Review by Eclesis

Reviewed: 03/24/06 | Updated: 08/03/06

Good presentation, bad gameplay

Sengoku Musou 2 (Samurai Warriors 2)

This review is for the Japanese version of the game. I sincerely hope they do more than just change the language for the localization, such as, eg, fix the game balance. After spending an inordinate amount of time poking around the Infinite Castle and experimenting with various stages, I felt the need to revise the original review.

Graphics/Sound: 9

The usual for this series: quite impressive. Their characters move smoothly, there are well-rendered FMVs, and the battlefields have very little slowdown even with a large number of moving characters on screen at once. The FMVs are gorgeously rendered, and they've got both movement and expression on their characters down fairly well. There's no noticeable awkwardness in either cutscenes or normal gameplay.

Unlike its black-ink themed predecessor, the colors and designs in Sengoku 2 are much more vibrant for both characters and stages. You can actually see where you're going most of the time now, and there's some flair to the character designs that, while not entirely realistic, are just extravagant enough to suit the atmosphere of a game of this type. While not quite up there with the feather fans and homing lasers of Sangoku, the weapons and fighting styles of Sengoku 2 are quite interesting to look at, and the brighter color palette means that characters like Akechi Mitsuhide no longer have zombie-like complexions. In addition, in tone with the supposedly more serious focus of the game, some of the previous character designs such as Oichi and Date Masamune were changed so you no longer have 12-year-old kids running around the battlefield. However, Oichi still uses a toy for a weapon.

Quite a bit of the music is lifted more or less straight from Sengoku Musou 1, though they seemed to have removed one of the most memorable tunes, Anegawa. Otherwise, it's not particularly noteworthy but doesn't break the atmosphere or get annoying either.

Unlike the Sangoku series, the Sengoku games have used fairly experienced voice talent from the beginning, so voice work retains a fairly high standard all around, though there are several cases of voice actors shared between characters. There's a bit of narration at the beginning of each stage, and sometimes events, but for the most part the voices are fairly well done.

Gameplay: 5

Again, it's a Musou game, so essentially, Square-Square-Triangle. However, they did put some more variations per character, so there's less of a feel of every character having a standardized set of moves (C4 is crowd control, C3 is single-target, etc). The removal of the ranged attacks isn't really noticeable. The basic controls and interface are very smooth and respond well. Unfortunately, the mission and stage designs are something else entirely.

One of the things that I think they changed about the morale and combat system in this game is that random peons have the morale of the overall army rather than their individual regiments. What this means is that, since you as the player always start out at a huge morale disadvantage, enemy peons are more powerful than your soldiers and oftentimes more powerful than your generals. You can't make the random peons drop to 0 morale and go away after just defeating a general, resulting in having to chase down random squads yourself.

Friendly generals in this game are 100% liability rather than asset, and exist only to complicate your defeat conditions. They'll yell for help at the slightest provocation and prove themselves unable fight their way out of a paper bag. In a one-on-one match between an enemy reinforcement point and a friendly general and his forces, the enemy reinforcement point will almost always win. There are any number of stages where the defeat conditions include "do not allow any friendly generals to be defeated", which are unbelievably irritating as you not only have to defeat the generals surrounding them but also any reinforcement points and even random loose squads of enemy peons, and then charge across the map to assist the next moron yelling for help.

This is playing on Normal mode, and I'm by no means unfamiliar with the series. It's not even a test of player skill, since there's really nothing you can do about your allies being weak except hike to their location on the fastest horse you can find; raising morale, defeating enemy generals, sealing reinforcement points, all of those make very little difference when your HQ is suddenly rushed by 3 generals (and it will be, in just about every single stage you have an HQ) or some idiot gets himself ambushed. Random squads of 10 peons will move across the map and seal your reinforcement points with ease, and once they get a reinforcement point they can hold it vs any number of your generals. It's also a problem with suspension of disbelief, because the player response to "General Blah has betrayed us!" probably shouldn't be "oh good, now we don't have to protect him anymore".

What this means is that you have very little freedom to do what you want on the battlefield and have to follow certain progressions in order to clear the stage at all. In Sangoku Musou there were a fair number of stages where the only defeat condition was the loss of your player character, which meant you were free to advance as you chose. In Sengoku 2 you not only have to watch your commander-in-chief, but also HQ and quite often a number of other idiots as well. There's the impression of always being rushed from one crisis to another trying to bail water out of a leaky boat. While this is not Dynasty Warriors in that the focus is more on the scripted missions than just killing stuff, it'd nice if they allowed you some freedom to advance the stage on your own rather than being forced to always play through the same sequence. The game's supposed to be "tactical action", but it's not like you could tell your allies to, eg, retreat to a safe distance or band together or anything.

