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Platform: PS2
Developer: Spike Co.
Publisher: Capcom (US), Acquire Co. (Japan)
Release Date: July 8, 2004 (USA), October 11, 2003 (Japan)
Genre Keywords: Fighter, Brawler, Adventure, Pokemon

After looking with a critical eye at the first game I realized what I wanted from the sequel. More swords, more fighting, neato enemies, some cool places to fight in, and a good atmospheric soundtrack.

Unfortunately, I only got a few of those elements: the swords and the endings. Let this writeup be a list of disappointments:

Uncool environments/stages

The first game's Rokkotsu Pass had eight very distinct, unique stages. A misty temple, desolate city streets, railroad overpass, stream with a wooden bridge, two distinct fortresses, a wide open field where tens of warriors did battle at once, an incongruously industrial - in this bucolic setting - refinery. All of these were easily distinguishable, had their own identity, and were fun to play on due to uneven footing and terrain features.

In WotS2, all the action takes place in Amahara - so you have city streets, city streets, city streets, city...well, you get the point. Whose brilliant idea was it to take the single most stylized thing about the game and promptly get rid of it? Whoever it was deserves to be parried (more about parrying shortly). Not only are the city sections very similar, they're also flat - so you can't hop about different terrain features, either. I was expecting more (rooftop battles, changing levels, cliff-jumping, ninjas leaping from above) - I got a lot less. Finally, a "map screen" was added, where you can select where to go when leaving a stage, instead of having to walk from place to place. While I appreciate the slight boost in convenience, this is another nail in the coffin of atmosphere and cohesiveness, since you're now warp-zoning all over the place. What is this, Mario?

Less combat

There's a lot of swords in the game still, and presumably plenty of techniques. Unfortunately, this is irrelevant because the standard attacks now do a lot less damage - the only way to dispatch the throngs of bad guys is to use the parry maneuver. By blocking and pulling back on the stick if an enemy slashes high, or blocking and pushing forward on the stick if an enemy slashes low, you can induce a stumble in your opponent. A timely press of the attack button while the opponent stumbles will execute a parry - which can almost INSTAKILL the bad guy.

Why bother learning any other technique with this in the game? Again, this is a ridiculous concept which has no place in any game where the focus is on expanding your skills. I mean, it's the friggin' WIN BUTTON for crying out loud!! I can only assume an executive was present at the game's alpha presentation and said something like "This is too difficult. Make it so anyone can pick up and play." This costs WotS2 its only promise of replayability - it makes learning new skills and picking up new swords completely pointless.

Nearly identical story

In the first story you had two rival clans fighting it out over the small village caught in the middle. The only thing the middle faction wanted was to be left in peace - there was also a fourth faction, the government, which only became important near the end game. There were enough twists and intrigue to keep these 4 factions spinning in a flurry of chaos - there was so much plot you had to play the game numerous times to start figuring things out. The game was quick, packed with events, and every decision made an instant impact.

The gangsters, the townsfolk, the brutal militia are the three factions in this case, and they're fighting over Amahara's sovereignty. Sound familiar? While not showstopping, it's a bit disappointing that the story is so completely cut 'n paste. Wait, there's more.

Mission structure

Missions? It's a fighting game, who needs missions? Well, apparently someone at Acquire/Spike did, because that's what we got. Instead of making the story be as short and deadly as the flash of a shuriken in a dark room, you now have to while away your time performing missions for the 3 factions, after the pertinent cutscene has concluded. You can use the rewards to acquire goods for your samurai, from outfits to bonus items - but again, the pure aim of undiluted, fun combat is somehow lacking in these shopping expeditions.

The missions mostly consist of find object X or defeat enemy group Y: pizza delivery, in other words. The final insult is that they are timed - if you do not complete them within the current phase change, you don't get the reward. And phase changes are indicated by the leaves of a flower - the fewer are left, the less time you have. Not the most precise of implements when real (er, digital) money is riding on it!

Voice acting

There is no original Japanese language option, although some of the battle grunts are still in Japanese. The rest is in the most horrible dubbing I have ever heard. Only a select few pirated anime DVDs can stand up to the extremely low standard present in WotS2.

Oh yes, and there's a lot of voice acting this time around. I can almost guarantee that you will cringe and switch off the PS2 in the first 5 minutes of gameplay.

What didn't they screw up?

Precious little. In fact, I can only recommend this game to someone who can force themselves to ignore the parry move (and the horrible dubbing) and attempt to collect all the swords in spite of the shoddy execution of the game. Otherwise, for a much better, smoother, more stylised experience that is also mercifully silent (barring the occasional grunt), just get the original game. It'll be cheaper, too.

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