The slow decline of a dynasty – Thoughts on the Musou Series


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I’m pretty much done with Samurai Warriors 4 now. The single player campaign is finished and I’ve done a few goals in chronicle mode. A big smeg-off to Omega Force if they think I’m going to even attempt the Platinum. It’s not hard – it doesn’t even require you to play in Nightmare mode much, but it sounds repetitive as hell. Playing each story stage with each character that is available; for some stages this can mean replaying up to six or seven times, more if you don’t get all the objectives completed.

It’s sad to see at how focused the musou series has become on impressing people right away. Both Dynasty Warriors 8 and SW4 are really great going straight in. They’ve got these flash new mechanics, good presentation, and there’s a shit ton of stuff to do. But then as you play on, you realise – that’s it. They’ve totally lost the depth of play that used to exist in old versions of the games.
The original Samurai Warriors in particular made a great step forward by adding objectives, castles and a dodge roll to the basic DW formula. This added a more focused way of handling missions, variety and the dodge roll added a little bit of skill. It meant that enemies could have deadly attacks that you HAD to dodge roll away from. The objectives now just take away from the freedom of missions, forcing you down a particular path. The castles have just become a different texture, and the removal of the dodge roll means that enemies can’t have attacks that can really damage you heavily.

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Dynasty Warriors has also added changes like weapon affinities – which function as a rock paper scissor mechanic. On the surface this looks like it makes the game more tactical or challenging – in effect though, you always have two weapons, so enemies are either of standard strength or more often, they’re weaker than they ought to be, taking away the challenge of officer encounters. It’s another flashy implementation that’s just designed to look good and feel satisfying initially, without actually adding much depth.

The original Samurai Warriors was a great direction for the series to go. Enemy types has massive variance – a move that was copied successfully by Capcom’s own Sengoku Basara series – you had fire bomb troops, sumos, monks, ninjas, archers; all of whom had very different attacks and you had to approach each one differently. In the new game, the hyper attack means that all non-officer enemies are basically fodder for getting your KO count up.

The extra modes is another area where Koei doesn’t seem to know quite what to do. The chronicle mode in SW4 and the Ambition mode in DW8 feel like a method for grinding and getting trophies. There’s no real sense of progressing through something worthwhile. Admittedly DW8 is a tad better than SW4 here, but ideally there should be more gameplay here than playing again and again on barren maps with random encounters. The PSP outing of Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors had arguably better innovation than these grind-fests.

The Musou series has definitely settled into a very flashy, accessible approach. DW3 and Samurai Warriors remain the peak of each series, offering challenge, progression, innovation and depth. I would hope that the games change in the future, but I think they’re too set on being instantly gratifying to ever be the thrilling challenge that they used to be. The balancing between the difficulties is awful and Nightmare mode is more about getting the right set up, rather than just playing better. Veterans of Dynasty Warriors will know the difference between Nighmare mode now, and trying to get Lu Meng’s ultimate weapon in DW3XL.

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