More content than you could shake a katana at, gameplay that some will find addicting...
...while others will find it extremely repetitive. The graphics, music, and voice acting could use an update.
Tecmo Koei’s Warriors series possesses a special place in the gaming world. Rarely does a series receive such constant and extreme criticism from the gaming press while maintaining a large and dedicated enough fanbase to justify multiple releases every year. The franchise’s first several releases were actually quite well received, with critics praising the game’s unique concept of putting gamers in the shoes of super-powered historical warriors in ancient China, then pitting them against hundreds of enemies just waiting to be decimated. The series earned a dedicated following in Japan and America, so Koei, seeing the cash cow it now controlled, opened the floodgates to unleash a seemingly endless tidal wave of sequels and spinoffs. The title that started it all off, Dynasty Warriors, is now in its sixth iteration, has received many more expansions, and sparked two major spinoffs to further milk the fans; Dynasty Warriors Gundam sucked in fans of Japan’s most venerable giant robot anime series and Samurai Warriors took its inspiration from medieval Japan’s turbulent Sengoku, or warring states, period.
Of course, sequels are a common occurrence in gaming, but rarely does a series evolve so little over the course of so many releases, and that is the reason why the series has become something of a painful joke among reviewers. Samurai Warriors 3 marks the series’ first proper entry on Wii, so now would be a better time than ever to give the franchise a major overhaul, or so one would think. Instead, Tecmo Koei has played it safe, adding in enough new features and characters to give the game its own identity, but leaving the classic hack-and-slash gameplay almost identical to previous entries’. However, while this may seem like immediate condemnation of the game, the truth of the matter is that there is more to this franchise than most reviewers are willing to admit.
One thing reviewers have always been right about is the core gameplay, which, at its simplest level, boils down to killing everything that isn’t on your side. Every game in the series revolves around the same control scheme that involves a standard attack, a charge attack, blocking, jumping, and the super-powered Musou attack, which can only be activated by filling up a meter by dealing out and taking damage. Using the regular and charge attack buttons, players can string together combos that grow stronger and longer as your character levels up. Samurai Warriors 3 differentiates itself from the rest with the addition of a dodge maneuver and character-specific special abilities that either provide a stat boost or simply function as another attack. As for controls, the Wii Remote, GameCube controller and Classic Controller are all options thanks to the exclusion of motion controls, and they all work well, though I personally preferred the Classic Controller.
Samurai Warriors 3 varies its gameplay by including 37 playable characters with a variety of different weapons and fighting styles. Some characters are fast and use short range weapons that are best for building up large combos against one foe at a time, while others are slow powerhouses with sweeping attacks that can easily take out large groups of enemies. With such a large number of characters and only so many weapons and play styles, there is definitely some overlap in terms of several characters feeling similar to one another, but overall there is a nice variety of approaches to battle to make it worthwhile to play as more than one warrior. There is also an option for creating your own warrior, but there are only three weapons to choose from and the aesthetic options are almost equally as limited.
Where Samurai Warriors 3 steps up its game is in the number of modes in which the gamer can slaughter hundreds of NPCs. The core of the franchise has always been the Story Mode, a progression of historical battles where the outcomes are frequently changed to make them come out in the favor of whatever character you are playing as. Each story campaign features five levels, which generally take 10 to 20 minutes to complete depending on your character’s stats. Next there is Free Mode, which allows you to replay any level with any character, making it the ideal way to grind away at leveling up characters. New to the series is Historical Mode, which can only be played with a player-created character and focuses entirely on the actual events and outcome of every major battle in the true history of medieval Japan.
Last, there is Murasame Castle, another new mode that tells a fictional tale about invading, time traveling demons. The setting is obviously more fantastical and the levels are shorter and more linear. Also, you can play as any character in Murasame Castle mode and even have the option of swapping anytime you desire. Altogether, the number of modes and characters makes for a huge amount of content, even if the gameplay remains similar throughout.
