• Shockingly popular in Japan, but never so much over here, the Dynasty Warriors series has always been one that feels eerily familiar, no matter which game you’re playing. This is largely because from game to game, nothing ever seems to change – the gameplay is the same, the characters are the same, and the battle objectives are the same. In fact, if anything, the only thing that does seem to change is the name, and it’s here that Samurai Warriors 2 comes in – a game which, to the uneducated eye, differs from Dynasty Warriors only by name.

    If you’ve ever played a Dynasty Warriors game before, you’ll soon begin to get a strange feeling of Déjà vu here. As the Samurai Warriors series is a spin-off from the Dynasty Warriors franchise, it goes without saying that the game bears more than a passing resemblance to its bigger brother. Bar a different set of characters, and a slightly (but unnoticeably) different setting, the game is a typical, simple hack-and-slash affair.

    Samurai Warriors 2

    Set in the “Sengoku” (or warring states) period of Japan, the game’s story mode focuses on the fictional feudal battles between several warring factions (or, as they’re more commonly known, the red, blue, green and yellow teams). After selecting the character you want to play as, and watching a brief, if mildly impressive FMV, you’re flung onto the battlefield without any prior instructions, to find yourself faced with hundreds of enemy soldiers (although, nowhere near as many on-screen enemies as in N3). It’s fortunate then, that it isn’t particularly tricky to work out what you need to do – the manual may as well just say “press X until everything stops moving”, as it doesn’t tend to get much more complicated than that. Needless to say, this can quickly get quite boring, especially when the enemies you’re facing aren’t exactly the brightest bunch in the world, preferring to stand and get their vital organs skewered by you rather than fight back.

    To sum up the gameplay as such, however, would be being somewhat unfair, as there is a certain amount of strategy that can be applied to each battle. Before the mission, you are presented with a view of the battlefield ahead of you, and given the option to equip your character with a new weapon, or steed, as well as being able to view the conditions of victory. 90% of the time, this will involve finding and defeating the enemy army’s general, however, things are never quite that easy. Every mission has the same basic structure, which begins with your character being practically alone on the battlefield, faced with hundreds of enemies and very little in the way of instructions, or a motive to fight. Progress through each level is made by finding and defeating enemy officers, as when they are killed, a gate will often open somewhere on the map, or the enemy general will appear. Quite why the enemy would open the gates to their keep when the battle is being lost, we aren’t sure, but that’s apparently how it happens.

    As you progress across the battlefield, certain events will occur (in a completely linear matter) that prompt the game to switch into a brief, in-game cutscene, informing you of a major event, such as the arrival of an enemy commander. Then, your objectives will temporarily change, and you’ll be required to go and hunt down and kill the enemy commander. And that’s about as varied as the games objectives get. Sometimes, goals will be disguised to make them sound better – objectives such as “silence the enemy cannons”, often flash across the screen, which, although it sounds mildly exciting, actually boils down to finding and killing a “defence captain”, who’s actually nowhere near a cannon at all.

    However, defeating an enemy commander is often a much trickier challenge than defeating a basic foot soldier. With hundreds of times the health of a normal unit, and AI which means they actually attack you, commanders can sometimes present at least a basic challenge, although they can still usually be defeated without causing too much worry to your health bar. Throughout the majority of the story mode, the enemy army will be made up almost entirely of simple infantry units, who require no more than a hit or two to dispose of. However, as you make progress through each character’s story, new character classes will be dispatched onto the battlefield, including riflemen, and another class which sees the soldiers armed with giant glowing spears. It’s just a shame that they don’t introduce these enemies earlier in the game, instead of keeping them until practically the final mission, as this leaves the early missions lacking a much needed variety.

    Underlying the story mode is a levelling up system, which, although it’s as over-simplified as the rest of the game (you have no say in what your points are spent on), does provide a small amount of satisfaction and incentive to keep coming back. Experience is gained from defeating officers in the opposing army (who are handily pointed out amongst the crowd by a name floating above their heads), and as ever, amounting a certain amount of points will let you level up, increasing your characters stats across the board.

    In-between battles, you will also have the option to go and visit the shop, where you can purchase new weapons, abilities, horses, and even guards for your characters. However, there is little point in wasting your money on these, as the different weapons and abilities make no difference on the battlefield (we’re starting to see a pattern here..)

