The Empires moniker which I had a personal pleasure in experiencing for the first time right before the holidays takes the well known Warriors style and adds in layers of Strategy to spice up the Hack and Slash elements. While perfectly fine on their own, there’s an added sense of accomplishment that comes from strategically planned maneuvers that wouldn't exist otherwise. The reverse can be said for failures but regardless of the outcome, Samurai Warriors 4 Empires is a sheer delight which contains elements from both Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-II.
Loading up Empires for the first time will ask the obvious question as to whether or not you wish to create a new save file. Along for the ride is the option to import your Samurai Warriors 4-II save data in order to obtain a few bonuses and any characters that you may have already created. The bonuses were definitely nice but also was not having to re-create my own character as it was already done for me. While not being readily available it won’t take long before you can take them out onto the various battlefields through your conquest of Japan.
Available for your personal conquests are two modes which are immediately available from the main menu in the form of Conquest and Genesis Modes. There are many other options to check out such as the Vault for checking out cutscenes and the the Edit Mode to create or modify your own custom characters from scratch or an import if any were available. There’s nothing to worry about if custom characters were not imported from the start as the option is permanently open to do so at any time. The Conquest Mode allows for a quick and easy entry into the role of a possible up and coming Emperor with scenarios that must be completed with specific goals in mind. Genesis Mode allows for your own custom experience to be designed before then jumping in and attempting to conquer the realm.
Jumping straight into Conquest it was hard not to decide to side with Nobunaga as not only is this a very scary man that you do not want to be on the opposite side of, he’s a freaking badass on the field. It was shocking as things started up just as they would in a normal Musou. No planning, no plotting, pure straight in your face action. Once the stage is finished however this is where the rest of the systems start to show off and where Strategy, Accounting, and Resource Management come in very handy. Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires worked off of the idea of a goal based system in which objectives needed to be met or it was game over. Fundamentally changing the name of the game, conquering Japan required what seemed to be much more thought as each Officer being sent into the field has both a Monetary and Supply Cost in which the supplies affect just how long they plan on being on the battlefield.
Traditionally Warrior's titles give players a good ninety minutes on the clock in order to get their objectives squared away. Having gone with a more resource management approach, each Officer being sent out onto the field requires a set amount of supplies for the amount of time that is to be spent in the field. Never before now have I ever missed the ninety minutes on the clock as all depending on how many officers are being sent out that wonderful timer will start ticking down from the six, nine, twelve, or fifteen minute markers in order to maximize your chances of completion. While in certain cases this amount of time was never an issue in order to complete a set of objectives, being restricted to this short amount of time is stressful and leaves no room for setbacks which may lead to a bit of higher level deity praying in order to make it through before the timer runs out.
With each Officer costing two-hundred gold for a sortie alongside their supplies, adding in multiple other officers and their retinue to balance against the enemy’s total count sometimes just can’t cut it from a resource standpoint in order to equal your foe. Either holding off for a bit longer or choosing another target would generally be recommended. As Officers only level up their rank and not their actual character levels as a main entry would have it, there's no balancing a stronger “hero” for the lack of a troop count. Going into battle with less than your opponent's will lead to them gaining a bonus over you and your troops because they know that they have you outmatched. These kind of situations can sometimes end in defeat less than a minute in as your foes hit so hard that even Nobunaga didn't even know what hit him and there was no enemy Officer in sight. Leveling the playing field has never been so important though sometimes the lack of resources make it impossible which is why planning everything out is vital for success.
Gameplay out on the field itself has not changed all much from its original form. As there is no regular leveling in which would normally unlock combos as a character’s level got higher, all of these combos are already available from the very beginning giving the battlefield a different feel as the gloves are technically already off and everyone can do everything that they are capable of. Conquering enemy fields is still going to be pertinent to victory though an approach should definitely be thought of in advance. Fields can be linked to one another in order to offer support which other than the lines can be seen by the richer colour of the enemy territory. Going straight for the heart is tantamount to suicide as that is truly where the enemy is the most powerful. An actual battle plan should be kept in mind prior to knocking off enemy territories as that clock ticks down very fast and the support of your troops is not unlimited.
With how short stages can be, most of time spent will be inside of the castle managing your resources and acquisitions. With your Daimyo being chosen from the start, Nobunaga in this case as he’s the head honcho, there are various open positions thereafter in the form of an Advisor and many Magistrates to help manage everything else. Every possible candidate which are all Officers that follow the Daimyo have three core elements that can make them the best or worst possible choice for the job. Careful consideration of each person’s Leadership, Wisdom, and Political savvy will determine how well things are run until the next chance presents itself in order shuffle new blood into the mix. Making things even more interesting is just because someone is meant for a position does not mean that they will get along with with cohort. Finding proper matches at times can be a bit daunting as while two possible Magistrates could get along, one of the two is actually better suited for another task.
Choices inside of the castle are ones that can either make or break the momentum of a campaign depending upon the moment. With how important money and supplies are in order to send Officers into battle, Money itself is extremely important in order to hire new Officers, make additions to the castle, or replenish lost troops as those are not replenished automatically. If too much money is spent then sending Officers will generally result in a defeat as there’s no way of either getting enough of a troop count to match the enemy’s or have enough time in order to actually make it to their leader. There are a lot of careful decisions to be taken however on the first run through? That’s where the errors can be made while experimenting and getting a hang of everything.
While making choices to how well things progress between battles, there is also going to need to be though as to which Officers reside within which provinces. This does not affect any form of production but it does affect how easily they can be sent off into battle as an Officer must reside in a Province that touches the one being targeted for attack in order to participate. Mountain ranges in certain cases will block off the possibility of participation as they act as a natural barrier thus increasing the defensibly of the province which is great for them but not so much for you. Shuffling officers around does not cost anything but must be done while handling affairs in the castle.
Adding in the various strategic elements into Samurai Warriors 4 has worked out brilliantly. Making things less about high hit combos and KOs and more about whether or not a sorti is currently worthwhile in order to achieve your overall conquest was a great way to derive a whole new gameplay around already existing mechanics. Already being a fan of the core series and multiple spin-offs I’m looking forward to more Empire titles in the future.
Koei Tecmo Games
Article by Pierre-Yves