While Murasame Castle features very straightforward levels with simple objectives, Historical and Story Mode feature the classic Warriors gameplay of large levels with hundreds of enemies. That said, Samurai Warriors 3 adds a greater emphasis on objective-based gameplay. Prior games boiled down to killing the enemy general and his officers before you or your general bit the dust, and while this remains the primary focus, Samurai Warriors 3 adds a plethora of primary and optional objectives.
Primary objectives need to be accomplished to move the level forward and prevent defeat, while optional objectives are more specialized and reward players for defeating particular enemies under special conditions, such as within a certain time frame, while using a specific attack, or after achieving a high enough combo. These objectives reward the player with additional experience and items, or in-level bonuses like weakening an enemy officer or bringing in a new officer to fight for your side. These new objectives encourage players to use more strategy than the usual mass murder, but many levels can still be played with a focus on pure destruction. Historical levels, however, feature more primary objectives to ensure the survival of particular characters long enough for them to accomplish the feats that earned them their spot in Japanese history.
Probably the key to the franchise’s success is the addictive nature of the game and its system of constantly rewarding players. Samurai Warriors 3 does this better than all its predecessors. Progress made in any mode ultimately affects every other game type; they all reward players with new weapons, armor, experience, gems (used for upgrading weapons and armor), and rice (the game’s form of currency). Between levels the player can visit the black smith to upgrade and add stat perks to the weapons and armor, and while the weapons are character-specific, armor and other items can be equipped by any character. This makes starting up new characters much easier because they can benefit from the more powerful items found in the later levels of another character’s campaign. As for the rice, it can be spent in the shop to buy new characters, new weapons, new costumes, and, after reaching the level cap with a character, max out their stats. The best things available for purchase are also the most expensive, so unlocking new characters and maxing stats require significant time investments.
The icing on top of the gameplay cake is multiplayer. Every mode can be played in split screen co-op with another player and is often the best way of quickly progressing through missions and beating the game’s harder difficulty settings, which can actually get quite diabolical. Samurai Warriors 3 also supports online play, but only in Murasame Castle mode, which is kind of a letdown but still a nice addition. Overall, co-op is an absolute blast and the the experience of playing as an overpowered warlord is always a great experience to share with friends.
Graphics and sound is where Samurai Warriors 3, and the series as a whole, really struggles. While the character models for playable officers are nicely detailed and animated, the environments are blurry and dull, and the regular foot soldiers only come in a limited variety and don’t come close to matching the quality of the main characters. Overall the game performs quite well with no slowdown and little pop-in, though there were a few very noticeable instances in single player, and when it comes to multiplayer, both flaws rear their ugly heads fairly often.
The sound design has always been hilariously bad. The music is corny metal guitar licks with riffs and solos lifted out of the Dragonforce playbook. The voice acting, which there is a great deal of, is overacted and melodramatic to the point of sheer hilarity. By no means is it even remotely good, but you will still enjoy it as much as you hate it.
Samurai Warriors 3 is definitely a flawed game and, when taken as part of a franchise that has refused to evolve significantly for a decade, deserves proper ridicule. However, when examined in a vacuum, this is not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. While the graphics and sound design could use some work, and the gameplay could use more variety, the basic formula works very well and is surprisingly addictive, especially for fans of grindfests. The sheer amount of content and new modes is also worthy of applause.
Plus, I have a confession to make: I am one of the people who has kept this franchise afloat. I don’t buy every single spin-off and expansion, but when it comes to the main entries in the series, I really can’t help myself. Despite this, I am fully capable of admitting the flaws that continue to show up in just about every entry and, even while considering that, Samurai Warriors 3 is definitely an improvement.
For gamers who have already experienced the Warriors series, you pretty much know your opinion of Samurai Warriors 3, but putting aside all the preconceived notions and past history of these games and coming at it from the merits and flaws of this game by itself, Samurai Warriors 3 is a very solid game. Given the fact that this is the franchise’s real debut on a Nintendo console and Wii’s success in bringing in new gamers, Samurai Warriors 3 is going to be the first chance for many gamers to try this controversial series, and to those people I definitely recommend at least giving it a try.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.