It's probably safe to say that the Koei franchise machine is pretty much unstoppable at this point. The company has created an incredibly loyal fan base, and by cranking out frequent sequels and spin-offs of its key brands, including the Dynasty Warriors series--perhaps the most popular of all--the momentum of these games simply shows no signs of slowing. Earlier this year, Koei released Samurai Warriors, a Japanese-themed spin on the traditionally Chinese-based warrior concept, and while the apple didn't fall too far from the tree in terms of gameplay, it still proved itself as a worthwhile offering for the series' fans. As Koei has done with its last couple of iterations in the Dynasty Warriors games, it has now released an expansion pack of sorts, titled Samurai Warriors: Xtreme Legends. This budget-priced bonus pack features several additions to the original game, but it also exists as a playable, stand-alone product--albeit one that isn't as interesting on its own as it is when combined with the original.
The primary addition in Xtreme Legends is the bonus of four new playable characters: Hideyoshi Hashiba, Yoshimoto Imagawa, Tadakatsu Honda, and Ina. Like the other characters in Samurai Warriors, these fighters are loosely based on real figures in Japanese history, specifically from the Sengoku period. Also like the other characters in the original game, each has its own specific brand of weapon and attack style. Honda and Imagawa are more powerful fighters, whereas Hideyoshi is quick and more nimble. Ina is generally more balanced, somewhere between all three of the aforementioned warriors. In the story mode, each character is given a five-battle plot structure like the last game, loosely telling their stories through talking-head dialogue while you play. Besides the dialogue, there are a few nicely rendered but generally perplexing cutscenes that wax philosophical in ways that are likely to make your head spin.
As you would expect, all of these new characters can be used outside of the story mode, and fortunately, there are a few new modes of play to check out. For instance, the versus mode features three new games, including duel, sumo, and gatekeeper. While duel is a fairly unremarkable battle mode between two characters, the other two modes are more interesting. Sumo lets you play as one of the larger grunt enemies in the game, and it challenges you and your opponent to try to knock the most enemies out of a circular ring within a set time limit. Gatekeeper is easily the most entertaining of the three. In this game you and your friend or computer-controlled opponent play on a split-screen, and each of you try to prevent an onslaught of enemies from busting through your stronghold's gates. All of these multiplayer games are far more entertaining than the versus matches that the original Samurai Warriors had to offer, and for fans of multiplayer hack-and-slash action, they're a nice treat.
The remaining upgrades to the game are all pretty incremental and many of them are esoteric--so much so that you might not even notice them right away. The additions include: a new battle stage titled Komaki - Nagakute; one new survival mode game, titled gold rush; a new special system that accumulates bonus points as you play through the story mode, allowing you to unlock special items from the options menu; the character upgrade system now allows you to continue earning experience past level 20; nine new skills and six new skill items are available; two new difficulty levels either make the game a lot easier, or a lot harder, depending on your preference; and, much like the Dynasty Warriors Xtreme Legends games, new, level-six weapons can be acquired.
However, while these bonuses are all certainly nice, they don't really affect the game in any drastic way. Obviously the difficulty levels change how the game plays, but fundamentally, you're still going to be playing through the exact same style of game as before. You still run around, hacking hundreds upon hundreds of people to death, while occasionally playing out bits of battle strategy in the process. Hardcore fans of the last game will definitely take notice of all these changes. However, those who aren't necessarily of a diehard nature will probably need to play both games side by side to actually see the specific differences.
In fact, you really do need to own Samurai Warriors in order to get the most out of Xtreme Legends. Yes, you could just buy Xtreme Legends, play that, and have a solid game on your hands. But certain key features can't be accessed in Xtreme Legends just by itself. For instance, you can't play through any of the original games' story modes (you can only play as the four new characters), nor can you access the new officer mode, which lets you create a new officer of your own design and then train him. But, with that said, if you do own Samurai Warriors, by using Xtreme Legends' import mode you can import all of the original characters and game modes in remixed form from the Samurai Warriors' disc. You can play through every character's story, create a new officer, go through the challenge mode, and so on and so forth, all under the Xtreme Legends banner. The one minor annoyance is that you will have to pop in both discs and use the import mode every time you play Xtreme Legends. But it also kind of makes sense, because otherwise you could just rent the original game. It's really more of a minor nuisance than anything else.
The areas where you won't notice any difference between the original and Xtreme Legends are in graphics and sound. Visually, this is the exact same game, save for a little more in the way of frame rate drop than you might be accustomed to experiencing in this series. It's random and infrequent, but considering how well these games typically do in the frame rate department--especially considering how many ridiculous numbers of enemies tend to be onscreen at once--it's a little disconcerting for there to be any choppiness at all. The audio is also just as it was before, with generally lousy English voice acting, but significantly better Japanese voice acting. The same soundtrack and sound effects are also present.
Samurai Warriors: Xtreme Legends is, in essence, an expansion pack that just happens to be playable on its own. You don't want this game unless you've already got Samurai Warriors firmly tucked away in your game library. If you do want this game, it provides a nice boon of additional content that should add plenty of lasting fun for those who just won't get tired of hacking and slashing their way through feudal Japan. And, if for some reason you don't already have Samurai Warriors and you are considering Xtreme Legends, just bite the bullet and buy the original game too.