Samurai Warriors 4: Empires Review

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Title: Samurai Warriors 4 Empires
Developer: Koei Tecmo
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Game Type: Vita
Download: 2.9 GB
NA Availability: 
Digital Download

EU Availability: Digital Download
PSTV Support: 
Yes

The Musou genre has been very popular among fans of Koei Tecmo, particularly through the Dynasty Warriors franchise.  Last year, I got my first taste of the genre with Hyperdimension Neptunia U, and the home of the genre with Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires.  I reviewed it, noting a few things, good and bad, but have not been back to the genre since then.  At least, until now.

There are other franchises that Koei Tecmo does within the genre other than Dynasty Warriors, namely Warriors Orochi and the Samurai Warriors series.  Samurai Warriors has been getting PS Vita games for a good bit now, and it wasn’t until recently that I got a taste of it for myself.  Thanks to Koei Tecmo PR, here is my official review of another Empires title, Samurai Warriors 4: Empires!

Story

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Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II had story modes to flesh out story scenarios.  Like Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, though, there is no Story Mode here.  One mode has a lot of character biographies to learn about each character’s background information, but the main mode is not a story-driven one, but a gameplay-driven one.

The basic idea here is to imagine Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, except as a Samurai Warriors game.  The short of it is that there is no story campaign.

Gameplay

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Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is a 3D Action game with management and character creation elements thrown into the mix.  During gameplay, you will be thrown into combat in large 3D arenas against huge mobs of enemies with your own allied teams in fast-paced beat-em-up gameplay.

The Game Modes available in this game are Conquest Mode, Genesis Mode, Edit Mode, Vault, and Settings.  First of all, Vault and Settings Mode are used for viewing scenes, music, and character biographies and changing the game settings, respectively.  They are the smallest of the game modes since you don’t actually play anything inside them.

Next, let’s talk about Edit Mode since it can be used within the other two modes of the game.  Edit Mode is where you can create your own custom characters.  You can customize gender, face, height, chest size, arm length, weight, as well as weapons.  This game has a ton of weapon possibilities, but not quite as many as Dynasty Warriors.  There are around 60-70 different weapons, each with their own playstyle, vs the near-100 in DW8: Empires.  It’s still enough and different enough to merit that this doesn’t completely feel like a Dynasty Warriors knock-off.

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Once you create your characters, you can also set parents for stats and use them in the other game modes.  Whenever you make a scenario in them, there is an option to allow Custom Characters and you can even input that character into your starting clan so you can use them right away.  Much easier than Dynasty Warriors that just put them in a random clan you had to eventually find and obtain in order to use them.

Conquest and Genesis Modes are the main gameplay modes in this game, though it wouldn’t be as farfetched to say they’re slightly different versions of the same mode.  In both modes, you can tackle an era and scenario where you go in under a certain clan with an objective for them to complete.  The only difference is that Conquest Mode has preset scenarios and you can customize your own scenario in Genesis Mode.

When you begin a scenario, you go in under one of the 40 clans/territories of ancient Japan and they will have different ambitions, depending on the clan.  In DW8, every game was to obtain all territories and unite the entire country under a single banner.  The Ambitions in SW4 can be anything from that to uniting a specific territory, or as simple as leading a conquest and taking the nation’s capital.  This brings a lot more variety and much less lengthy campaigns to these game modes.

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Navigating each turn is similar to how it worked in DW8:E, but a little different as well.  First of all, you cannot join as a Freelancer, so there’s no way to freelance before joining a clan.  You start in a Clan, so the only battle types are invading and defending territories.  This does limit what you can do a bit, but the biggest parts of it are here, intact.

Between battles are management options.  You can customize your own castle with a logo and wallpaper, but can also direct certain officers to developments in your territory.  This could be as simple as increasing your military forces or investing in resources and creating new formations to use in combat.  Among this, marriage events also return, allowing your character to marry another after working with them for so long.

Combat, itself, is very similar to other games.  You still go into the field with troops and must capture bases the same way as in Dynasty Warriors.  How you fight is the only difference.  You have normal and heavy attacks that you can combo with.  You also have Hyper Attacks that allow you to easily zip across the field and have much faster-paced battles.  It’s still a hack n slash and can still seem repetitive if you always use the same weapon type, but it’s got a little more spunk than previous Samurai Warriors titles.

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One thing to note is that, despite the Wiki page for this game advertising Multiplayer, there is no multiplayer in Samurai Warriors 4: Empires.  Whether that is solely in the PS Vita version, I’m not sure.  I just know that there is no Multiplayer Option in any of the game modes.  For all intents and purposes, it is a Single Player game.

Another thing to note is that it is a good bit more difficult than Dynasty Warriors.  The first couple games I played I set on Normal and Easy, and the difficulty spikes quickly if you don’t take time to build up your resources.  On the Easy Mode game, I went through a single invasion easily, but the next I tried had me easily underpowered, completely losing my health in a matter of seconds after jumping into a horde of enemies to try out a few combos.  It’s a button-masher, but not one you can take lightly.

As far as time is concerned, it’s difficult to say without a story scenario and with all the different kinds of Ambition Goals at your disposal.  If you go for a “Unite the Country” game, it could last you 8 hours or more.  But a “Reach the Capital” game could last as little as 3 or 4 hours.  It all depends on what you want to play.  Conquering all of the scenarios will surely take dozens of hours, but it depends on what you want to do with it.

Controls

We won’t be looking at a lot of differences between the controls of this and the last Empires game I reviewed.  Just like before, it is PlayStation TV compatible, so all of you PSTV owners will be able to play the game without issue.  Do note that you do have a couple touch controls when you play on the Vita, though.  Calling the horse is done with the rear touch screen.

Those rear touch controls are one thing I want to make a note of, along with the camera controls not working that well.  The camera is easy to move, and the game likes to put it directly above you when you’re near a horse or a wall.  It actually does this to me a lot, making it very annoying.

The game’s settings says you swipe the top-left corner of the rear touch pad to summon your horse and holding it while moving will mount your horse.  These controls are very finicky as I found that half the time when I did the touch correctly, no horse appeared and it always took me several attempts like this to get the mounting to work properly.

The rest of the controls are as such.  The Left Analog Stick is used to move and the Right Analog Stick rotates the camera.  The D-Pad is used for giving commands.  L is used to center the camera and guard against attacks, and the R trigger is used to enhance your abilities for a short time or use another special weapon skill.  X is used to jump and Square is used for light attacks.  Triangle is used for heavy attacks and Circle is used for Ultimate Attacks when the gauge is filled up.

I can’t say I don’t have any problems with the controls, as those finicky rear touch controls and camera angles that go out of place are quite an annoyance.

Presentation

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This is the section I have no issues with.  Visually, it’s a step up from DW8: Empires, and things go quite smoothly.  There’s a lot of detail in all of the character models as well as the enemy models and environments.  Sometimes it’s hard to read the full map view, but overall, I have no quarrel with the visual presentation.

How the game plays is also an improvement.  Most Warriors games on the Vita suffer from slowdown issues.  DW8 Empires was definitely a step in the right direction but it still had problems.  Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is yet another step in the right direction.  It isn’t 60 fps, but I rarely saw any drops as I played the game.  It was a nice and smooth experience for me.

Summary

Samurai Warriors 4: Empires is the Vita’s newest Warriors game and the best optimized, with very few frame drops.  While it doesn’t have Multiplayer and some controls and the camera are finicky, it’s definitely worth a go, if you’re a Samurai Warriors fan.

8/10

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