"There could have been so much more to Samurai Warriors Chronicles…but there isn’t."
Japan is on the verge of destruction. Philosophy and warfare have blended together, plunging the country into chaos. Whole armies of rivaling factions are fighting for every scrap of available territory. They’re led by ambitious politicians and cunning generals, all of whom are determined to shape the future of their country. While these individuals intend to bring about an age of peace, their methods of attaining it are at odds with each other. Some dream of a world in which everyone is happy and prosperous, while others plan to rule an empire with an iron fist. Those who represent the previous establishment are rendered obsolete, mere victims in the crossfire between unstoppable forces. Only those with superior tactics and boundless idealism will survive to see the next era.
Will you be one of them?
Samurai Warriors Chronicles has you play the role of a fledgling warrior attempting to make it through the war unscathed. You’ll start off being drafted as a no-name recruit, steadily gain recognition for your heroics, and eventually cross paths with the prominent figures from Japan’s Sengoku period. You’ll fight alongside the likes of Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Akechi Mitsuhide, Takenaka Hanbei, and several other characters. The story focuses on how these individuals’ personal philosophies help shape your perspective with regards to the war and the future of the country. The pacing, however, doesn’t allow for much depth or insight; some characters are killed or written out long before you have a chance to care about them. The frequent team changes make your alliances short-lived; your closest friend could become a deadly enemy in the next battle. Such disjointed storytelling will make you want to skip over the mission explanations and dive straight into the combat.
You’ll typically be put into situations in which you’re practically surrounded and outnumbered. New objectives are steadily fed to you over the course of the level, ranging from occupying forts and escorting allies to defending territories and assassinating certain targets. Since all of this happens in real time, the sheer amount of goals can be overwhelming. The opposing army’s strength and morale – and thus the tide of the battle – are determined by how many missions you complete. Even with the ability to toggle between multiple characters, it’s entirely possible to fail several missions and screw yourself over. The trick is learning how to prioritize the objectives and place your characters accordingly; your forces need to be spread out to cover the warzone, but not so far out that they’ll be forced into solo confrontations. Or, if you’re not keen on strategy, you can simply rush for the nearest group of enemies or their bases – helpfully highlighted on the touch screen map – and murder their ranking officer. Doing so will not only drop morale, but it’ll probably complete an objective or two. It’s not the fanciest way to beat the game, but it gets the job done far quicker.
It’s not like you’ll have much of a challenge, anyway. The game’s difficulty doesn’t kick in until the last parts of the campaign, which makes most of the battles mind-numbingly boring. The AI in this game is horrendous; you’ll mow through dozens – eventually hundreds – of enemy NPCs that simply stand there and wait for their deaths. Those rows of archers and riflemen look intimidating, but you’ll usually be able to rush them before they can take any shots. Even if they do, their ridiculously poor aim ensures that you won’t get hurt. The rare exceptions to these boring and unintimidating foes are the ranking officers, who have just enough presence of mind to actually attack and defend against you. But aside from the relatively overpowered boss characters, the officers pose only a slightly bigger threat than their underlings. Killing them usually involves striking hard enough to break their blocking moves, then following it up with some lengthy combos. There’s little depth or complexity involved; you mash the regular and strong attack buttons to rack up hits, and occasionally use temporary stat-boosting skills. Dishing out enough punishment eventually leads to the summoning of your Musou spells, which basically annihilates any weaker enemies in your immediate vicinity. There’s also the option to ride a horse into battle, but the slippery controls and the lacking combos make the already repetitive combat that much more tedious.
The worst part, however, is when there aren’t enemies. There are moments during battles in which you find yourself completely alone, running from one objective point to the next with no opposition whatsoever. Such a break would be welcome, if there was anything to look at. The battlefields are massive, three-dimensional open spaces of interconnecting routes. Some areas try to look fancy with buildings and set pieces – the Honnoji stage is gorgeous – but the majority of them are nothing more than empty fields with blocky fortifications and poorly-rendered grass. Just when you start to notice how desolate and washed-out everything looks, a small group of enemy soldiers will materialize out of thin air to distract you. Their wooden animations and bland costumes help the main cast stand out more; your playable characters are decked out with all kinds of ornate armor and slick attacks. There’s nothing more awesome than gliding in for a killing blow with Nobunaga, or wasting whole squads of foes with Ieyasu and Ujiyasu’s projectiles. It’s just a shame that the rest of the presentation didn’t get the same kind of treatment.
The game tries to make up for its shortcomings by providing weapon and item crafting mechanics. You’ll find all sorts of swords and trinkets strewn across the battlefield, and each of them has different effects on your stats. Some improve your attack power and elemental affinities, while others give you speed and defense buffs. By combining things together and earn experience points in battle, your character will steadily level up into a killing machine in no time. You’ll also get help from the rest of the main cast, who can be made playable by completing parts of the story and gaining access to bonus missions. Some of them require more effort, though; you’ll frequently have to complete dialogues that, depending on how you respond to the person’s questions, will determine their friendship and loyalty to you. Become close enough allies with them, and their weapons and skills will be at your disposal. That’s the true challenge behind Samurai Warriors Chronicles; the combat may be easy, but unlocking everything else certainly isn’t.
It probably won’t be enough, though. Those characters and weapons won’t seem like much of a reward when you’re plodding through one tedious battle after the next. It’s unfortunate, considering how much potential this game has. The combat system could have been fleshed out beyond mashing attack buttons and occasionally summoning super-powerful moves. The AI could have been drastically improved, allowing for more satisfying combat and a better difficulty curve. The mission objectives could have more refined tactics, thus giving more depth to your strategies. The stages and enemies could have been rendered better, which would have helped the atmosphere and better demonstrated the 3DS’s graphical capabilities. There could have been so much more to Samurai Warriors Chronicles…but there isn’t. Unlike its source material, this game will never make history.
Community review by disco (July 25, 2011)
Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.
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