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Samurai Warriors (Sengoku Musou) is a video game series created by the Japanese developer Koei, famous for its similar Dynasty Warriors (Shin Sangokumusuo) series. The main difference between the two series is that while Dynasty Warriors is based on the Three Kingdoms-era of Chinese history (about 220-280 AD), Samurai Warriors is based on the Sengoku/Warring States Period in Japan (roughly 1467-1616). The playable characters in each of these games are based on real figures of the time(s) in which they lived, although a certain amount of dramatic license is taken with their various characterizations, appearances, and the historical record, depending upon which character's campaign you're playing.

Currently, there are seven games in the Samurai Warriors series, although one of them is a crossover of both Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, so it could arguably be considered part of the Dynasty Warriors series as well. The essential gameplay characteristics of all the games are virtually identical, save for minor differences that crop up from game to game. The Samurai Warriors games are all hack and slash action games, which some people love and others can't stand. If you're not familiar with the term, it's exactly what it sounds like: your character rampages through a battlefield killing hordes of nameless opponents. Some people find this type of gameplay tedious and redundant, but it's definitely nice to let off some steam by killing 700+ pixelated samurai.

In all the games of the series, there are essentially three classes of enemies:

  • Generic enemies - the weakest and most common of the bunch. They range from peasants revolting to female ninja to archers to guys with swords and so forth. They have horrible artificial intelligence values and are more likely to surround you and just stand there than attack you. Once defeated, some of them randomly drop health and musou (i.e. special ability) power-ups.
  • Generic officers - these guys are stronger and smarter than the generic baddies and they actually have names. They all seem to be based on historical figures (or at least have historically accurate names and allegiances) but they're really just mulitiple color variations on two or three character models with one voice per model. These guys are good for gaining XP and leveling up. They're pretty easy to defeat, but if you encounter three or more at the same time and your character isn't reasonably leveled up, you stand a pretty good chance of being killed. Once defeated, they'll frequently drop gold (which can be used to upgrade skills and weapons or to purchase bodyguards or horses) or small tokens of XP (in addition to the XP you automatically receive for defeating them).
  • Named officers - this is sort of a misnomer because all of the officers in the game are named. The significance of these guys, however, is that with a few exceptions, these are actually the other playable characters. They're the smartest and strongest enemies you'll face and can at times be pretty difficult to survive, let alone beat. The interesting thing about the named officers is that they almost never use their musou attacks when they're controlled by the computer. Defeating a named officer will automatically give you XP as well as randomly drop gold, weapons, or even more XP.

There are a few different modes of gameplay in the series. All of them have a story mode, which, obviously enough, is where you select a character and play through a campaign (usually 5 or 6 levels) that goes through the details of the character's life. The levels of the campaigns are all based on actual events, such as the Battle of Sekigahara or the Inicdent at Honnoji; as I stated earlier, though, the results of the battles are often at odds with what really happened. All of the battles follow a few pretty standard conventions: don't let your commanding officer be defeated and defeat the enemy's commanding officer. Sometimes there are variations on this, such as leading this or that person to an escape point or protecting multiple teammates. Each battle has various mini-missions such as not allowing a ramp to be constructed or defeating a certain number of enemies; these aren't vital to completing the level, but help your rating at the end of the game. Completion of a given character's campaign usually results in the unlocking of another character.

The other modes are Free and Survival. The first basically gives the player the opportunity to play through a level without having to worry about the story aspect of it (for example, playing a level from one character's campaign with a totally unrelated character). When I said there were seven games, I sort of fibbed: two of them are expansions, so they should probably be more accurately lumped in with their host games. Samurai Warriors and Samurai Warriors 2 feature Survival mode, which is a grueling endurance contest where the player goes through endlessly repetitive levels carrying out virtually identical missions. The only real reason to use Survival Mode is to level up, to get gold, or to see just how good you really are. Both games feature expansions called Xtreme Legends although so far, the expansion for the second part has yet to be released outside of Japan.

Samurai Warriors 2: Empires is an interesting game that's half hack-and-slash and half turn-based strategy. The player can select a campaign based on historical people and events and proceed to conquer the whole of Japan or take the opposite route and create an empire from scratch. Free mode is also present in this game and is quite appealing given the time-consuming nature of a real campaign (which includes devising strategies, positioning officers in various conquered provinces, fighting off incursions into one's territory, etc.). Empires is also unique to the series in the sense that it actually features pretty competent enemy AI. It's pretty easy to have your entire domain collapse if you're careless around some officers for a minute in battle, and it's difficult to come back from a total defeat.

The most recent actual game in the series is Warriors Orochi, which is the crossover I mentioned at the beginning of the write-up. Warriors Orochi features all of the playable named officers from both Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors with the exceptions of Sasaki Kojiro and Shibata Katsuie from the former series (though these two are only available to be played in Empires). This is one of the most entertaining games of either series as it allows you to control three characters at once and switch between them during a battle. All of the characters fall into the Speed, Power, or Technique categories, and it's cool to mix and match them by type for ultimate versatility. The reason these historical figures have all been slammed into one place is because the Japanese serpent deity Orochi has brought them all together to amuse himself.

It would be pointless (and boring) to list all of the historical figures who appear in the Samurai Warriors series, so I'll only name a few. Oda Nobunaga is sort of the "villain" of Samurai Warriors given his ruthlessness and stated ambition to conquer and rule a unified Japan. He is supported by the noble but ultimately treacherous Akechi Mitsuhide, the cunning Toyotomi Hideyoshi, his powerful vassal Tokugawa Ieyasu (as well as his own retainers such as Honda Tadakatsu and Hattori Hanzo). In opposition to Nobunaga are the famed strategists Kenshin Uesugi and Takeda Shingen as well as the chaos-loving ninja Fuma Kotaro. Other famous figures in the series include the master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, the folk hero/outlaw Ishikawa Goemon, and the doomed protector of the Toyotomi clan Ishida Mitsunari.

All of the games in the Samurai Warriors series are available for the Playstation 2 except for Samurai Warriors: State of War, a Playstation Portable game that I've never played. They are all also availabe for either the XBox or the XBox 360. Fans of the genre will enjoy the Samurai Warriors series but others might get tired of the redundant gameplay and poor AI.

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