    Initially, there are seven characters you can choose to play as, each with their own individual storyline. This would provide a lot of replay value, if the characters weren’t so incredibly… characterless. Storylines are overly contorted and confusing, not to mention poorly translated, and as the game provides no real explanation as to why the different factions are feuding, they’d probably have been better off not bothering. Characters often have huge, unpronounceable (but traditionally Japanese) names that are at least four syllables long. Although this would have been fine if there were only four distinct characters, some missions have up to twenty different officers relaying information to you, making it practically impossible to follow what’s going on. We can’t help but feel that it would have been beneficial to cut the number of speaking characters down, or even rename the characters for the European release. Tracking the progress of Bob’s army would have been so much easier…

    However, if there’s one thing Samurai Warriors 2 does do well, it’s in providing value for money. Each mission in the story mode will take you the best part of 30 minutes to complete, and with an average of six missions per character, that quickly adds up to a lot of play time. The game also features numerous unlockable characters, many of which have their own story mode, meaning that if you like to get plenty of hacking and slashing for your money, this is the game for you.

    However, the story mode isn’t the only way the game lets you wile away the hours, as there are several other modes for you to sink your teeth into.

    Survival mode is an enjoyable and varied collection of quests, which sees you become a mercenary for hire, taking up missions for financial reward. Bizarrely, each of these quests takes place in a multi-floored house, and each floor is inexplicably, although not unexpectedly, swarming with hundreds of enemies who all want your head. Each quest takes place over five floors, and each floor has a specific objective that you are meant to complete before you can move up a level. Somewhat embarrassingly, this mode actually has more depth to it than the main story – the challenges are diverse and interesting, and each quests’ storyline is much easier to follow. Objectives can be as varied as collecting three ingredients for a potion for a doctor, or simply killing a certain amount of enemies in a time limit, but each challenge provides some welcome variety away from the story mode.

    Another unique, if somewhat bizarre mode is Sugoroku – a virtual board game which lets up to four players join in the fun. The aim of the game is to try to take over Japan, but not by fighting – instead, each character must take turns, rolling a dice, moving around the board and buying up land, in a kind of feudal monopoly. However, this mode is in equal parts confusing and boring to play, leading it to be a pointless and unneeded addition to the series.

    As some of you may be aware, Samurai Warriors 2 is a port of a PS2 title, and a graphically disappointing one at that. Yes, it supports widescreen, and yes, it supports HD, but the actual characters are made up of so few polygons, and the environments are so sparse (and horribly fogged) that you’ll often end up wondering why you bought this game on the 360, as it certainly makes no use of the advanced power. This game even has the most obvious sign of a shoddy port – slowdown, which is completely inexcusable, considering the HUGE power difference between the 360 and PS2. Unfortunately, there are practically no aspects of this port that show any effort on the part of the developer – the achievements are as bland as the graphics, awarded only for unlocking characters, and even the Xbox Live mode provides nothing to write home about.

    So far, so average then. Samurai Warriors 2 has average graphics, uninspired gameplay, and a confusing storyline to boot. In single player, the game proves to be overly disappointing, offering neither the atmosphere, storyline, soundtrack or graphics to compete with the competitors in the genre, such as Ninety-nine Nights. However, Samurai Warriors 2 does have one little secret stashed away, that certainly makes the game a whole lot more interesting to anyone who has a friend available. The co-op mode.

    The saving grace of an otherwise below average game, the co-op mode lets you enlist a friend to battle through the story mode with you, in all its split screen glory. And as if by magic, this brings the game to life – all of a sudden, the boring battles don’t seem so boring any more, the characterless characters have a character, and the poorly constructed dialogue just adds to the hilarity. Running around on horses, pressing Y to see them leap into the air, before belly-flopping your opponents (we kid you not) may have just seemed to ruin the accuracy in single-player, but in co-op, it’ll have you in fits of laughter. The only sad thing is the game isn’t meant to be so funny – but much in the same way as Driv3r, it’s the unintentional humour that saves the day here.

    It’s obvious from the price the game is retailing at in the shops (£35) that they aren’t expecting this to sell very well in the UK (after all – even the Dynasty Warriors series has never been a runaway success here, and that’s spawned countless sequels in Japan). However, if you have a willing friend/victim, who is prepared to put the time in with you, this is certainly worth picking up on the cheap – if only for the laughs that can be had in co-op mode.

    Score: 4/10

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