Koei’s Warriors franchise is the most polarizing series in gaming. It is one of the only franchises to continuously get scores at opposite ends of the spectrum with every release and there’s a very simple reason for that: Fans love it and everyone else thinks it’s repetitive and a constant rehashing of the same game. Those who are not fans of the series will see a game that is arguably more repetitive than the button mashing contained within. Samurai Warriors Chronicles is no different and, for a fan of the series, that is nothing but a good thing.
Samurai Warriors Chronicles doesn’t sway too far from the franchise basics. X and Y are your weak and strong attacks respectively, and you’ll be tapping them a lot. Many will shun the game because of the constant button mashing, and with good reason; it gets tedious. However, fans of the series love the gameplay. Over the course of a battle, your Musou gauge will fill allowing you to perform special attacks which breaks up the monotony enough, but is negligible as far as your dealt damage is concerned. The real key lies with your characters battle skills. These are a set of abilities that, generally speaking, buff the character or army; things like health regeneration, increased experience, increased move speed, and increased attack power. Using these different skills at the most opportune time will really affect the outcome of a fight.
Under this veil of simple button pushing there is a surprisingly deep strategy experience to be had. Again, fans of the series are well aware of that fact, but it’s something that goes unnoticed on the whole. In Chronicles, you’re given command of a group of four officers for the duration of the battle. Placing these generals at key locations, using their unique skills, and strategically switching back and forth between direct control is an absolute necessity to succeed. This concept is augmented with a mission system where the game will present you with a new goal at certain points in the fight. Most of these missions are intended to guide you towards a definitive victory, but some serve only to add a new level of difficulty and replayability to each battle. You’ll often be asked to complete a combo of a set number of hits or kills, or kill a specific type of low-level officer such as a defense captain or chief engineer. Even without this challenge, the learning curve is pretty steep. Completing the first chapter on hard wasn’t too much of an issue, but the start of chapter 2 marks an unexpected spike in difficulty, and it doesn’t let up. For the sake of completion, dropping it to normal was a must. Fighting 3+ officers at once is where it stops being fun.
The story itself should take around 10-15 hours to complete which, for most games, isn’t too shabby. For a Warriors game that’s a far cry from the standard, but the extra missions, items, and levels will keep you coming back for a long time after the initial credits roll. There’s also a StreetPass mode but, to be honest, it doesn’t add to the lifespan of the title. This doesn’t mean there isn’t value in StreetPass, it just isn’t something you’ll think about. It rarely happens, and requires little-to-no extra effort on your part. That’s just how StreetPass works.
One of the series’ primary features is the level of character customization it provides, and Chronicles is no different. As you play through the story, new options fare unlocked. You don’t start with much, but it’s not too long before you you’re upgrading weapons, changing your clothes and armor, picking out a fancy new battle-steed. Given that the game doesn’t allow you to create a character, it’s nice to be able to change just about everything about how he/she looks and fights. You’ll also gain experience and level up throughout your campaign. With each level comes a boost in stats and new skills which is particularly useful for those difficult challenges.
The audio in Samurai Warriors, much like everything else, is pretty much standard fare for the series: Oriental compositions mixed with drum & bass tracks on a steady loop. The tracks vary from menu to menu and in battle, but there’s little difference between them. In battle, the music might as well be nonexistent as it’s drowned out by the incessant clanging and repetition of the enemies’ death gurgle which, by the way, there is only one of. That’s no different for the series though. Enemies have never made more than one sound as you systematically destroy their entire army. Japanophiles will love the Japanese voice tracks that have gone untouched by lackluster English dub work, but the story segments can be a bit lengthy so be prepared to read a lot.
The 3DS’ graphical capabilities are on full display in Chronicles which is easily one of the systems best looking launch games The character and environments look pretty great, and the visual style is right in line with past games. It can be a bit deceiving when you’re sitting on the systems home screen and a chibi samurai is staring back at you, but there are no such characters to be found within the confines of the game. The big question here though is the use of 3D. For a first attempt at making a 3D game, Tecmo-Koei has performed admirably. As is the way with the 3DS, the effect eschews the “objects flying out of the screen” approach for more engaging screen depth. For the entirety of my time with the game, I kept the 3D slider at 100% with zero effect on my eyes. At full blast, the 3D really pulls you deeper into the game. The ¾ camera angle feels more like you’re standing behind the character than it does a camera. This subtly improves your control over the character and ability to gauge distances.
If you’re looking for negative thoughts on Chronicles, then you’ll likely find them in the games repetition and the Japanese audio track with no English option. Chances are, you also aren’t a fan of the series and really should just steer clear of this one too as it does nothing to change anyone’s opinion. For those that already love the button mashing romps through Japanese history however, “more of the same” is a great thing. It continues to do what the series is known for and does it quite well.