Put simply, Samurai Warriors 4 is the best Musou game we’ve had in a while. For the past year or so we’ve seen a number of sequels, ports and spin-offs, yet all have failed to steer the popular franchise in a new direction. In fact, the last title in the series that had us excited was Dynasty Warriors 8, another numbered instalment. Coincidence? Certainly not.
Since the mid 2000s KOEI has developed a habit of supporting each game with post-launch expansions. These disc-based add-ons – arguably a precursor to modern day DLC – have usually been hit and miss, acting as more of a stopgap between each mainline game in the franchise. It’s no surprise to see how worked up Musou fans get when a proper sequel finally comes along. For PlayStation fans in particular, the wait for Samurai Warriors 4 has been a long one. With the series’ third instalment having launch exclusively on the Wii, it’s not since 2008’s Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends that they have been able to live out their Sengoku era battlefield fantasies.
The best way to describe the experience is a historical, high octane, hack ‘n’ slash romp through the ages. For years developer Omega Force has stuck to its “One versus One Thousand” philosophy, allowing players to master the art of war and wipe out entire legions of troops. This is all done in third person, using a combination of attack types, special abilities, and super-charged “Musou” powers.
The first, most noticeable change in Samurai Warriors 4 is that players can now select two generals to play as at once instead of just one. Arguably, this has already been done in KOEI’s Orochi spin-off series, although here it’s handled differently. Using an array of simple commands, you can actively move one general around the field of battle while the other responds to your orders. With one button you can immediately toggle between your two warriors, which dramatically speeds up the flow of battle.
For long-time fans of the series, there’s an even more notable revision to the gameplay formula that will no doubt carry over into future games. Of course, what we’re referring to are the all-new Hyper attacks. Since Dynasty Warriors 2, players have been limited to regular combos that can be enhanced by the use of power attacks, further complemented by screen-clearing Musou powers. Although a few tweaks have been made over the years, none are as significant as Hyper attacks. Now players can use a different type of combo starting with a power attack, meant specifically for wiping out large columns of enemies. In other words, each of the 55 playable characters in Samurai Warriors 4 has two different movesets. Needless to say, this allows players to be more creative when it comes to tearing through the enemy ranks.
There are a smattering of other, smaller revisions too. Standard bearers will crop up from time to time, empowering any general or foot soldier standing within their vicinity, stunning generals with low health gives players the opportunity to perform a finishing move, and items are now assigned before battles and can be used actively when needed. There are plenty more incremental improvements and changes across the board, all of which are evidence of Samurai Warriors 4 being a genuine sequel as opposed to an idle rehash.
It has also earned the accolade of being the best-looking Musou game to date. Those playing on either PlayStation 3 or Vita will struggle to see any major improvements, but PlayStation 4 gamers should easily pick up on the dynamic lighting effects as well as the highly polished character models. It’s a great-looking game, sure, but is arguably held back by Tecmo KOEI’s insistence on supporting older platforms. This is felt particularly during cutscenes.
Unlike Dynasty Warriors 8, which thrived on cinematic moments, this game takes a more mundane approach, limiting character interactions to simple dialogue exchanges. These are made even more tedious by the fact that Samurai Warriors 4 features no English voice-over whatsoever, a shame considering how other Japanese imports tend to feature localised audio.
One more feature worth picking up on is the game’s Chronicle Mode. Here, players can create their very own warrior using a variety of customisation items, dropping them straight into the heart of the Warring States conflict. By navigating a world map, your avatar will take on a series of smaller battles and skirmishes while recruiting allies, unlocking gear, and ultimately filling the pages of their expansive chronicle. Compared to the majority of add-on game modes we’ve seen in the series, Chronicle is easily one of the most substantial.
Great things were expected of Samurai Warriors 4 and, thankfully, the sequel has delivered on a number of levels. Though it still carries the same old Musou blueprint, and so there’s little to draw in those who dislike its particular brand of hack n’ slash action, there are enough changes to attract any self-respecting fan of the series.
Version tested: PlayStation 4