samurai-warriors-2.jpgKoei and W-force’s Musou games (known over here as Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors) are Japan’s equivalent to our sports franchises, except for the fact that they have educational value added to them. They featured anime-styled versions of historical figures and battles throughout the Warring States and Three Kingdoms eras. The games get periodic releases with a roster update, slight graphical updates, and some new features added. They also get a bad rap for their repetition and simplistic playing mechanics. While some of the criticism is deserved, the series does a excellent job of catering to it’s small-but-devoted fanbase, and this entry is no exception.

Like its predecessor, Samurai Warriors 2 takes place during Japan’s Age of Warring States. You pick one of several characters (seven available at the start, the rest unlocked), and battle through that character’s storyline. Each storyline has five stages, and an unlockable “dream level”, which takes place outside the character’s regular history. The cast includes the demon king Nobunaga Oda, the great strategist Shingen Takeda, and his arch rival Kenshin Uesugi. While most of the cast returns from the original game, Goemon, Yoshimoto Imagawa, and Kunoichi have been cut (although Yoshimoto Imagawa was returned in the Xtreme Legends expansion pack), while Okuni and Ranmaru Mori are only playable in free mode after being unlocked. Thankfully, several new faces have been added to the cast, including the great swordsman Mushashi Miyamoto. Also, Nagamasa Azai and Iyeyasu Tokugawa, having previously been non-playable characters in the original game, are now fully playable here. Oddly enough, Katsuie Shibata and Kojiro Sasaki, despite being featured prominently throughout various story modes, are unplayable here and show up only as bodyguards.

There have been a number of key changes to the game play. The ranged attack has been replaced by unique special abilities for each character. For instance, Yukimura Sanada can call his horse, and Mitsunari Ishida can plant land mines. Also, the ability chart from the previous game has been nixed, and characters can learn new skills by either finding them on the battle field or by buying them in the shop. There are several minigames included, the most notable of which is the board game Sugoroku, in which up to 4 players can compete to gain the most money, similar to monopoly. Also, there is Xbox Live for the Xbox 360 version, but don’t expect anything like deathmatch, or even an online co-op story mode. Instead, you can only play the various minigames, with objectives ranging from collection the most gold to killing the most ninjas.

This brings me to the game’s biggest fault. You get the feeling that Koei could have done more with Xbox Live than they did here. An objective-based multiplayer battle mode (think Battlefield) centered around the game’s many battles would have been very easy to implement. They could have at least have made it possible to play the board game online. Instead, we can spend Microsoft points in the marketplace to download new horses and bodyguards, pretty much representing everything that people dislike about online micro transactions. If nothing else however, it will make fans hopeful about Koei’s future plans for online content. As a matter of fact, the Xtreme Legends expansion pack for the Xbox 360 version of the game can be downloaded over the marketplace for 2,400 marketplace points, while PS2 players can get it through retail.

If you’re not a fan of Samurai Warriors, then this game won’t convert you, but long time fans of the series will enjoy the new additions and improvements. Maybe one day, Koei will make the necessary improvements to the franchise, and the game will be able to gain the kind of audience it deserves. Until then however, it will continue to be regulated to cult status.