Latest posts by Stephen Welsh (see all)
- Tekken 7 Release Date and Deluxe Edition Revealed - January 24, 2017
- Here’s All The Nintendo Switch Launch Games (and more!) - January 13, 2017
- NieR Automata Demo Out Now on PS4 - December 22, 2016
Disclosure: the author received a copy of the game from Koei Tecmo America and ONE PR Studio for the purpose of this review
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Omega Force
Platforms: PS4 (review platform), PS3, Vita
Whether it be Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors, the long-running franchise of hack-and-slash “Musou” games produced by Omega Force and Koei Tecmo has made a noticeable mark on gaming, with several games in the sub-genre being released per year. The historical action games are well known for their downright fantastical interpretations of warfare, with laser beams, magic spheres, and swords so big they cut down two-hundred soldiers in only a few seconds. The series’ biggest key to success may just be the sense of satisfaction a player feels by controlling a single warrior; taking on entire armies and winning. It’s not just the fighting that makes these games so exciting though. It’s the drama that plays out as these leaders clash in order to fulfill their ambitions. The best part about the ‘Empires’ spinoff series is the ability to experience such a tale of your own creation.
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires takes the characters, locations, and combat of Samurai Warriors 4 and Samurai Warriors 4-II and transforms it into a strategy game. Instead of playing out adapted stories of historical Japanese figures, instead you take control of a faction, and lead them in their efforts to capture territories and take down rival clans during several periods in Japan’s Sengoku Era conflicts. In the game’s main Conquest Mode, you select a historic period, then choose a clan from anywhere in Japan. Each clan has an ambition to fulfill in order to achieve victory, and this can range from goals including: the annihilation of a rival clan; taking over the capital; uniting all territories in a region, or; uniting all of Japan under your banner. That last one is the main goal of the game, and your campaign can continue onward towards that goal after achieving their original ambition.
You start out with your own castle, and take control of a general (the 56 playable characters from Samurai Warriors 4-II are all available). Your castle menu is the main base of operations, and it’s where you decide how each season of a year will play out. Actions require gold, and battling requires food supplies which come from the rice harvest in Autumn; so the safest move is to invest in the territory you own with the Development command, and increase the amount of commerce and rice yield to improve the resources you’ll gain. You can also acquire troops (in the thousands) for your officers, as well as purchase combat strategies and formations for use in upcoming battles with the Military command. Meanwhile, the Personnel command allows you to recruit unaffiliated officers to your clan, as well as develop their talents and improve their relations with each other.
So from the start, there’s plenty of room to begin building your empire. When it comes time to battle, you’ll invade a territory adjacent to your own, and proceed into combat. This takes the form of the traditional Warriors hack-and-slash formula, with a few strategic twists. Victory in invasions or raids means taking down the enemy commander who is hiding out in the enemy forces’ main base. The only way to draw out the commander is to take over a base connected by a supply line close to the base. Bases can only be taken over however, if a base adjacent to it is under your control; meaning you can’t just rush over to the enemy’s main base at the start of battle. You have to strategically take over bases and create a supply line that will run from your base to the enemy’s main base. At the same time, you have to ensure that your bases aren’t taken over in order to pull this off. Things become more challenging due to a strict time limit. You can use extra supplies to increase your time, but only to a maximum of 15 minutes – a far cry from the series’ usual, and overly generous 60 minute time limit.
If time runs out, you will lose, gain no experience for your officers, and your resources will have been wasted. Win however, and you’ll take over the enemy’s territory, and if the castle was a clan’s headquarters, all of their territories will become yours, and the clan will be wiped out. The remainder of their forces will also be captured, and you can recruit them if they’re cooperative. However, they may also refuse to serve you, in which case you can execute them (which is an option if you worry a strong officer will join up with another enemy force), or show mercy and release them. Each territory conquered will bring you closer to achieving your ambition, and will yield more resources, as well as allow you to build a bigger castle as your base. It’s not just for show either, as bigger castles include facilities for weapon shops; more Military, Development, and Personnel quarters; and new Diplomacy and Strategy options, which you see you form alliances with other clans, or sabotage their forces.
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires also includes character customisation, which becomes especially fun when taking on the game’s Genesis Mode. At the outset, it lets you fill up each individual territory in Japan; with either pre-made characters, or your own creations. Whether to play seriously, or to have Cloud Strife taking on the Power Rangers Clan is up to you. Genesis will let you take up your own territory, set an ambition, then proceed to make your own Empire out of Japan. If this sounds like my previous description of Conquest Mode, it’s because they’re essentially the same gameplay experiences. There’s a lot of meat across the two modes, but don’t expect them to feel too distinct from one another. Especially when you see dozens of different characters having very similar cutscenes about castle building and sandals.
There’s a solid reward for investing time into your generals and officers, and that comes in the form of character relationships. There are plenty of options in the castle to get two characters to interact with each other, and the more time spent, the more better developed their relationships will become. The gameplay advantage to this is that it allows you take control of more officers directly during battle. Get an empire of warriors who have all grown close, and you’ll be able to experience battles with a selection of up to 10 playable characters at once; compared to Samurai Warriors 4‘s limit to switching between only two characters in a battle. You’ll also be able to have an enemy officer become your Nemesis in battle, which becomes its own reward when you finally take them down and can recruit them to your forces.
There’s a lot of potential for fun stories of conquest and politics in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires. It’s a set-up that’ll definitely encourage you to come back again and again for another campaign, and depending on the ambitions you set, these can last anywhere between 2 hours to over 10 hours each. The only thing I feel is missing is a slight flaw I noticed when uniting the land. After about 12 years in my campaign, most of the clans were wiped out, and it came down to my Mōri Clan facing off against the Yagyū Clan, who possessed the entire eastern side of Japan. The way bases work in the game though, meant I only needed to take one of their castles, which happened to be right beside their main base. One battle later, and I won the game, taking down the Yagyū Clan, claiming all their territories for myself, and uniting all of Japan under my rule. It just happened so fast though, and felt like a major anticlimax. Perhaps it was due to the difficulty I played on, but I felt like the campaign was missing instances where new clans would rise up in order for me to take on more conflicts. Maybe that would’ve been unfair, but it feels like it could’ve added just that little bit more depth to my story.
A lack of depth is also something I could see in terms of the general content. Aside from Conquest/Genesis modes, and character creation, there isn’t anything else present aside from unlockable artworks and music. The engaging historical drama stories found in Samurai Warriors 4 and Samurai Warriors 4-II aren’t included here, and there aren’t any side modes like Chronicle Mode, or Endless Castle Mode either. It’s a shame, but I have to say I don’t think Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is the best introduction to SW4, even if you’re more of a strategy fan. I would still recommend Samurai Warriors 4 or Samurai Warriors 4-II as an entry point – not just to Samurai Warriors, but to the Musou games in general. They’re fantastic action games with fast-fluid combat, and probably the best realised version of the Musou hack-and-slash concept to date.
Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is more suitable for somebody who has already enjoyed an SW game. It offers familiar characters and combat in a new tactical flavor that’s sure to entertain somebody who has been invested in even one of these games. The content is lighter than I hoped, but there’s some good replay value here, and some enthralling experiences to have while building your empire; even if achieving your ambition is an anticlimax. If the idea appeals to you; it’s well worth playing.