish to further explore them. It offered refreshing gameplay, some that you really can’t find in any other games. SW4-II merely served as a catalyst for my interest and I would recommend others start here as well.
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