They've also nerfed some of the original movesets like Maeda Keiji's, and have cut certain characters out entirely (Kunoichi was sort of reincarnated as Nene). While I personally don't really miss the ones that got cut, fans from the previous installment might. Another rather strange decision was to include Okuni and Ranmaru as bonus characters, which is bizarre in that if they're going to bother making them PCs, why not give them a story mode? While the game ostensibly focuses more on "real" history, it's not like Ishida Mitsunari was personally marching around Sekigahara beating enemy troops over the head with an oversized folding fan. Similarly, Miyamoto Musashi is a PC character while his rival Kojirou is an NPC with a unique model. If you're going to include one as a PC why not put in the other? While Musashi and Kojirou really have no business running around Sekigahara or whatever, historical accuracy was never a major factor to these games.

Another issue would be that this game probably wasn't intended for newcomers to the series or people unfamiliar with action games. There's no real noticeable difference between Normal and Easy modes, in which your generals are only marginally less useless and enemy peons/generals still block/evade with annoying frequency - they just take a bit more damage/have less HP. The block/evade thing is alright if you happen to be using a character whose attacks chain well (Mitsuhide, for instance), but it's more or less impossible to hit with a Musou unless you're doing it as a counter or in the middle of a combo because the CPU will dodge roll like mad, and most characters' Charge attacks will not chain with their normal attacks, giving your opponent an opportunity to block. Combine this with the fact that the poor performance of your allies means you're often fighting 3-5 generals at once, it can probably get a bit frustrating for beginners.

Replayability: 7

Like Sengoku 1, there are individual story modes for each character, but you don't get the separate paths or endings - there's just one per character, though they've also added in a What-If gaiden stage usually available after you clear a character's normal story mode. The story modes are different enough that they're at least somewhat interesting to play even if many characters share the same stages. The gaidens range from the serious (Nobunaga, Magoichi) to the ridiculous (Oichi, Nouhime), and most of them are directed towards offsetting the generally dramatic, sometimes tragic tone of many of the story modes.

As I mentioned in Gameplay, about 80% of the gimmicks in any particular stage will revolve around having 3 generals suddenly charge your HQ, and it gets rather old after awhile. However, there are enough different variations on event progression even with characters who share the same stage that they're not entirely clones of one another. On the other hand, there's not that much variation if you're playing as the same character because the stage missions almost always force you to play a certain way, so if you've survived a stage and have achieved most of the objectives, you've probably seen all the gimmicks that stage has to offer. The replayability is essentially all the available characters' story modes and then as much as you'd care to poke around in the free modes/Souroku/Infinite Castle, though unfortunately there are a fair number of stages that are not available in Free Mode. Unfortunately, both story and free modes suffer from the same gameplay and balancing issues so it's hard to put that many hours into it.

Another slight issue would be that, while each character has a number of FMVs throughout their story modes, some, like Akechi Mitsuhide, have 6 unique movies, while others like Honda Tadakatsu have fewer movies with most of them being shared with other characters. There's also random "fight off pirates or bandits" stages that one gets the feeling were implemented because the makers were out of ideas but had to fill a certain number of stages. For characters like Oichi this is almost understandable, but surely Ueda Kenshin had more battles they could have drawn from?

The extras like the Infinite Castle or the Monopoly clone are alright as extras, but probably not something that would be that attention-grabbing. The Infinite Castle actually has a sort of background story this time around, and is a pre-requisite to unlock a number of items/bodyguards/etc. It also unfortunately takes way too long to complete, but it is a neat toy if you've run out of other things to do.

After poking around it for awhile though, it seems that the Infinite Castle mode exists to satisfy the knock-things-over school of play, and quite a number of the quests are quirky and amusing. It's a nice change in that you can focus on the gameplay and fighting rather than worrying about "is General Blah over there on the other side of the field okay". Some of the higher level missions are quite challenging and give you situations like one-on-one duels, respawning generals etc that you don't encounter in the normal gameplay modes. It can actually get rather addictive because you're never quite sure what to expect next.

The Monopoly game is a series of minigames with a lot of random element to them, and while an interesting concept probably not all that involving. In particular, a lot of the minigames are things like "get to location X fast" or "chase down and kill Y number of mobs". This gives fast characters like Hattori Hanzou a huge advantage over slower ones like Takeda Shingen.

Innovation: 8

The different attack patterns of the various generals is quite interesting, as it makes for some more variation in gameplay. A general will have either a Normal, Charge, or Special Attack growth progression, and different combat options. It's essentially a different pattern of Square-Triangle, but at least they're making some effort to differentiate the moves. However, character balance is a bit of an issue here, as the "Special Attack" type characters are usually weaker than most other types because said special moves aren't terribly useful most of the time. Even when they are, it's a bit strange that the specials that certain Special-type characters have are weaker than similar abilities possessed by characters of other types (compare Nobunaga and Ginchiyo's weapon enhancement, or Ina-Hime and Nagamasa's elemental enhancement, for example).

