Musou, musou, musou. What are we going to do with you? From the looks of things playing the endless ocean of games across an assortment of franchises. The last I spent time with was Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper for Wii U. It was…okay. Rough around the edges, the Wii U port not-so-good, but fun to be had nonetheless. I’ve since had my eyes set on Hyrule Warriors, though I’m trying to convince myself it’s not because of the Zelda fluff and because the game legitimately interests me. We’ll see.
For the time being though I’ve sunk my teeth into Samurai Warriors 4, one of Omega Force’s Warriors musou genre spin-offs. While the genre as a whole can be distilled down to you-against-the-world, the Samurai Warriors series does away with a lot of the map wide strategising in favour of a combat first policy. Yes, it’s still musou, but it’s musou with a bit more attention spent on the simple art of cutting down dudes instead of all the other fluff. And I’m guessing this is why the Samurai Warriors series has as many loyal fans as it does.
Samurai Warriors 4 is content heavy, and you’ll probably find your time split between standard story mode and chronicle (there’s also free play). Story mode is as you’d expect; narrative driven arcs from the perspectives of an assortment of characters. Each is long enough to satisfy, and the character diversity interesting in play style and specials. Whether or not you’ll be invested in the story is another matter, as Samurai Warriors 4 follows the series tradition of channelling real history and…colouring it. It’s a mix of serious and goofy, but also a lot of fun if you’re familiar with the tone and themes of the Warriors franchises. Personally, that goofiness is part of the charm.
Chronicle, however, is where the game really stood out for me. The more directed narrative is put aside for a player driven, creative experience. You get to make your own general and, in many ways, craft your own story as you murder your way across Sengoku Japan.
In Chronicle mode the diversity is stronger. Note: this is musou, Samurai Warriors musou at that, so mission variety is not without its limitations. End of the day most objectives are going to come down to kill the guy, but Chronicle does a better job of contextualising these missions and at least giving you a sense that you’re playing your own story and not someone elses. Such a feature hasn’t been all that fleshed out in out musou games, and I really think Chronicle represents the kind of experience I want from the genre; the ability to craft my own hero, equip my own weapons, customise my skills, and go about my own adventure. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some grand open ended RPG. Much of the game is a linear affair. But still, the agency and customisation goes a long way.
A problem I often have with musou games is the combat system running out of steam. I’m attuned to character action games with rich combo webs and a meta game of counter complexity that’ll last a lifetime. Hard to find a musou game with that, but we all know that’s part of the genre’s charm; there’s nothing quite like mashing the attack button and seeing waves of mooks reduced to nothing.
Thankfully Samurai Warrior 4 has a lot more flavour to its combo system than the aforementioned Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper. The basic of light/heavy attacks are still the foundation, but hypers and specials help take it further. Most of these come down to the order of your attack strength preference, and it’s still nowhere near something like a dedicated character action game, but visually and mechanically each character in Samurai Warriors 4 has a fair bit more going on mid-battle than the usual musou. It makes the experience of taking on hoards all the more satisfying, same goes for the duals against generals.
I do think repetition runs the risk of boring some people, but that’s what the character roster is for. Where a dedicated character action game relies off a single avatar with a rich move set, musou challenges you to give every character a try to see how their specials, combos, and hypers play out.
One thing that really stood out to me with Samurai Warriors 4 is how well it performed. This is probably very subjective, because the musou genre is known for mixed performance, and my experience with Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper has tarnished my perspective. But where the latter was really, really awful and had a ton of asset pop-in issues, Samurai Warriors 4 plays remarkably smooth. There’s dips for sure, but the framerate is far more stable than the usual musou affair and manages to do so while maintaining a hefty enemy count on screen. Perhaps this is due to the cross generation nature of the game; built to run on PlayStation 3, fluffed up to look and run better on PlayStation 4. But I’m not complaining. Framerate is important to me in character action games and seeing solid performance here made the experience all the more enjoyable.
And so that’s Samurai Warriors 4. It’s a goofy hack-and-slash musou journey across Japan. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and it’s not really doing anything that’ll revive or overhaul the genre. If you’re a long term musou hater I can’t really see Samurai Warriors 4 winning you over. But it is an impressively comprehensive, content packed, and well produce musou game that, for me at least, focuses on the parts I enjoy most within the genre without spending too much time on that which I don’t. Samurai Warriors fans will be very pleased, and I imagine most general musou fans will be too.
Large Roster | Conquest Mode | Performance
Repetition | Arguable Simplicity in Structure