SONY PSP REVIEW: SAMURAI WARRIORS: STATE OF WAR

That good old, button-mashing, hack-and-slash gameplay is back. This time in the form of Samurai Warriors: State of War, the first in the series available for the PSP. by Colin Thames

March 16, 2006 - I can't help but get excited when I start either a Samurai Warriors or a Dynasty Warriors game. The intros get my adrenaline pumping and I can't wait to test my skills and see how many enemies I can slice and dice during the first few epic battles. Invariably the excitement gives way weariness as my exuberance is slowly ground down by repetition and lack of depth. This happens to me in every game of the series that I've played. I've made mention that this kind of gameplay should be spread out over a few weeks, not more than an hour of play a day, to keep things fresh. As you can understand, as a reviewer I don't have that luxury. I have to play games in a day or two. Spreading the gameplay out over a couple of weeks will make the gameplay more tolerable but it doesn't make it any less repetitious.

Events take place in feudal Japan, a very volatile epoch with numerous warring factions controlling various territories that always want a bigger slice of the pie. You take control of an infamous warrior determined to not only defend his clan's territory but expand its empire by invading enemy territory. The characters and battles have some historical significance but unless you're a history buff it's difficult to tell where history ends and fantasy begins.

Unlike the major battles on the console version of Samurai Warriors, the battles in this version are divided by grids into smaller sections which makes them more manageable. You could even think of this grid system as turn-based as you approach each section and move a predetermined number of spaces. Once you select a square, you are transported into a real-time, third-person, hack-and-slash battle. These battles contain fewer enemies and are easier to manage on a smaller system such as the PSP which doesn't have the processing capabilities to generate a hundred enemies on one huge battlefield.

After winning a battle you will have successfully captured the territory represented by that section on the grid. The strategy involves choosing to invade further into enemy territory and choosing the appropriate grid. You will be assigned a score based on your performance and will receive either an A, B or C for your efforts. An A is the best and will allow you to move three more squares into enemy territory. Some sections will just represent wasteland which will be populated by a few enemy grunts that can be easily eliminated. You can just waste them and move on quickly. Most of the enemy warriors won't give you much of a fight. They just stand around almost begging to meet their maker. If you decide to go after more valuable real estate such as strongholds you will meet up with captains that are a bit more challenging.

Other squares contain gates that will block your progress unless you can open them by defeating the enemy within and finding ways to unlock them. There are also squares with levies that allow you to regulate the water level which you may reduce to cross deep waterways or use it to unleash a flood on the enemy.

Traditional Japanese weaponry is employed for most of the game but there is also a bit of fantasy and magic mixed in with these Warrior games. Charms are awarded for success in battle and they can be used to heal or increase your strength. The charms come in different shapes and sizes and can also be used to open gates or even change the layout of the battlefield - in your favor. You can only carry a few of these charms with you so you're encouraged to use some as soon as you find them while keeping the most important ones in your inventory where they will come in handy later.

Other goodies such as new fighting skills, weapons and even gold can be found in various locations on the map. Defeated enemies will leave behind weapons and gold. You will also increase your character's abilities through battles much the same way you would in a RPG.

The control system works the same for virtually all of the weapons. All you have to do is alternately mash the square and triangle button to slice your way through the crowd. You will have to get your timing down but once you're able to become one with the controls you've pretty much mastered the game. There are some special attacks and combos but they occur so infrequently that they add little variety to the gameplay.

The story is told through text which is not a bad thing considering how bad the voiceovers are on the console version. There doesn't seem to be as much translation problems but the characters still communicate with stilted phrasing.

The environments are not very pretty. Not only are they virtually invisible unless you're relatively close to them, but when they do decide to "pop in" they are dreary and lifeless. The character models are really good and they animate very smoothly. The controls are responsive but there are no subtleties. They are either on or off, which only adds to the repetitive grind of the gameplay.

Up to four players can take part in the battle but this mode makes you feel alienated since each player seems to be playing his or her own game. It's kind of like a co-op mode but instead of the other player's characters appearing with you onscreen it's represented by a bot. There are two modes: Vanguard and Bandit. In Vanguard it's a race to see who can kill five captains first while the Bandit mode is a killer fest where each player tries to get as much gold as possible.

Samurai Warriors: State of War, like the turn-based battle system, should be divided into small playable segments that don't last longer than an hour. While the action is definitely fun you will experience too much of a good thing, and with such a lack of variety or depth you're bound to go out of your mind with the constant repetition. Which brings us to a crossroad. If you rent this game you're going to have to play it intensely for a couple of days which will make you hate it. But on the other hand, I don't want to recommend that you buy this game just so that you can take your time with it. The decision is yours to make. Nobody ever said the gaming was easy.

Features:

  • Includes all 19 fighters from Samurai Warriors and Samurai Warriors Xtreme Legends.
  • Strategy maps include terrain and features create new tactical opportunities.
  • 37 Stages across 22 maps created exclusively for PSP. Battle in open plains or deadly castles.
  • Competitive multiplayer Vs. challenges to 4 players via wireless connection (ad
  • Wide-screen action uses the PSP's full display, plus an option to toggle maps off.
  • All-new stories take you to open battlegrounds and mysterious trap-laden castles.
  • Expanded biographies of real samurai.

By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
Samurai Warriors: State Of War (PSP)
3.4
Graphics
The characters are done very well but the environments are almost non-existent until you bump into them. It's like fighting in an eternal fog of war.
4.1
Control
For what this game does, the controls work exceptionally well. It's just that there isn't much to do.
3.3
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
I miss the tunes from the console version but the soundtrack in this version isn't bad.
2.0
Play Value
There's not much here to come back for. The multi-player mode is quirky and doesn't even feel like a multi-player mode since you can't see the other player.
3.2
Overall Rating - Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: PSP
Dev: Omega Force
Pub: Koei
Release: Mar 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Colin

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best