The unique skills executed with holding down R1 also help with differentiating characters, though the actual skills could use some balancing. Even among the characters who're supposed to be primarily Special Attack based, for instance, Hanzou's specials are awesome while Mitsunari's aren't terribly useful at all.

The skill acquisition system is interesting but could also use some polishing since the skills that appear for purchase in the shop are random and it'd be nice to have more direct control over what you want to upgrade. I suppose that, removing items, the money banked from previous playthroughs would be all that you could carry over between characters. Otherwise, it's not clear why you'd want to use the shop instead of just having skill points assigned as per the previous installment.

The loss of items is slightly frustrating because it means that you have to start each character from scratch. While this may add to the challenge, in the case of characters that are required to unlock other characters but are hard to play as themselves, it can get a bit annoying. Having a default horse is also good, although it'd have been much better if the stages had not all been designed to make a fast horse necessarily. In particular, the horse location icon is for the last horse you actually rode, and all other ones disappear once they're offscreen, meaning that if you accidentally get the wrong one, you're screwed for the rest of the battle.

Skill stealing is entirely based on luck, and it takes tremendous effort to get the rare skills.I also fail to understand why the weapon upgrade system assigned stats at random instead of allowing you to choose. All this results in is a lot of repeated save/loading, because the weapons you get are already random in terms of stats and slots, and you can't overwrite previous enhancements.

A large improvement was to remove those indoors-only stages and incorporate them into the overall battlefield. There'll occasionally be castles that you have to climb up, but they're never more than a couple of stories and the areas are very small, and you can get back out to the battlefield pretty quickly. There's still an indoors-only mode, Infinite Castle, but that's an optional mode and doesn't intrude upon normal gameplay. This is a vast relief when you're playing as a character who's slow and has bad crowd control. Some new abilities have actually made Infinite Castle much more palatable due to the ability to recover HP by killing things and the boosts you get upon levelup (which still occur even if you're max level), as well as the ability to locate treasure/recovery items on the minimap.

The mini Monopoly game is kind of cute, but it's also a bit slow as you have to wait for the NPCs to do their thing. It doesn't add anything particularly interesting to the game, but on the other hand doesn't detract from it either, so think of it as a bonus toy.

They've changed around a lot of the character stories to be more realistic/dramatic as opposed to fantastical, although there remain a fair number of scenes and dialogue where it's not entirely certain whether you're supposed to be taking it seriously. They've also removed some of the original elements that had little basis in historical records, such as the rivalry between Yukimura and Hanzou, or Mitsuhide and Ranmaru's relationship. While there are more characters, few of them are clones in either moveset or personality.

There's no create-your-own character mode, though I'm fairly sure that's something they'll address in the spinoffs.

Overall: 7

So, quite pretty, and some of the cutscenes are definitely tongue-in-cheek; if you couldn't take them seriously you could still laugh. The innovation in terms of move variations and special abilities add a different flavor to differentiate it from the Sangoku games. The scripting and effects are quite impressive, and there's a highly quirky cast of characters to choose from.

Unfortunately, this game suffers from the same feel of not-quite-polished that plagued its predecessor. I can't help but get the impression that they dragged out characters like Katsuie and Kojirou and didn't make them fully playable for the express purpose of selling the spinoffs. While that's fine and dandy for extras, essential elements like stage balance should NOT be in the category of "well we'll fix it in the Moushouden", because that affects the playability of the game. I'm not shelling out the price of a full game to play a beta version, thank you very much.

The reason I bring up the Moushouden point is that I can't think of any other logical reason why the stage balance would have been left the way it is. They must have had testers at some point who played the game, and I can't imagine how those testers would possibly have thought those missions to be a good idea. The entire selling point of the series is that it's supposed to play smoothly and provide an impression of epic battles, and neither of those is particularly noticeable in this game. Being a one-man army is one thing, being a one-man army handed the task of babysitting a horde of incompetent losers is quite another.

While I'm sure they'll probably fix some of these issues in Moushouden, the fact that the game balance is poor enough that you'd need to do that doesn't speak well for how it stands on its own. So essentially some nice eye candy but bad game balancing; the focus is rather different from the Sangoku Musou (Dynasty Warriors) series, so don't expect to be able to play through it exactly like those games. There's always the hope that they'll fix some of the balancing issues in the spinoffs, but that depends on whether you're willing to pay for the additional game.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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