Samurai Warriors: State of War Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 7.0
Multiplayer : 6.0
Overall : 7.7
Review by Stevie Smith
KOEI has been pushing out fresh iterations in their ever-expanding “Warriors” series for quite some time, but it must be noted that while the published unit numbers have show undeniable signs of growth, the games themselves have not. With the introduction of Samurai Warriors: State of War to the PSP, which is yet another historically-based, blade-wielding title built on the series’ established foundations, has KOEI finally dared to tread new ground and strike out from the largely repetitive and dull hack-and-slash battlefield?

From a narrative point of view, Samurai Warriors: State of War’s central component—its story mode—is set in ancient feudal Japan and revolves around growing territory clashes between Eastern and Western warring factions. The player selects a single useable character from a fairly modest initial offering—each of which offer up differing statistical strengths and weaknesses, weaponry preferences, etc—and then swiftly takes to the battlefield. Unlike most hack-and-slash titles of this ilk, State of War allows the player to use a tactical map to issue positional movement to their character based on the attacks or territory of the A.I. forces. These maps are simple, marginally detailed, grid-like affairs where blue squares denote allied territory and orange denotes that of the enemy. If the player selects to move onto orange territory then the game switches to a third-person character perspective and the “real” action swiftly begins as the battle for the territory plays out. This continues until the enemy’s main camp, lead General, etc, have been wiped out, or until the player’s forces have been completely overrun or the player defeated, etc. Any “Charm” scrolls picked up by the player during actual combat can also be used while perusing the map, and players can enjoy powering-up their forces, setting fire to enemy territory, or perhaps causing floods to damage enemy defenses.

Splitting each tactical map and its ensuing battles are small chunks of storyline and item/weaponry/charm allocation. The first of which plays out as largely text dialogue between illustrated stills of high-ranking members of the player’s army. The story is the usual mix of interior struggles, old grudges, and bad blood amid a larger exterior threat, and ultimately it’s all rather stale and uninspiring. To make matters worse, the localization of the (at one time Japanese) dialogue into (American) English makes the delivery of these supposedly ancient oriental warriors laughably bad as they spout modern slang with streetwise undertones. While it should convey atmospheric drama and a genuine draw to the player in terms of authentic immersion, the story only serves to invoke winces of discomfort in its level of ineptitude.
Issuing power-up items collected amid the heat of battle, such as charms, skills, weaponry, armor, etc, is easily done and players will have no problems equipping their character to an optimum level. Also, during the allocation phase preceding the onset of more tactical clashes, players can assign sub-officers to accompany them on the battlefield and improve chances of progression—the games offers some 200 sub-officers to be unlocked and recruited to the cause.

The actual fighting mechanics of Samurai Warriors: State of War are easy to grasp and without undue challenge in the dexterity department, however, because of the hack-and-slash nature of the game and its flocks of opposing blade fodder, any considered combination usage of the controls is soon set aside in favor of (oddly rewarding) button mashing and single-minded reliance on a ‘one size fits all’ battle approach. The standard “Musou” power attack is in attendance, along with “Normal”, and “Charge” attacks, and also “Guard”, “Counter”, and even “Strafe” exist to bolster attack and defense choices. However, guarding, countering and strafing are unlikely to be utilized thanks to an extremely restrictive game camera that remains fixed behind the character and all-but cripples any sense of surrounding detail, opposition, and positioning, which sadly promotes a distinct ‘go forward with sword slashing’ mentality rather than taking the time to decide where is best to attack.

Graphically—like all of KOEI’s hack-and-slash titles—Samurai Warriors: State of War looks fairly impressive while never striving to reach higher ground. In-game character sprites are beautifully designed and created (especially during the game’s slickly rendered opening sequence), and their animation is fast, smooth, and fairly convincing where infamous weight-of-movement is concerned. Attacks are solid and vicious throughout, especially the Musou flurries, which are pleasingly meaty while peppered with colorful effects and the usual somewhat-farfetched physics when enemies are launched into the air. Surrounding environments are, like the characters, well designed and implemented but—as with the long-running Dynasty Warriors series—environmental detailing is inaccessible to the player. Only the actual exterior floor plan of the contested map square can be used for battle. This is fine seeing as the rolling environments are certainly pleasant enough on the eye, and the sheer number of combatants perhaps doesn’t lend itself to interior clashes. However, it does continue a dulling trend in hack-and-slash games where instigating claustrophobic, tiered, and enclosed fighting opportunities are neglected beside the immediacy of wide-open spaces—which soon becomes a little boring.

Beyond the game’s story mode, Samurai Warriors: State of War offers players the chance to indulge in free mode, which opens up any desired character to embark on all completed and unlocked stages of the game to be re-played from start to finish. Then there is State of War’s vs. mode, which allows 2-4 players to use the PSP’s Wi-Fi Ad Hoc system to network between consoles and compete (using selected sub-officers too) to see who’s the greatest general.

State of War’s battle elements are frantic but brief and perfectly befitting the mobile nature of the PSP platform. Yet, they also lack a genuine sense of challenge; this is most noticeable in the A.I., which rarely proves especially tough apart from specific “named” generals, etc, who come equipped with formidable health bars, impressive weaponry, and special moves. The sways of generic foot soldiers, on the other hand, all-but fall to their deaths at the mere sight of your character bounding enthusiastically toward them.

The tactical map interludes, though fun to a certain degree, aren’t particularly engaging in terms of player involvement, and they tend to feel a little ‘tacked on’ and unnecessary when getting to the heart of the action is much more preferable. The story is, frankly, dull as dishwater—regardless of experiencing it from fresh viewpoints through differing characters. And KOEI’s decision not to include a multiplayer co-op mode is another missed opportunity to instill a little more interest in an otherwise stilted section of the gaming industry. KOEI will doubtlessly continue to pump out these hack-and-slash titles into the polluted genre pool, but it remains to be seen whether they will ever venture into clearer, deeper water or rather remain where they are now, which is treading water in the oddly yellow tinted shallow end.