Samurai Warriors is an offshoot of the famous Dynasty Warriors franchise that focuses on the frantic button bashing combat from the series, leaving the more strategic elements behind. Unfortunately, without any strategy for players to focus on, all that's left is the dull repetitive combat that will turn away many potential customers.
Each level is executed in almost exactly the same way as the rest. After selecting a character out of an initial line-up of seven (that will eventually balloon into a roster of twenty-six), you start in the middle of a sizeable battlefield, and must defeat the opposing army, usually numbering in the hundreds. Each character has their own story and set of chapters to complete, which for the persistent player can be completed in a few meagre hours each. However, aside from hearing different voices from the horrendous English dubbing and the fact that some have swords, or axes, or halberds, there are few differences between the characters.
They all control the same and their attacks do roughly the same amount of damage, so playing the game becomes an endless string of simple combos and powerful charge attacks, repeated relentlessly until a character's climax chapter... and then you just repeat the process again with a newly unlocked character. In between levels it is possible to upgrade your character's stats thanks to an RPG-ish experience points system, but upgrades make little difference to how each character plays or the damage they inflict.
The constant button bashing combat wouldn't be so dull if the majority of enemies you faced were an actual challenge, both physically and mentally. While the game throws hundreds of enemies at you at once, 99 percent of these are nameless, brainless thugs who just watch as you smash them aside with your simple combos. If they do manage to work out what their sword is for and attack you, your health meter barely registers the hit, that is if you're not on the other side of the field trying to complete one of the level's objectives by this time.
To be honest, using the plural "objectives" is being generous, as essentially they all boil down to the same thing: go to an area on the game map and beat the living daylights out of the enemy. Though, in all fairness, some of these areas are being overrun by enemy forces led by an enemy lieutenant, and they're actually quite effective in battle. However, a few quick combos and well-timed blocks will see all but the later lieutenants and generals defeated within seconds.
To make up for the lack of variety in the gameplay, you'd at least hope Koei would have spruced up the graphics as much as possible. Sadly this is not the case, as you wander around bland landscapes covered in fog. However, up close the named enemies look rather good, blending good animation with unique and memorable suits of armour. The same can be said of the multiple unlockable characters - they all look and move uniquely, though these cosmetic differences fail to make up for the fact they all essentially play the same. On the Xbox 360 the visuals look sharper, but little effort has been made to make the most of the next-gen hardware.
Audio doesn't raise the overall level of presentation, either, with some problems typical of a Japanese game brought over to an English speaking audience. Attack sounds are flat, the music is dull, and the English voice-acting is dreadful. Honestly, I can't remember when I've heard worse voices in a game. One of the allied characters sounds like a stereotypical surfer, making it quite hard to take him seriously when he's boasting about his skills with his halberd.
In an attempt to add some much need variety to the mix, Koei has included a mode called Sugoroku, a board game that is very similar to Monopoly. In fact it's almost exactly the same as Monopoly, but instead of building houses and hotels, you build temples. Aside from the Samurai theme, Sugoroku is the same game you used to play with your siblings on rainy days before your parents finally caved and bought your first games console, only now you can't throw the board to the far wall when your cheating big sister begins stealing money from the bank. It's a nice addition and can be quite fun, but it says a lot when a Monopoly rip-off is more fun than the main game.
The Xbox 360 version includes an online mode of sorts, although it adds very little to the experience. Rather than pitting you head to head against another player, or letting you play in co-op, you simply fight on two completely different battlefields, and compete to defeat the officer on your battlefield, before you opponent defeats his. It reeks of a token gesture for Xbox 360 owners, and PlayStation 2 players aren't really missing out on anything worthwhile.
Ultimately Samurai Warriors 2 is one of the dullest and most repetitive games I've played in recent memory. It feels more like a chore then a game, and the lack of attention to many aspects of its design pale in comparison to its greatest omission... it's simply no fun to play. Fans of the original game and superior Dynasty Warriors series may find something to enjoy here, but everyone else will be hard pressed to do the same.