What always strikes me when I’m in Japan is the amount of merchandising people can make from their own History. Sure, here in France we do have Louis XIV spoons and Napoleon pencils, but in Japan they go even beyond that. The Japanese don’t hesitate to draw manga/anime versions of famous historical individuals, like in the game that we’re talking about today.
Like other Mûso games like Dynasty Warriors or Orochi Warriors 3 Ultimate (WO3U), Samurai Warriors 4 (SW4) is an action game in which playable characters are famous warriors/general taken from History. In this case, they all are generals who fought during Sengoku era (period of civil wars in the XVth century). Don’t expect some austere game like Kessen, because all those legendary people have been given over-the-top superpowers : lightning, fire and laser beams are in order as you re-experience major events of Japan’s History like Mikatagahara or Mitsuhide Akechi’s betrayal.
Let’s get deeper in details. Unlike WO3U where you progress with a group of three, SW4 has you control a main character, helped by a second one controlled by the AI. The problem is that the AI is liable to do anything save what is actually useful. Despite the attack/defense orders you can give him, he keeps being stuck at some place. A second issue is that your partner is fairly weak and is quite a hindrance in hard modes.
This is however the only drawback of SW4. Fighting heavily outnumbered has never been so good. As always in the series, you’ll have to raise the morale of your army by accomplishing certain tasks or taking positions. There also are danger zones (above in red on the map) in which the soldiers are extremely tough : you’ll need some courage to throw yourself into those, or a plan to lower the enemy’s morale.
Combos are easy to master but at the same time quite rich. Everyone of them is a combination of square, triangle or L1 : start with square or L1 for normal attacks, triangle being used for rush combos by which you can thrust your way forward. Every character has a unique type of weapon and therefore combos of its own, at least 15. But whichever you choose, the combinations of buttons are the same! In the same idea, not only does the smith allow you the strengthen your weapons, but you can also transfer some capabilities to another type of weapon right away. This is wonderfully clever gameplay that makes SW4 enjoyable anytime without any kind of grinding.
Your character gain experience points and new combos when they level up. There is, similarly to WO3U, a small action/RPG part to consider. Roughly, SW4 is easier than WO3U : hard mode is quite doable, but 地獄 (litt. “inferno”) mode require overboosted characters and a lot of agility. Very often, the game will prompt you secondary objectives within chapters, to be done in limited time. Those ones add to the challenge and will measure your level of mastery of the game.
So-called professional journalists will tell you that it’s repetitive and that you’d better waste your money in a WiiU. This rhetoric doesn’t apply to SW4. First thing, there are 50 playable characters and therefore more than 700 unique combos + finish moves and 無双奥義 (very badass special attacks). In 42h playing, I might have seen like half of all that. Notice also that unlike Hyrule Warriors, the game can be played in coop via the network in story and skirmish modes, which makes it extremely lively. I did most of the story with @Ichikyo57 (the purple flash above, he’s too quick to even be seen with bare eyes) and the connection didn’t falter even once.
Not satisfied yet? SW4 gives you the possibility to create your own character with a large number of choices, especially in weapons/combos, with even the option to insert a JPG icon of your own. I was able re-create anime/manga/games characters (above, Ikaruga from Senran Kagura), it being as addictive as the recent SoulCalibur games.
This player avatar is used in the Vagrant mode, which is in fact in series of battles in all Japan (expect Hokkaido, if I were from Sapporo I would be quite upset). In parallel, you’ll chat with the characters of the story mode in funny mini-events.
Because the biggest point of SW4 is its extraordinary story-telling. Sometimes amusing, sometimes dramatic, Omega Force’s game does it well in both cases. The historical context is rendered with such precision and intensity that it makes it as good as a museum or a great samurai movie. Geopolitical introductions are amazing and some cut-scenes completely unforgettable.
Let’s finish by technical aspects. SW4 PS4 being an upgraded version of SW4 PS3 released in Japan last Spring, it is not as impressive as you could expect. Still, main characters have been re-modeled with great care, and all the effects (weather, lightning, etc.) have been refined. But most of all, this PS4 version has so many enemies on the field that you literally draw in them! Besides, the frame-rate had zero drop and loadings barely exist. You thus have a game that has been perfectly optimized and good to look at. The soundtrack is good, but WO3U had left me a better impression on that department. Needless to say, voice acting is still perfect.
I really didn’t expect SW4 to surpass WO3U, but it did. Exhilarating action game, it is at the same time a wonderful present for those passionate about Japanese history. Definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year as far as I’m concerned.