Legends of History repeated
KOEI has always brought us an entertaining button mashing Asian culture game. With countless titles that split between Japan and China history, you would almost think that enough is enough. After all, we have had roughly ten Dynasty Warrior games that wrap around the Chinese culture and then we have had five Samurai Warrior games that do the same for Japanese history. Samurai Warriors 2: Empires offers the sixth. With this sixth installment, should we even care? Is there enough to hold the interest of the average gamer and to stimulate fans of the series? Well, that all depends.
As stated above, the Samurai Warrior franchise concerns itself with pieces of Japanese history, specifically the era beginning with the year 1561. If you are a first time player, the game will actually recommend you start with the Battle of Kawanakajima. This way you can familiarize yourself with the controls. There are also six other venues you can go if you feel you do not need the first-timers battle help. You will also be given the option of choosing between five different level settings, ranging from Novice to Chaos. Similar to other installments from KOEI, there is a choice between two different gameplay modes – Free Play and Empire. The Empire mode offers you seven historic scenarios in which to engage. You’ll start with regional scenarios and then move on to unification scenarios. Once you start taking over smaller territories in fights such as the Tonoku, the Kanto, or the Chubu region, you reach a new stage. You will then engage in unification scenarios including the famous battle of Kawanakajima (1561), the Unification of Kyushu (1561), the Unification of Chugoku (1561), the Unification of Kansai (1561), the Unification of Chubu (1561), the Unification of Kanto (1561), and the Unification of Tohoku (1561).
To some, this may appear like just another history lesson from KOEI and you would be right since KOEI has always been guilty of digging into Chinese and Japanese history and culture and re-creating past events in video games. You will re-live the Honnoji Incident where Nobunaga met his end, and engage in the largest and most pronounced battle of its time, The Battle of Kawanakajima provides information on the warring factions of that year. Strange as it may seem, you can learn quite a bit of history from these games. Which, if you’re studying these subjects in school, might make history a little more fun for you.
The main goal of the Empire mode is to become the most powerful lord of Japan, and you will do so by forming allies with other factions, growing crops and managing money, delegating lieutenants to fight particular battles, growing your own set of skills, and increasing the strength of your armor and weaponry. The game starts off slowly, which is one of its many weak points. Unlike previous games where you a little bit of leeway to start with, here you are thrown right into the mix. You will have few allies and no points for your character to begin with, but after a few successful fights and level up points for your character, weapons, and army, the game slowly ascends into moderate fun.
The gameplay is as simple as you might expect. The core of the game is very reliant on button mashing, not in the traditional sense of many fighting games for beginners, but one-button attack games. There are a plenty of combos to learn, but in the heat of the moment you might find yourself drawn to just relying on the wonders of repeatedly pushing the attack button ad nauseam. Of course, this makes the controls of the game simple for everyone to get involved. It will only become increasingly difficult as you start to master the combos that deliver more damage. Then again, with games such as this, where countless numbers of enemies attack you, having that sure fire attack button waiting is nothing to pass off. KOEI has always been able to easily draw new players in by making the attack controls simple, but fans of the series may be asking: is it not time we progress the mechanics of the fighting system a bit?
The real advance here is all of the micromanagement you can orchestrate before going into battle. The years are divided into four seasons, which equal four turns in a year. Before each turn, you will be able to consult your counsel. Here you will be able to decide on building defenses, staring a rebellion, hiring your own rouge warrior, or Ronin, and even transfer your main officers from one location to another, to name but a few. In addition to the vast army you deploy to invade, assist, or defend a country. You will also be able to choose whether or not to mount a trusty steed into battle. However, this may seem like a small thing considering it has been done before it actually making the battles a little more difficult. After you have micromanaged your nation before the battles, you will be given another screen to make a few selections from including your horse. There will be certain Tactics that you can use once you have acquired them. For example, if you are going into battle with a nation that you have had previous trouble with you will be able to select a Neutral Start Tactic. This will remove all controlled bases controlled by you and the enemy with the exception of the main bases. Utilizing this tactic might seem like an unfair advantage, but if you need it, it will definitely come in handy. Equally promising antics include- Demoralize, weaken the morality of you enemies; Charm, lure your enemies into switching sides during battle; and Reinforcements, where during the middle of battle you can call for aide from another country. This all may appear troublesome, but these few things are were Samurai Warriors 2 shines through for small advancements.
Visually it appears almost as if it was made a few years ago. I know what you’re saying – KOEI has never been known for making huge advancements on anything when it comes to there sequels why should graphics be any surprise? The reason is this: if you have a game that looks like it was made a few years ago, then general gamers won’t pick up a title unless it has made huge advancements in one area or another, or they are completely committed to the series. Equally as mundane as previous installments from KOEI the voice acting is over the top and repetitively idiotic. This lack of attention to the voice acting is reminiscent to the cheesy lines in any given fighting game. By now, this is something KOEI should be consistently working on to fix. As lackluster as the voice acting is, the music is more harmful. The music becomes numbingly hypnotic after a while, so you do not really notice unless you have excellent hearing. In fact, the only thing, audio wise, that is somewhat fair is the sound effects of slashing blades and the felling of your enemies.
With as much experience KOEI has had with their Dynasty and Samurai series you would think that the nuisances of this latest installment would not even appear. Unfortunately, they do, and, because of this, the Samurai Warriors 2: Empires feels more like a first generation PS2 title than a title nearing the end of the PS2 system. However, if you can get past the voice acting, lack of advancements to the core fighting system, and almost boring micromanagement features, then this latest installment was designed for you. Of course, if you’re looking for a new installment into your Japanese history game collection then this is it, and you’re in for hours of mindless button mashing fun.