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“A Warrior among pawns”

Ahh, beat ‘em ups… The simple pleasures of utterly demolishing large numbers of helpless opponents and displaying your superiority. There’s always been a certain satisfaction in defeating tons of enemies in this now mostly dead genre, and the various Warriors games by Koei’s Omega Force team are no different. While in good ol’ classics like SEGA’s Streets of Rage series you would defeat dozens upon dozens of enemies through the games, in the Warriors games you defeat hundreds if not thousands of enemies… PER STAGE. Does that sound fun to you? If so, then you should most definitely check out the various series and associated games.

Now, the Warriors games are rather peculiar as far as their popularity goes, leaving people very divided regarding them. While in Japan the games are so beloved as excellent blends of the fighting, strategy and RPG genres that they are considered system sellers, they have a very niche market in the west and most people tend to view them as mindless and repetitive button mashers. Admittedly, those people aren’t entirely wrong, but they’re missing the point and just wailing on the normal attack button won’t get you very far or give you an enjoyable experience; that’s like just shooting at anything that moves in first-person shooters or saying that platformers require no strategy since all you do is jump over anything that isn’t solid ground.

Needless to say though, those games are geared towards a certain audience of players, and fans of one game are likely to enjoy the other ones as well; if on the other hand you aren’t familiar at all with the series, then read on to find out more. Do note however that I am playing the Japanese version and, while the eventual western releases shouldn’t really differ… Well, you never know.

- The Gameplay -

Gameplay in Samurai Warriors 3 (Sengoku Musou 3 in Japan) follows the basic Warriors formula: You are a general in an army at war with another army on a stage of variable size and each side is generally composed of hundreds of nameless fodder — pardon me, soldiers — several named but generic officers and a few other generals here and there, the latter being important characters that actually have a background story. While the normal soldiers generally don’t pose much trouble unless you play on higher difficulties, the officers and especially the generals are the ones you have to watch out for. At the start of a stage, you are given various conditions of victory such as defeating a certain enemy unit or helping someone escape, and conditions of failure like allowing a certain allied unit to be defeated or letting the enemy commander escape; additionally, you lose if you are defeated in combat (naturally) or if you run out of time, but time limits are extremely generous and shouldn’t generally be an issue. Side missions ranging from simply defeating a certain officer to defeating them while having a high combo or under a time limit are also contained within stages alongside main missions. Some missions also have unique aspects to them that can be used to your advantage in the form of weaponry or shortcuts.

The mechanics themselves are simple enough and will come naturally with a bit of practice; you can use normal attacks, charge attacks (which aren’t necessarily charged, they’re more like special attacks), various versions of Musou attacks (this series’ “super” attacks, requiring energy from a meter that you can charge in several ways), block, roll, jump, call and ride horses and perform different moves while mounted. The key to combat is to start combo attacks and switch to another attack button at the appropriate time in order to branch out into widely different moves; for instance, one of my favorite characters is Hattori Hanzo and if while playing as him I decide not to keep mashing the normal attack button until his combo is over and instead tap the charge attack button after his third attack, he swings his kusarigama (a sickle on a chain) around himself several times, covering a wide radius and potentially laying devastation upon many enemies. Awesome. Also, the map will be your best friend as it shows you where enemies and allies are located and shows officers more clearly than in previous games and even gives you directions on where you should go to reach the next main objective; I do have a problem with the fact that it doesn’t show your mount anymore for some reason, though.

As you defeat enemies and grab EXP scrolls, your character levels up and their stats increase, providing them with larger life bars and musou bars over time; obviously a very important aspect of the game. Items can be acquired during stages by defeating enemy officers or smashing objects such as haystacks and crates, ranging from food that recover your health and temporary power-ups which are used automatically, to new equipment. New to the series is the existence of upgradable armor which enhances your stats and a weapon system similar to that of Dynasty Warriors 6, where each weapon has three basic types (balanced, power and speed) with varying attributes that can be upgraded through the sacrifice of other weapons. The entire monetary system of the game has been overhauled, and while money is still present, it’s now used to buy unlockables; most features instead use materials which are acquired from enemies as payment. Another new and game changing feature is that you can now select between one of three pre-made sets of items that are accessible at any time during gameplay; the first is healing-oriented, the second is generally great for defense, and the third one contains a little bit of everything which can help you take advantage of any situation. Finally, the addition of a Rengi gauge allows a player to cancel a normal attack in favor of a dashing attack, or the use of a new type of Musou attack if the Rengi gauge is full.

It should be noted that this game makes no used whatsoever of motion controls and is playable using one of four different types of control methods: Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo, GameCube controller (naturally, the Wavebird is also compatible), Classic Controller and Classic Controller PRO, the last of which is an enhanced version of the original but is mostly identical control-wise. The controls feel responsive and natural, especially if you’ve played previous games in the series, and actions can be remapped to your liking. The Classic Controller PRO seems ideal for this game, as I find the original Classic Controller to more responsive than the GameCube controller, but the latter simply feels more comfortable in this gamer’s hands. Also, the game can be enjoyed by two players simultaneously in cooperation, which adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay as you plan strategies with your friend, or compete to see who can kill the enemy commander first, depending on how you like to play.

