With dozens of instalments under its name since first arriving on store shelves in 1997 as a typtical fighting game, Dynasty Warriors arguably remaining the most renown title in Omega Force and Koei Tecmo’s “Warriors” series. In recent years their approach to button-mashing action hack ‘n’ slash gameplay has seen them expand from historical eras, seeing them cover the characters and locales from other renown franchises including One Piece, Gundam, The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Quest. But after not receiving as much attention for some time, the development team in recent years have finally put the resources and attention towards developing a fourth numbered instalment in the Samurai Warriors series – Samurai Warriors 4. Finally, gamers on current generation video game consoles have been able to take up arms as various distinct personalities during the Sengoku period of Japan.
Both Samurai Warriors 4 and its unique storyline-oriented successor Samurai Warriors 4-II managed to impress, presenting not only the characteristic gameplay elements one would expect from a Warriors game, but complementing them with memorable characters and solid plot progression. Although it might be considered too soon by some, Koei Tecmo have pushed ahead with the quick release of a new “Empires” edition for SW4. As before, this game is less about presenting a storyline, and more about having players take charge in accomplishing a particular goal as either one of several notable personalities in the game or as their own custom warrior.
Storyline / Character Development
When it comes to the traditional story mode campaigns in Samurai Warriors 4, you are generally left in charge of predefined characters during every battle. This means that each battle can come to life with dialogue and particular events depending on your progress. In Samurai Warriors 4 Empires however, storyline takes a backseat, with battles seeing you potentially controlling custom characters or a mix of characters which would not typically go up against one another. Battles could potentially see main campaign allies go up against one another as enemies. Therefore, battles are a lot more objective-oriented with each character having a limited number of dialogue options, and won’t see players witnessing too much plot during them.
Outside of battle there isn’t that much of a structured storyline either, although there are slightly different opportunities depending on which gameplay mode you choose. While either will allow you to take on a custom character should you choose to do so, Conquest Mode will see you joining a clan in a predefined era of Japan, and will see you working towards a chosen objective of that group. These can range from uniting Japan under a particular characters rule, reaching the capital or wiping a rival clan from the books of history. Although fully under your control, as there are pre-defined characters in each clan, I found there to be a little more plot present in this mode. Alternatively there is Genesis Mode, which allows you to freely distribute main, secondary and custom characters throughout Japan – with most of the plot involving random events taking place within your camp and throughout the land, in addition to relationship events should two warriors form a bond between one another. Genesis Mode trades a little bit of plot for a lot more versatility with regards to the structure of Japan.
If you are after storyline then simply put you should go with Samurai Warriors 4 or Samurai Warriors 4-II, because this Empires instalment like others before it put less emphasis on plot for the sake of player freedom.
Design / Music / Voice Acting
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires features a good number of well laid-out and distinct arenas to duel in, which are tailored to meet the particular season your characters are fighting in. In terms of visual quality, you won’t really have that much time to stop and take in the environment, but overall I thought the quality was decent enough. However, I wouldn’t say they were as nicely designed or constructed as the battlefields included in previous Samurai Warriors 4 titles however.
While there are hundreds of fairly nondescript characters in the game’s line-up (Representing secondary officers who don’t really have much of a role in the series), the many main characters are all nicely designed and each have their own individual flair. While there are a few issues which I will be discussing later in this review, the character creation system also allows you to create some nicely designed characters.
The musical backing in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires was decent, although didn’t feel to have nearly as much variety as Empires video games on the Dynasty Warriors side. That being said however, the variety was sufficient enough, and complemented intense battles I had on higher difficulty settings well.
Like most Empires games since Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires, Koei Tecmo have opted to not commission an English dub for this game, providing only the original Japanese audio. While I don’t particularly enjoy drawing my attention from the action to read subtitles which appear at the bottom of the screen, the Japanese audio was sufficient enough. Given that the game is set in Japan as well, it would be the most authentic dub choice. Custom warriors also had a good number of voice options to choose from as well, complemented by the usual pitch changer, should you wish your character to sound younger or gruffer than the standard voice option.
Gameplay #1 – Taking to the Battlefield
At its core, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires differs little from other “Empires” titles in the Warriors franchise. Each battlefield is split into various bases, which either belong to your team or the opposing team. With the goal of either taking over that territory or defending your own, your team of characters must hack ‘n’ slash their way through thousands of weak troops (and a number of much stronger officers). As you make your way through the field, you are tasked with capturing enemy bases, and eventually reaching the main enemy camp where you must defeat the enemy leader. With the enemy having the goal of capturing your main base, the challenge (at least on harder difficulty settings) is knowing how your force can push forward without leaving your own bases defenseless.
For the most part, combat remains unchanged compared to either Samurai Warriors 4 or Samurai Warriors 4-II, although this is not surprising considered this is still considered a title under the Samurai Warriors 4 umbrella. However, as with every Empires game, there are always small yet noticable changes which set it apart from its predecessor.
