Samurai Warriors: State of War Hands-On

We check out the first PSP entry in Koei's popular Samurai Warriors action series.

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Currently scheduled for release in March, Samurai Warriors: State of War is a third-person action game in which you'll assume the role of one of 19 different warriors in feudal Japan. If you're a fan of the series, you'll recognize the roster of playable characters from the Samurai Warriors and Samurai Warriors Xtreme Legends PlayStation 2 games, but prior knowledge of those games certainly won't be required to enjoy State of War. We recently received a near-finished English-language version of Samurai Warriors: State of War, and we've spent some time playing through a handful of the story mode missions and checking out some of the new features that it will introduce to the series.

The playable characters' attributes are as varied as their appearances.
The playable characters' attributes are as varied as their appearances.

Samurai Warriors: State of War's main menu affords you access to submenus that are labeled fight, options, and vault. The fight menu is where you'll choose to play in story mode, free mode, or versus mode; the options menu is where you'll decide on one of five difficulty levels and customize your control setup; and the vault menu is where you'll find information on all of the weapons and subofficers (there are more than 230) you've unlocked, as well as a gameplay tutorial. The first time you play, you'll find that only six of the 19 playable characters are available for you to choose from, but based on our experiences thus far, it doesn't take very long to add to that number. If you're anything like us, your initial choice of character will likely be based primarily on its appearance. But other considerations that you might wish to consider will include your character's life, musou (a form of energy used for special attacks), attack, defense, intelligence, and speed attributes, as well as its preferred element (fire, ice, or lightning, for example). It's also worth noting that a number of the characters have different storylines and missions for you to play through, so when choosing one of the six characters available from the outset, you'll be opting for one of three different campaigns as a result.

Once you've chosen your warrior, you'll have the opportunity to read some dialogue between him and other key characters, and then you'll be taken to a setup screen which, although pretty useless the first time you see it, can be used to select weapons and subofficers (bodyguards, essentially) for use in missions once you've unlocked them. The next screen that you see will be a grid-based tactical map for your upcoming mission, with blue squares signifying the areas controlled by your forces and red squares indicating enemy territory. Icons inside the squares will let you know where the two factions' forces are currently positioned, as well as where you can expect to find objects of interest, such as strongholds, chests containing useful items, and mission objectives. During missions that are set inside buildings, you might also notice icons denoting the presence of staircases, traps, and such. Movement on the strategic maps is turn-based, but after choosing the square to which you want to move your forces, you'll find that the action portions of Samurai Warriors: State of War are in real time.

The environments aren't much to look at, but the combatants are quite impressive.
The environments aren't much to look at, but the combatants are quite impressive.

Although the environments that you'll be fighting in look quite bland, the fact that dozens of nicely detailed characters are battling each other in them is undeniably impressive. The garden-variety soldiers that you'll be hacking down by the hundreds aren't as detailed as the playable characters, of course, but they certainly don't look bad. All of the playable characters in Samurai Warriors: State of War employ very different weapons and fighting styles, but you'll control them all in exactly the same way. You'll use the analog stick to run around the battlefield, the X button to jump, and the right shoulder button to evade enemy attacks. The left shoulder button is used to guard against attacks and to strafe (it also repositions the occasionally wayward camera directly behind you), while your normal attacks, musou attacks, and charge attacks are assigned to the remaining three face buttons.

The combat in Samurai Warriors: State of War feels quite mindless for the most part, particularly on the easier difficulty settings, but you'll find that there's plenty of variety in the mission objectives. For example, upon entering one enemy square, you might simply have to defeat as many enemies as you possibly can within two minutes, while your mission in another square might be to ensure the safety of friendly units while killing named enemies with abilities comparable to your own. Some of the locales also come into play during battles, not only because fighting in the confines of a narrow corridor between two rooms feels quite different to fighting on an open battlefield, but also because traps such as spikes that shoot up through the floor if you fail to watch your step in certain areas are often every bit as dangerous as the enemy soldiers that you're fighting.

Your movement on the strategic map is turn-based.
Your movement on the strategic map is turn-based.
At the end of each battle, you'll be awarded an A, B, or C grade, which determines how many squares your forces get to move on your next turn. You'll also get to see how much your chosen warrior's attributes improved during the course of the battle, since he gets a little stronger every time you kill 50 enemies. Unlike the PS2 Samurai Warriors games in which you'd get to spend skill points on unlocking new abilities for your fighter, you'll earn new abilities in State of War by finding hidden skill scrolls during combat. Another new feature of the PSP game that you'll want to keep an eye out for are charms, which can be used to tilt the odds in your favor on the strategy screen just before you enter a battle. Charm effects that we've put to good use to date have included healing wounds sustained by our warriors and subofficers during previous battles, preventing enemies from moving on the strategy map for a number of turns, and depleting the health of all enemies in a certain area by using poison or fire.

In addition to the single-player story and free modes, Samurai Warriors: State of War will boast wireless multiplayer support for up to four players. We've not had an opportunity to test any of the multiplayer modes to date, but we can reveal that two of the gameplay modes will be titled vanguard and bandit. Vanguard will be a deathmatch-style contest in which the winner is the first player to defeat five enemy captains within a time limit, while bandit will task you with collecting money from fallen enemies until you accumulate 10,000 gold and are declared the winner. Intriguingly, it appears that you will actually be fighting on a different battlefield and that your chosen characters will be present on the other players' levels only as CPU-controlled enemies. Although there have been rumors to the contrary, there will be no support for cooperative play. Look out for a full review of Samurai Warriors: State of War closer to the game's release.

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