Everyone was not Kung Fu fighting
When you're looking at the Koei company you think of only one thing these days: Dynasty Warriors. The company has carved a franchise and niche out of the series, but they also have made countless innovations to their games with the release of each one.
Now it's the turn of the second game in a similar vein, but a new franchise: Samurai Warriors 2.
Samurai Warriors was in many ways a rehash of the original style of DW games. For Samurai Warriors 2 the developers opted to go a different and more adventurous route - read on to find out what's changed and what's really different about this second game.
Take a bunch of legendary figures from Japanese history and mythology, give them a little bit of a developer spin and you've got the various story elements that make up the game. As always it's set against the backdrop of the brutal feudal wars in Japan and the historic battles that took place during those periods. Replace Cao Cao with Lord Nobunaga Oda and you've got the idea.
The story for each character is told in a really effective way through some very nice CGI cut-scenes however and it's bold, striking and very well done.
If you've played all of the previous games in this vein then the gameplay is going to be familiar. It's about button bashing combinations that become increasingly trickier to pull off but yield spectacular results when you master them. It's about wading into armies of enemies and trashing them with those moves, taking on generals (min-bosses) and special generals (bosses) to win the various maps.
Sometimes you're protecting a famous character, sometimes you're trying to destroy a base and protect your own. There are numerous things going on in these battles and you're never stuck without something to do.
If you've never played a single game from the developers in this genre then you're missing out on some addictive fun. Samurai Warriors 2 takes a new approach to the tried and tested method of level ups in this series. Once you have defeated a general you gain something from them, health ups, rewards and so on. After the mission is successful you're taken to a debrief screen where you gain experience.
Experience that raises your stats and so on, you can keep or discard new weapons and eventually you'll get to a shop screen. It is here that you use money to buy new skills for your warrior (learned from defeating enemy bosses) and you can upgrade your weapons (most of them have a number of open slots) with new abilities. Some of the weapons have an elemental effect and you can gain even more damage bonuses by carefully applying these attributes.
In addition to the story mode you can also play a free play game and pick any of the unlocked maps. This is a good way to level up your character or experiment with different play strategies.
You can also play a survival mode that allows you to go up against a castle with various quests/floors and attempt to conquer them in return for prizes and rewards. These missions are simplistic but make a change from the pace of the maps where you have to protect your bases and so on.
Finally there's a strange board game that you can play with up to 4 other players. It is known as Sugoroku, we were horribly bad at it but it was a fun diversion.
For those of you that like to play co-operatively you can play Story and Free mode with a second player on split screen. The game allows you to combine special attacks known as Musou in co-op for even more power.
Samurai Warriors 2 features some nice little tricks, including for the first time, a 3 level Musou power gauge that allows you to perform devastating special moves on your opponents. The gameplay is fast, fun and frenetic and the pace never lets up which has been a trademark of the Dynasty-style games since the first.
Samurai Warriors 2 takes a graphical step upwards for both the CGI and the in-game engine graphics. It is a vibrant and colourful world of Japanese history that comes alive with a rich character palette. Unfortunately as is the case with all the series, the backgrounds could do with a much better style in terms of both design and colour. They are a little bland compared to the richly detailed main characters and enemy generals.
They're not awful by any stretch of the imagination but they could have done with a little more life. Samurai Warriors 2 also suffers from the same troubles as the previous titles - the draw distance is bad on 2 player co-op and often there's a horrendous amount of popup.
Objects appear from out of your field of view and the other player character vanishes if they are a little too far ahead.
The use of light and shade in the game is good, the effects are excellent, the spectacle of battle is suitably over the top and the eye-candy keeps you coming back to pull off more and more varied combos to see what kind of effect pops up next, as well as to see how many bad guys you can trash.
Samurai Warriors 2 has a decent level of detail in the models, especially of the main characters and the various (some outlandish by design) weapons they use. The enemy soldiers are likewise well designed and the background objects are simple enough, basically the level of detail in the models lessens depending on the importance of the object in question.
The game doesn't stint on the OTT animations and combat moves, there are some ridiculously long button presses to get some of the more extreme moves but they're worth it as the animation is performed admirably and brings to mind such things as anime.
There's also a decent level of animation to the various materials in the game world, like cloth and so on. Each main character has a different fighting style that evolves as you gain experience and more skills; they go from only a few movements to being able to string together linked charge attacks that are extremely well animated.
There's not really much to be said about the AI, it will often get stuck (especially the enemy) and run into walls, fail to help out and attack the most dangerous opponent when it should really be running away. To be fair the series has never really been about the AI and this game hasn't really done anything to advance the AI at all.
Again, not much in the way of cool game physics, swords clash, foes fall back and over - that's about it.
The din of battle and the clang of swords and blades are all well done. The spot effects are nice and the whole battlefield is definitely alive in an audio respect.
The game features some very good music, it's a good flowing score and it matches the action perfectly. The intro theme reminds me that the developers certainly know how to milk an audio soundtrack and make some great tunes.
The series has also never been known for its stellar voice cast, but the performances are passable and they do have some amusing lines of dialogue. It's a bit annoying to hear some of it repeated now and then but nothing that spoils the game.
You can take Samurai Warriors 2 online via Xbox Live and challenge other players. The experience is a fun diversion from the main game but we felt it could have been given a little more thought. A four player coop battle versus an enemy army would have been a nice addition and perhaps the series will eventually evolve in that direction for online play.
As it stands it seems to be a non-confrontational style of play, you don't fight another player directly - you see who can take down their mission objective, enemy general and so on, before the other player.
There were also some lag issues and a few graphical glitches.
Samurai Warriors 2 does promise un-lockable downloaded content via Live however and this is always nice to see.
The last stand...
In the end the series of games keeps on evolving but it is pretty much the same game, different packaging. The developers really need to start pushing the envelope with their next titles both in terms of graphics and gameplay on the next generation consoles - we're getting there, but I think we'll see a big improvement from the next few games.
Until then, I shall go back to unlocking more of the story and the cut-scenes.
There's also no custom character creation compared to the rather excellently done: Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires