Samurai Warriors 2 (PC)

Koei have yet again taken Japanese cultural heritage and turned it into a fest of swinging blades, ham-acting and cheese. Having ported across the old PS2 game Samurai Warriors 2.
Originally published review over at Acegamez

Full text below the cut:

Samurai Warriors 2

Koei

Feudal Japan has a lot to answer for; as well as subjecting the world to a never-ending assault of bad ninja movies and generations of bored teenagers twittering on incessantly about the plight of the Ronin, it has also lent itself to a slew of horrifyingly mediocre games. This in itself is a tragedy, as the lives of the Shogun and their internal wars are some of the most fascinating events in human history. Frankly, whoever green-lit Samurai Warriors 2 should be forced to commit ritual Seppuku for their crimes against Japanese culture, as the historical figures who make up the game’s cast are no doubt spinning in their graves with every swipe of an in-game katana.

Not that any of this is anything new to anyone who has ever picked up a copy of Samurai Warriors, or any of the various incarnations of its sibling series, Dynasty Warriors, but a modern gaming audience expect more than this, especially seeing as Samurai Warriors 2 is a straight PC port of the original version. Apparently the graphics have been enhanced, but the improvements are all but imperceptible; despite this begin a 2008 release, the visuals tend towards the pedestrian, with a maximum resolution far below today’s standard and an opening menu that looks more like it belongs on a Megadrive game than something for a multi-core PC. Worse still, even on an up to date machine that’s well above the minimum spec, it begins to unexpectedly slow down with an ever-dropping frame rate when more than thirty soldiers appear on screen. Naturally this is problematic when, to give the makers credit where it is due, the battles are often huge and epic, with massive maps that vary from open fields to towns, villages and forests, often teeming with hordes of enemy soldiers who appear continually from every corner – soldiers who are identical to the point that you could be forgiven for thinking that you were looking at a close-up from Shogun: Total War. Considering that we are supposed to be following the history of these characters with great interest, it also smacks of laziness that the character models for the main commanders are often nigh on identical, with slight costume changes from the playable heroes they are ripped from.

Speaking of the characters, they do the game no favours either. Having decided to base your game in a distinct period in history it usually helps to convey an attempt at treating the era with some level of respect, and while some characters are given a slightly kinder appraisal, others are treated with the barest level of seriousness. Whereas elder warlords such as Oda Nobunaga and Ieyasu Tokugawa are charismatic, hardened leaders, the romance between Azai Nagamasa and Oichi is the stuff of pulp teenage romance. While some games, like the similar Ninety-Nine Nights, use their characters in a genuine developing story, they seem to exist here simply to add action-stopping snippets of dialogue every time a named character enters the fray – dialogue that is performed universally in the worst, over the top, ham-acting this side of Soulcalibur. In fact, the best thing that can be said about the frequently painful snippets of dialogue is that they drown out the relentlessly repetitive generic oriental music.

Of course, the look, feel and sounds of a game are of lesser concern than how it plays, as a bad looking game can still be great. It’s here that Samurai Warriors 2 does manage some meagre level of competence, as the hacking and slashing is at least functional. If you stick with the keyboard then it’s a clumsy and stilted experience, but with a game controller it’s actually a fairly smooth system, especially since the keys can be mapped to suit your preferences. However, despite this being a PC port, the one controller that doesn’t seem to work properly is the Xbox 360 controller, as it couldn’t register the second joystick, making looking around impossible. Whether this is an issue with the game or Vista is unclear, but it is a hindrance that should never have occurred. The controls boil down to a few moves and combinations that consist of pressing the light attack button a few times followed by strong attack. That’s as complex as it gets. The fighting is painfully simple and the enemy AI is practically non-existent, with scores of enemy soldiers charging you down then standing around doing nothing, waiting to die. To compound the simplicity, some of the weapons are ridiculously overpowered, such as Ieyasu Tokugawa’s cannon-spear, which will, after the first few power-ups, allow you to level entire battlefields just by repeatedly firing bursts into oncoming armies. Others give you the ability to set your enemies on fire and once you’re on horseback you might as well just be playing the game in God mode, as you zoom past entire armies, hacking away like Baron Munchausen. Conversely, most often you’ll fail despite the strength of the weapons due to the inability of your fellow commanders to survive on their own. You’re expected to keep various fellows alive during each level and this usually consists of babysitting them continually so that their pitiful AI won’t lead them to carry out such ‘strategies’ as standing still while being pelted by arrows or charging headfirst into rows of spearmen. Were this not enough, you’re expected to find them on labyrinthine maps and often repeatedly protect them from continual onslaughts as the mission progresses.

Samurai Warriors 2 is a bottle of Saki that’s well past its sell-by date. The whole formula is in dire need of a serious shake up and if this is the last incarnation of this franchise then it’s no bad thing, because in this case there really is no more need for Bushido.

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