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Samurai Warriors 4-II (PlayStation 4) artwork

Samurai Warriors 4-II (PlayStation 4) review

"Samurai Warriors 4 returns with a sequel, but is it worth taking another trip to Feudal Japan?"

The naming conventions that Tecmo Koei follows with its Musou titles have grown increasingly incongruous over the last few years. Samurai Warriors 4-II doesn't fall within the Chronicles or Xtreme Legends lines, but instead serves as a pseudo-sequel to last year's PlayStation 4 entry. To my dismay, this newest release doesn't add enough to the experience to avoid feeling like a shallow update, rather than a full-fledged extension.

This time around, the narrative is broken into individual tales that follow thirteen factions or groups of characters, each with a particular hero at the forefront. Centering on a different group of warriors than those presented the last time around was a good call, since it enables the player to see a different side to events such as the battle between Sanada brothers, Yukimura and Nobuyuki. Players control the older sibling this time around. But while the new angle on the Warring States period is in some ways an interesting novelty, I couldn't shake the feeling that I've seen the same general events play out enough times already.

Samurai Warriors 4 memorably included a Chronicles Mode, which tasked a custom officer with exploring a map filled with objectives, shops, and recruitable officers. This time around, you'll instead find two replacement modes: Survival and Challenge (you can also still create a custom officer, at least, but you're able to use them exclusively in the Free and Survival modes).

In Survival Mode, you'll essentially find a "Clear 100 floors" challenge with varying modifiers. Nine times out of ten, your goal is to defeat every officer on the floor. Sometimes, the objectives are switched up a bit, like when you must hit a certain combo count or kill a sufficient number of generic troops. Every 10 floors, stronger enemy officers (who possess blue skin and white hair) challenge you. You don't have to use any additional tactics to defeat them, but evasion is particularly important during such encounters. Also, every 10 or 20 tower floors, you pass a checkpoint so you can continue at a later date. That's useful when you need to take a break. One final consideration is a time limit that follows you from floor to floor. You receive additional time with each floor cleared, though, so a proficient player can wind up with an extra half-hour or so after advancing 10 or 15 floors.

Compared to Survival Mode, Challenge Mode is quite sparse. You choose from four different chambers, which you can clear by meeting their corresponding terms. Those are Trials (number of kills), Riches (quantity of gold gathered), Agility (standard bearers defeated), and Death (your kill count, as you avoid foes who can defeat you with a single hit or two). The last of those chambers doesn't even become accessible until you earn an A rank in the other three. A global leaderboard tracks your time and score each week, providing incentive to shoot for higher ranks and rewards (in the form of strategy tomes and gold). On my first try, I wound up in the Top 40 for the Chamber of Death event, using series newcomer Naomasa Ii.

Besides the above modes and the Story mode, your only other option is Free Mode. There, you can freely select any officer you wish to use while clearing the same missions you'll encounter in the more restrictive primary campaign. Stages only become available once you've cleared them in Story mode, however.

In both modes, you'll find an online multiplayer component. It doesn't feel fully fleshed out, though, which is all too common within the series. The developers have yet to address their two most common sins: players are unable to select a mission to play online when they haven't finished it while playing alone offline (which means you can't progress through the campaign's events with a remote friend until both of you advance to the same point independently of one another), and there's no way to conveniently search for open sessions. You join an existing player session or host one of your own after specifying a particular stage you'd like to play, but since there's no way to reliably see if someone else is interested in that same stage, you could be in for a lengthy wait before someone joins you. After I selected the game's first stage, I couldn't recruit another player to join me even after waiting for nearly an hour.

Some other game elements have changed this time around, though, for better or for worse. Equipment is more streamlined, and you're left to tend to only a couple of gear slots: weapon and horse. The latter option is largely irrelevant, since finishing up the Challenge Mode and earning S ranks will unlock Matsukaze, a horse with all stats fully maxed. Weapons, on the other hand, are unlocked by individual characters, and you can choose only a limited upgrade path. It's possible to fuse weapons to strengthen them, but difficult to customize the skills associated with particular equipment. You just have to hope you get lucky with randomized loot. Once you obtain something adequate, you can fuse everything else to it from there and boost its level and damage output.

As in previous games, you'll also find the occasional Rare weapon. Their obtuse requirements remain the same as always. You can acquire them only in Story Mode while using a particular character on a specific stage, and typically must kill a hefty number of foes in short order while taking very little damage. Trial and error is necessary. Players will need to clear the same stages repeatedly, especially if their aim is also to complete every objective.

In Survival Mode, you will acquire Strategy Tomes, and those let you fill out the skill board for character progression. The approach resembles the infamous Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X. You can bolster a character's innate skills and abilities, increasing damage output and weapon drop rate, and you can assign active skills that increase the chance of finding EXP scrolls and gold. Characters start in different locations on their boards, but every board features the same layout and grants characters similar boosts. An Epiphany Skill lies at the center of the board, which is unique to each character but can be transferred to other warriors and equipped to impart usable battle skills.

On the technical side, Samurai Warriors 4-II runs more smoothly than its fellows within the franchise. Particle effects and dozens of troops on-screen at once rarely produce anything less than an acceptably smooth framerate. Only during interior battles (where the camera sometimes has trouble tracking the action) will you see a significant drop, or perhaps when you're abusing skill use. Even then, everything remains playable.

It's disappointing that although Samurai Warriors 4-II looks better than any Warriors title before it and adds some new conventions that are quite enjoyable, it doesn't have a lot else going for it. Some of the in-depth customization options from the previous installment are gone, and the Story mode that remains doesn't make up for their absence. If the developers continue refining the ideas presented here and provide players with more modes and options, future games in the series could wind up being the best ones to date.


Gregarious's avatar
Freelance review by Kai Powell (October 10, 2015)

As an aspiring FGC contributor, Kai has earned enough tournament accolades to earn the title 'Eternally Second'. When not pouring his heart out over covering the games industry and running a corporate games store, he also spends his mornings at a ramen-ya

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