If you've played one game in the Warriors franchise, you've pretty much played them all. Koei's wheelhouse consists of so many hack-and-slash games set in ancient China that it's difficult to distinguish one from the next. Although the settings and strategy vary slightly, and the series has had a couple of memorable titles, all rely on the same underlying combat mechanics. Unless you're a diehard fan of button mashing innumerable faceless enemies into oblivion, there's little reason to pick up the latest iteration. The dearth of new content and an inexplicably stubborn adherence to stale mechanics make Samurai Warriors 3 a tough sell.
The third main entry in the Samurai Warriors franchise takes place during the Warring States period that covers nearly 200 years of conflict beginning in 15th century Japan. For those unfamiliar with the series, Samurai Warriors 3 offers a new Historical mode in which you take a custom character through a series of historical battles told with Koei's fantasy twist. As you progress through each mission, new entries in the timeline are unlocked, giving you a better understanding of what would otherwise be an incomprehensible story to the uninitiated. In addition to the traditional Story mode that takes the game's 35-plus characters through five missions each, the new Murasame Castle mode covers an entirely separate yet equally uninteresting narrative that involves time-traveling demons. Although the story varies across these three game modes, the mission structure and strategy remain largely the same. You can even repeat levels in Free mode, but there is very little reason to do so. Your character's experience, inventory, and move set progress evenly across each game type, calling into question why these modes are even divided in the first place.
Before each mission, you are presented with a map of the area and a rundown of the various objectives you have to complete. You can equip the weapons and armor you've collected, upgrade your equipment at the blacksmith, and choose from a limited set of items to bring to battle. The combat mechanics are similar to every other game in the franchise, and they quickly devolve into mindless button mashing. Though there are countless enemies on the screen, plowing through fields of soldiers is no more complicated than hammering one or two buttons to unleash the same combos over and over again. Adding new moves as you level up simply adds another button press for a string of up to 12 hits on the same button. The AI is laughable, and the only enemies that present any challenge are the occasional named officers you have to kill as part of a mission objective. The ability to ride on horseback could have added an interesting twist to the combat, but it provides no benefit or strategic advantage. Your character is easily knocked off, and the added height makes it more difficult to string combos together. You do move much faster while on horseback, but this only highlights the game's terrible camera system that lags behind as you turn. All too often, you're forced to rely on the corner minimap to orient yourself and decide which direction you should be heading.
A variety of control schemes are available, including the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the Classic Controller, and the GameCube pad. However, with no support for motion controls and combat emphasis on only two or three buttons, it really makes no difference which you choose. To help ease the monotony, the entire game can be played cooperatively with local split-screen multiplayer, which is a nice addition. You can also play Murasame Castle online with friends or strangers, but you might as well be playing with a computer-controlled ally. The game throws new objectives at you throughout the mission that require you to change your course to defend an ally or take out an optional enemy officer for strategic boosts like increased damage or experience points. The ability to discuss strategy might have been helpful in these situations, but the lack of Wii Speak support prevents effective communication.
If there were anything interesting to look at, it would have been an impressive feat to have so many enemies on the screen. However, the feeling of deja vu that permeates the mechanics in Samurai Warriors extends throughout all aspects of its presentation as well. Your heroes animate well enough and the frequent cutscenes are at least on par with current console standards, but everything else from the blurry textures and stiff, lifeless enemy animations to the overly dramatic voice acting and repetitive clanks of your weapons would feel dated even on the previous generation of consoles. The score is a nice mix of orchestral and modern sounds, but it's nearly drowned out during battle as the same tinny sound effects repeat over and over again. The irony is obvious when a computer-controlled ally repeatedly blurts out the phrase, "I hope you aren't bored with such pathetic opponents."
If you've played any of the games in Koei's Warriors franchise, then you'll know exactly what to expect from Samurai Warriors 3. If you've enjoyed any of these games, you may be able to tolerate its stubborn adherence to outdated combat mechanics, uninspired story, and downright ugly visuals. However, if you're new to the series or simply didn't care for the previous iterations, then by all means stay clear of Samurai Warriors 3. Most recent action games, including some entries in the Warriors series itself, make this one seem archaic by comparison.