The Sengoku period of Japanese history was a time of civil war that saw rival Daimyo battling for dominance in their attempts to re-unite Japan. Some major historical figures emerged from this period, although most Westerners wouldn’t have heard of them. The likes of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi are real-life Japanese super-heroes.
Techmo Koei have produced several strategy games based in or around this period but the Samurai Warriors series is the only one that places you in control of these heroic leaders as you take them directly into battle.
Nintendo have scored a bit of a coup with Samurai Warriors 3 as its Wii exclusivity is a dramatic change from the PlayStation and Xbox releases of the first two in the series. Nintendo obviously realises this, and have handled all the worldwide publishing of the title itself.
If you’re anything like me then the first thought that sprang to mind was: Samurai hack-n-slash game on the Wii… that must mean constant flailing of arms around the lounge to perform impossible combos. Oh goodie.
I’m glad to say that this isn’t the case.
If you are a Wii owner who is keen on what the console has to offer outside of Wii Sports and are yet to purchase a Classic Controller Pro, then you really do need to add one to your shopping list. Trust me when I say that the Classic Controller is the ONLY way to play Samurai Warriors 3. Not literally of course, you can still fumble around with the remote and nunchuk, but they really do come up short in this game and others like it. Failing that, the game also supports the GameCube controller, which also works well.
The manual strongly suggests using the CC Pro, but all the control methods can be altered and remapped to your liking on the Dojo menu. A glance at the controller menu could quite possibly scare you off altogether – it looks incredibly convoluted – but ignore all that as to be honest you’ll end up using only a few buttons right throughout the game anyway. It is, after all, a hack-n-slash game at heart and that means a generous helping of button mashing.
So what makes Samurai Warriors 3 stand out from the truckloads of similar titles collecting dust in the country’s bargain bins? Well apart from the factual historical setting and figures, which is truly fascinating and gets fully explained to you along the way, there is also a strong strategy element to gameplay which serves to engage your brain just when you’re switching it off while mindlessly amassing a huge body-count.
When I say strategy, I’m not talking about having to build barracks, town halls, harvest supplies etc etc. It’s not that involved. But each battle takes place on multiple fronts, and you need to monitor each one as the front you are fighting at the time, might not be the most critical. While you are slicing your way through hoards of grunts in one place, an allied General might get overcome at a more strategic front and the battle will be lost. However there’s a lot to be said for hacking your way quickly to an enemy General and finishing him off so you can free up some troops to distribute as reinforcements to other battles.
You get to choose from dozens of playable characters (or create your own), Most of whom have their own storyline and place in history. You take your character through five battles intertwined with cut scenes that explain their place in the historical timeline. Before each battle you are given a map and a battle plan that includes your major objectives and the conditions under which the battle can be won or lost. There are side objectives that can be completed to unlock objects or earn currency to be used later at the local blacksmiths.
Each battle has an unadvertised time limit of about an hour, but in reality they take around 20 minutes each or more if you choose to go after the secondary objectives. However during those intense 20 minutes you can slash your way through literally hundreds of enemies.
Essentially combat involves constant presses of the main attack button, which will string together some impressive looking combinations. On Easy or Normal difficulty this will suffice for 90% of foe you will encounter. You’ll also learn to use Power Attack, Spirit Charge and Musō Attack to dispatch enemies faster along with the bosses and semi-bosses. If you choose to play on Hard or Chaos difficulty (and you get to choose before each battle) then you’ll need to master dodging and blocking techniques or even a decent combo from a lowly grunt can finish you off.
Visually the game fares well on the Wii with the help of some clever tricks. Many of the battles are in areas designed so that the engine doesn’t have to do too much work while still giving the feeling of being in an open area with hundreds of enemies. The number of enemies on screen at once is impressive, but only a handful attack at any one time (the rest shuffle around the fringes like a fight in an old kung-fu movie). There is some great eye-candy when your special attacks are performed but it’s tastefully done without going over the top.
If Story Mode isn’t enough for you then you can play through any scenario in Free Mode or create a character and play Historical Mode where you’ll complete all the battles in chronological order. This can be of interest as you’ll get specific and unique objectives that you wouldn’t get in Story Mode. Then there’s Murasame – a classic Famicon Disk System 2D game faithfully recreated in 3D in which you take any unlocked character and lead a group of peasants into a castle to find the source of demons that are tormenting the land. It’s a nice inclusion, and a sign that Nintendo are perhaps placing some stock in this franchise. Add to all this split-screen local co-op play and online play for Murasame and you have a game with some decent longevity.
If you got bored with hack-n-slash games a long time ago – and I place myself in that category – then Samurai Warriors 3 just might be the game to pique your interest again with its mixture of huge battles, strategic planning and historical significance.