Jeremy Henderson
17 May, 2006

Samurai Warriors: State of War Review

PSP Review | A sorry state indeed.
First the good news. Koei has made a number of improvements to it's portable hack 'n slash Warriors franchise. Unfortunately the major problems that plagued Dynasty Warriors remain. Samurai Warriors: State of War is a sorry state indeed.

For the sake of continuity, PALGN often assigns games to reviewers who reviewed an earlier version of a game. Last year, at the PSP's launch, PALGN's PR guru, Luke reviewed the disappointing Dynasty Warriors, a game no one should ever have to suffer through more than once. Perhaps with that in mind, Luke's taken no chances with Koei's follow-up effort State of War and assigned the game to the new kid on the PALGN block instead.

Samurai Warriors is Dynasty Warriors with Japanese warriors replacing the Chinese cast, and the action transplanted to 16th Century Japan. Koei has thrown in all 19 fighters from Samurai Warriors and Samurai Warriors Xtreme Legends, so if you're a fan of those games you'll be happy. The game takes place during the civil war, with great warriors Nobunaga Oda, Shingen Takeda, and Kenshin Uesugi struggling for ultimate victory amidst the chaos.

A special attack is about the only thing guaranteed to light up the screen and cut through the fog.

A special attack is about the only thing guaranteed to light up the screen and cut through the fog.
On the face of it, all these unique characters with their own special weapons, fighting out over 37 stages and across 22 maps sounds promising. Gameplay is twofold. Both Story and Free mode alternates between a strategy phase and an action phase. It perhaps says a lot about the game that the strategy phase is actually more engaging and far less frustrating than the action phase. Certainly the game has more depth than Dynasty Warriors, but even that is faint praise.

The strategy phase sees you moving your character on a colour coded map; a board game if you like, with you choosing where to travel around the battlefield, following a few predetermined trails. Land on an enemy square and you'll be thrown into the action phase. How well you perform during each action phase will in turn determine the number of spaces you can move during the strategy phase. You'll be graded A, B or C. The best rank, A, will allow you to move up to 3 spaces during the strategy level, increasing your options. Once spaces on the map are secured you'll be rewarded with 'charms'. These can be used during the strategy phase to boost health or strength or change the battlefield in some way. You can only hold a limited number of charms at the one time so it's better to uses them as you progress through the game. Even those not familiar with strategy games will find the interface and menu system pretty straightforward going, and Koei is to be applauded for improving on the far less user-friendly interface in Dynasty Warriors

So what of the Action phase? By all accounts feudal Japan was a barren, featureless, desolate place with the worst low lying fog you've ever seen in a video game. If it wasn't for your onscreen map you would never find your enemy combatants. The fog is the result of Koei's efforts to solve one of the big shortcomings of Dynasty Warriors. See, the Warrior's games have always liked to throw an insane number of AI enemies on the screen at one time. It's almost as if they are hoping you'll be so overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters that you'll forgive all of the games' other shortcomings. Unfortunately, this resulted not just in occasional slow down, but frame rates that were just unacceptable.

To remedy said frame rate issue, Koei has reduced the draw distance. This might have been acceptable if the original Dynasty Warriors had had a decent draw distance to start with, but it didn't. Now it has the most ridiculously short draw distance you've ever experienced in a current handheld generation title. How far can you see on a clear day? There is no clear day. The fog is always there just a few virtual steps away, swirling in the background as characters and buildings disappear in and out of view. Seriously, Stevie Wonder can see further than this game's draw distance, and it seriously hampers both gameplay and your enjoyment of the title. That being said, Koei seem to have the frame rate bugs totally ironed out!

The menu screens are at least more user friendly.

The menu screens are at least more user friendly.
But you’re wondering about the gameplay right. OK, it's a hack 'n slash title. You have to go into this thing expecting you'll be spilling a lot of blood and carving a swathe through entire Samurai armies. What you won't be expecting is that it's going to be so bloody tedious. If you're going to be killing so many soldiers you'd think they could spice things up a little to keep it interesting. How? Fighting back might help. Even on higher difficulty levels the enemy AI is too passive and accommodating. They couldn't be less of a threat if they queued up in a line and waited to die. While they don't queue, they do actually mill around in groups putting up a token resistance, and enabling you to execute mass killings with ease.

Koei has also included a character development system. Your chosen Warrior will become stronger with every 50th enemy KO. Trust me, you'll have no trouble racking up a high body count. You can also find scrolls during battle that add various skills to your character. Koei have again thrown a 'body guard’ system into the mix. You are joined on the battlefield by your handpicked 'second in command', your very own sidekick. Perhaps with a more robust AI, the body guard system would add to the gameplay, but even with roughly 200 to choose from, it's more gimmick, than valuable gameplay addition.

The audio adds nothing to the gameplay either. Don't get me wrong. Death is not pretty and nor should it sound pretty, but surely it shouldn't sound the same. Now I know we are talking about the Japanese. In Japan it's all about conformity (unless you're Nintendo or the crazy funky girls in Shinjuku) and back in the days of Feudal Japan it was no different. But surely the developers could have put a few more resources into the audio. Imagine killing 1000 soldiers, and hearing the same death scream from each and every one of them. Trust me. It gets tiring pretty quickly (after about the 27th time from memory).

Almost too easy.

Almost too easy.
There's also wireless multiplayer on offer this time around, but don't get too excited because it's a meagre offering indeed. It's ad-hoc only and there's no game sharing, so again you need a buddy with a PSP and two copies of the game between you. There are two 4-player games on offer. In 'Vanguard', victory goes to the first player to defeat 5 enemy captains. 'Bandits' has you killing opponents to steal their gold and the player with the most gold wins.

If you're a fan of the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors console games and keen to get some Warrior action to go, then State of War is definitely the game to get. This time around Koei has made full use of the PSP's widescreen, the strategy elements have been smoothed out and implemented in a straightforward manner, and the frame rate issues dealt with.

Had both the action and strategy elements been implemented perfectly you would have a well balanced title, equally adept at offering a short gameplay button mashing experience, and something deeper and more engaging for those willing to invest more time in the game. Sadly, the gameplay is dull and repetitive. The fun is short-lived and the poor visuals and unimaginative in-game audio only serves to make you more aware of how lacklustre the gameplay actually is.
The Score
Koei has raised the bar, but just not far enough. Any advancements made in terms of the games strategy phase, and improving the frame rate, have been negated by the appalling draw distance, the poor AI and resulting disappointing gameplay. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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