Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends Review
Its never going to end. What began with Dynasty Warriors over a decade ago on the original PlayStation has now escalated into full-on milking. Koei issued several promising PS2 games early in the systems lifespan (Kessen was another one), but due to the sheer number of sequels spawned by the DW franchise, were now inundated with clones. The Samurai Warriors series is very similar, and even though avid fans will be able to list out a myriad of differences, these differences simply dont alter the gameplay enough to matter. And now, heres Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends, which does nothing to change our view that Omega Force and Koei are just churning out title after title of games that offer nearly identical experiences. In fact, this one somehow takes a step backwards despite offering a bit more in the way of depth. We know itll be more popular in Japan, but even so, how long can they go on doing this? Its long past tiresome.
The graphics are about what youd expect, as theres always a lot of pop-in and jaggies that plague this visual presentation. Weve got some nice detail and choreography in the cut-scenes as we usually do with Omega Force but the gameplay suffers due to a lack of environmental variety. Most all of the enemy soldiers, with the exception of the mini-bosses, all look the same (faceless, lax opponents), and youll soon grow bored with the bland terrain that repeats so often you will wonder if youre going in circles. There used to be a lot of good color in these games, but for some reason, Xtreme Legends is darker than anticipated and not surprisingly, it can be very difficult to discern friend from foe when in the midst of battle chaos. Its nice to see the numerous available weapons, guards and mounts that will assist you in battle, but even those dont show any significant effort on the part of the developers. This really is nothing but a been there, done that, supposed tried-and-true formula that isnt so true as we would hope. Perhaps its more about gameplay, as it always is, but these graphics remain wholly unimpressive and mostly unchanged in comparison with previous Omega Force/Koei titles.
The sound isnt any better, because were once again hampered by poor voice acting and generic sound effects. This time around, its even worse because there are more comments and exclamations in battle than ever before; in fact, there are so many, it gets downright annoying. Wed find ourselves yelling at the screen; shut up! Combine this with the same ol slashing and impact combat effects, and youve got the auditory experience of a frustrating yawn. The soundtrack offers a little boost thanks to fitting music that adds to the overall ambiance and strengthens player involvement. However, it gets very repetitive all too soon, and the soundtrack still cant manage to override the pathetic voice acting and forgetful effects. We get a narrator that isnt too atrocious and we kinda liked the intensity of our Musou and Special attacks, but those are small positives to cling to, and once again, were left pining for a complete sound overhaul. The graphics need an overhaul as well, but that has already come with the new generationand the gameplay didnt get an overhaul. We just cant win.
If we wanted to be brief and rob you of a full-fledged review, we could simply describe the gameplay as a relatively boring and mostly repetitive hack n slash action experience, one that doesnt benefit from the addition of role-playing elements. But dont worry; even if you dont care (and you may have already lost interest), well go deeper. Its our job. Anyway, if youve played any Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors in the past, you already know the basic premise: you can choose between Story mode, Free Play, or a new Mercenary mode, but you will always be charging onto a battlefield laden with hundreds of opponents. You will have normal, special, and magic (Musou) attacks at your disposal, and depending on which character you choose, you will have different strengths and weaknesses. In Xtreme Legends, you can also bring specific equipment, a mount, a guard, and special abilities into your inevitable confrontation.
We mentioned RPG aspects before, and its clear that Omega Force included them in order to add to the depth, which would cater to the hardcore fan. This isnt a bad idea, especially considering only hardcore fans would buy this title in the first place, but the implementation of this depth doesnt translate to gameplay enhancement. Instead, it just doesnt seem to matter. We can level up, gain new abilities (both offensive and defensive), ride horses around, assign our own choice of a guard, string together combos, and purchase new equipment with acquired gold. But in the end, it all boils down to- hack, slash, dodge, block, run, jumprepeat, over and over. There is some strategy involved as always, just because the maps are often quite large and require you to stick with your roving patrol in order to liberate enemy strongholds and protect your own. Heading out by yourself is rarely a good idea. But all that being said, you basically just approach every scenario, in all available gameplay modes, in exactly the same way. Take all the bells and whistles, and you still end up with the sameoldthing.
But even if thats where the story ended, wed at least have a decent action title, just because these games are, at the very least, somewhat entertaining. The quality is usually average or above average and there arent any crippling errors that put a serious lag in the gameplay. However, the camera is a bigger problem than ever; it sits way too close to the action and we had extreme difficulty controlling it. All we wanted to do was draw back a bit so we could see what was happening around us, and turn so we could see what was in front of us. Thats not too much to ask, is it? Well, apparently, it is, because this camera is just awful. And while we understand this is mostly fantasy and certainly not a simulator, we have seen much better examples of battle physics in past Omega Force projects. Theres almost no sense of weight and momentum when running around the battlefield, the animations are too abrupt, and we could never understand how a single human being can stop a charging horse in its tracks. Only the mini-bosses could manage this, but it still made little to no sense. The balance between mounted and infantry fighting is also way off, just for the record.
On the plus side, we do like the idea of being able to control a characters advancement, and to have all those menu options to prepare for battle is another bonus. This adds to the strategy element in the game and really lets you micromanage ahead of time. Furthermore, with numerous characters available in Story Mode right off the bat, you can select the warrior that might best fit your style; youre not forced to stick it out with a character that you despise. And besides, the various Musou abilities vary more than ever before, which means you might be saving those attacks for different scenarios in battle. But again, if youre having more fun preparing for battle than actually fighting in battle, something is seriously wrong. A player could spend a half-hour getting themselves set for an epic encounter, but that epic encounter instantly dissolves into yet another hack n slash mess. It defeats the entire purpose of all that preparation and renders those seemingly impressive RPG elements useless, which means were left with a dull, lifeless package.
Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends is just a rehashed game that actually takes a few steps backwards. It used to be that there was redeeming value to the repetitive hack n slash action, but this time, with the severely bad camera and balance and physics issues, most players will come away disappointed. Even die-hard fans of these types of titles wont be satisfied, and when you miss that group of loyal followers, youve missed the mark entirely. All of these games need a complete facelift and revamping from the ground up, or they need to be retired permanently. If we have to play Dynasty Warriors 7 or Samurai Warriors 3 or Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends 2, we might not be able to handle it. Seriously, give this a rest, Koei.
6/2/2008 Ben Dutka