- The Presentation -

As much as I love those games, particularly the Samurai Warriors sub-set, menus have never been that impressive (although I absolutely love Warriors Orochi’s music choice for menus); this game, on the other hand, features beautiful Japanese-style brush art which, although being a small detail, I couldn’t go without mentioning. The game also trims main menu options to four sections: The three modes of play and then everything else, including the options. Everything is neatly organized and easy to find in the main menu and the pause menu. Anyway, enough about that.

The game itself looks great; it’s definitely not pushing the Wii’s graphical power, but it’s a little beyond what you would see of the previous games on PS2. Actually, even Dynasty Warriors 6 on PS3 and 360 doesn’t look too far from that; the environments seemed to be about the same quality, but the main characters had a lot more polygons and filters like bloom are common place… But I digress. Something I really like in SW3 is that units don’t seem to pop in or out constantly, which could get especially annoying in some of the previous games when you couldn’t even tell if you were hitting them because they had gone invisible; at the same time though, there appear to be fewer of them, or at least they’re more scattered through the maps.

Character animations flow well and special effects look great; a favorite of mine is the Rengi gauge animation when it is fully charged up, which turns into animated blue flames that burn smoothly. There is a relatively big deception, however: The game runs at only 30 frames per second. It shouldn’t be a big issue, and the game does a good job of not slowing down unlike some other entries in the series, but I can’t help but think that it would look and feel a lot smoother if it ran at a full 60 frames per second. Regardless, the game is very nice, especially if you use component cables.

I won’t give it its own section because there isn’t much to say about it, but the music is great. As per usual in the Samurai Warriors series, it’s essentially techno music with traditional Japanese instruments thrown in. Also, Nintendo’s legendary composer Koji Kondo had a part in the game’s music; now if that isn’t a good sign, I don’t know what is.

- The Features -

Samurai Warriors 3 is split into three modes: Musou Mode, Free Mode, and Castle Murasame Mode.

Musou Mode is the main story-driven mode which focuses on a fictive retelling of the Sengoku (Warring States) era of Japan as seen through the eyes of the 36 playable characters. The story is engrossing and seeing how the characters evolve over its course is interesting, especially once you get attached to a character. Unfortunately, each character only seems to have 5 chapters, unless I’m missing something.

Free Mode is where you can play any mission as any character, giving you a good occasion to get more EXP and try out stages normally inaccessible as your favorite characters, as well as try out other difficulties (although that can be done in Musou Mode as well).

The biggest addition to the game compared to the previous ones is without the shadow of a doubt Castle Murasame. Based on an old Japan-only (surprise, surprise) Famicom Disk System classic made by Nintendo known as Nazo no Murasamejo, this mode is essentially a retelling of the 1986 game. Unlike the original which was similar to The Legend of Zelda however, it plays like Samurai Warriors 3 (oviously), except that the mode is divided into worlds and stages and features bosses. It’s an interesting twist on the Warriors formula and it’s a great extra. Speaking of extras, Takamaru, the main character of the original Nazo no Murasamejo, is playable in this mode as well as SW3 characters.

Beating a character’s story mode allows you to buy the ability to recolor them however you want using a large palette with several hue settings instead of relying on a few pre-made color sets, but you can only have one recolor per character at a time, and can only play as that recolored version until you reset their colors. Their abilities and weapon styles are also available to buy, the latter pertaining to Edit Characters.

You can create your own characters (with a maximum of 20 creations), which can be used in all three modes; indeed, they even get their own story! There’s only a pretty limited amount of parts/clothing available for character creation, but Koei will be releasing downloadable content in the future; as of this time though, there doesn’t appear to be anything available for download yet as the game just came out a week ago. At first you only have access to the three basic weapon styles used by generic units (katana, naginata, spear), but you can buy the weapon style of any character you currently have unlocked to add it to your set of weapons for created characters. Creation is decent enough, but it could definitely use more outfits and hairstyles pretty soon.

- Conclusion -

Samurai Warriors 3 / Sengoku Musou 3 is not perfect by any means, but it’s a great game and a very good addition to the growing Warriors series. If you are at all a fan of Warriors games, beat ‘em ups, strategy games, action RPGs or even ancient Japan, you owe it to yourself to try it out. Just make sure that you keep an open mind and give it some time and practice, and you’ll discover how much fun it is to button mash strategically!

Reviewer’s Score: 8/10, Originally Posted: 12/14/09, Updated 12/15/09

Game Release: Sengoku Musou 3 (JP, 12/03/09)

(Originally posted on December 14th, 2009 and featured on

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