Given they are more strategy-focused titles, both Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires and Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires made good use of the “Stratagem” system, one time use cards which could either support your troops or cause havoc on the battlefield. In this game they are known as Tactics, and can be classed as either Basic Tactics (Which activate upon the start of battle) or Executable Tactics (Which can be activated mid-battle). These can not only diminish the troop strength of your allies or make bases easier to capture, but can also improve your chances of capturing an enemy officer to join your ranks or have your backup units arrive on-field at the start of battle. Following their introduction in Samurai Warriors 2 Empires, they have also brought back the Formations system. By executing these formations, it will be possible to boost either the attack (Fish), defense (Wings) or speed (Serpent) of your entire army. With a Rock/Paper/Scissors system of Fish>Serpent>Wings>Fish behind the system however, it can become a balancing game, and that boost you thought little of could quickly turn into a curse.
The battle system present in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires isn’t vastly different compared to its predecessors, but nevertheless serves as an enjoyable button-mashing hack ‘n’ slash experience with a good degree of strategy in it. I do however recommend playing on the harder difficulty settings, else the battles simply become too easy.
Gameplay #2 – The Bond Between Warriors
Improved from previous Empires games, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires features the best relationship system yet, which constantly grows as you continue through your conquest to unite Japan. Through battling or working alongside one another, cutscenes will see characters form not only friendships and romantic attachments, but also foster Master/Student relationships, become nemeses or sworn allies. These relationships can have different impacts when it comes to battles.
Those who are friends or romantically attached will unlock mid-battle quests to complete and become playable without needing to be selected as the battle’s primary character. On the other hand, a a character’s nemesis will more likely target them when facing them another time in battle. Given the custom nature of the game, these friendships need not be based on in-game lore, and a custom character of yourself can become a trusted ally of Nobunaga for example.
Gameplay #3 – Building a Castle
When Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires was released, Omega Force presented the first stage of their castle system, which was more aesthetic than anything else. Samurai Warriors 4 Empires presents what I would consider their first major attempt at putting strategy into castle building. While it does more or less provide the same out-of-battle strategy options as past games, albeit with some new additions, it does allow you to have some control over how your how your campaign for conquest is aligned.
Each character, both pre-made and custom, are ranked via three stats: Leadership, Wisdom and Politics. Some can be well-versed in all three while others might not be. Aside from the one manned by the leader and their strategist, each room in the castle is classed by a political type. These include military, diplomacy, strategy, development and personnel. Each of these have particular proposal types associated with them, and can be manned by up to two magistrates. As each new turn begins, these magistrates will propose different proposals to you, with your job being to determine which ones to approve and which ones not to. The challenge is that while you can go against your magistrates and choose your own proposals, not only do they have unique ones only available to them, but they also offer two rather than your one. With only a limited number of proposals selectable per turn, sometimes it is better to take a hit and get something significant back then not choose anything.
Resources and stats are another big element in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires. Gold and Supplies for example are required implement proposals, and can end up quite costly in the early stages. However, these very resources are also required to increase time allowed on the battlefield and bring officers to battle. This means that if you spend up big prior to a big fight, you might only have enough to bring one officer onto the field for an unacceptable amount of time.
Gameplay #4 – Custom Characters
Unlike Dynasty Warriors 8 for example, Samurai Warriors 4 allowed players to create their own custom warriors – which has regularly been a feature exclusive to the Empires games. This means that the appearance of custom characters isn’t as unique to this instalment. Fortunately, this is not exactly the same system, and provides a few new opportunities for either characters you import in or craft for the first time.
In terms of aesthetic changes, it is now possible for players to customise their character’s family crest, musou kanji and character portraits with images saved on your hard drive, which might be a nifty feature for the artists out there. There are also nine new costume sets available for players, providing new designs to make your characters look distinct. I wouldn’t have minded more designs however, even if they would have to be unlocked using some form of in-game currency.
In terms of gameplay, there is a sizable selection of weapons to choose from, either generic designs or those related to specific officers. Each weapon type has their own distinct attack style and special skills, meaning you won’t just be dealing with fifty types of different sword. In addition, it is possible to choose from a decent selection of abilities which alter battle parameters and diplomacy skills, associate them with a particular historical parent / compatible character and even have them be exchanged for an existing character.
It was a nice system overall, and provided a lot of options for one to create their own distinct characters. However, I did feel that some options such as historical parent / compatible character didn’t contribute much during standard gameplay, and that more costume designs would have been nice – even if it were some of the more non-regional costumes present in recent Dynasty Warriors titles.
Final Words on Samurai Warriors 4 Empires
With many opportunities to utilise your strategic capabilities and button-mashing a’plenty, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is more or less the game I was expecting after purchasing it. While lacking in terms of plot and character development, it nevertheless added a few nice features upon the standard Warriors battle system, and produced an interesting if not a tad limited political system to utilise between fights. As an Empires game is usually the end of a numbered Warriors instalment, this would be a nice way for them to end. This in mind, it is one which is overshadowed by two more commendable instalments prior.
THIS REVIEW IS BASED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 COPY OF SAMURAI WARRIORS 4 EMPIRES. THIS COPY WAS PURCHASED FROM MY OWN POCKET AND NOT PROVIDED BY KOEI TECMO OR MY LOCAL PUBLISHER.