Developed by Omega Force. Published by Tecmo Koei. Released October 21, 2014. Available on PS4.
Samurai Warriors never quite appealed to me as much as its Dynasty Warriors sister series has. While I've still always enjoyed the main games, the Japanese setting isn't as unique as Dynasty's Three Kingdoms China premise, and its variant gameplay systems (yes, there are palpable gameplay differences between both franchises) could never hold my attention as much. With Samurai Warriors 4, however, Omega Force may well have pushed the series firmly into my heart - at the very least earning it an equal billing with my preferred strain of hack n' slash.
As per usual, Samurai Warriors 4 takes us to the Warring States era of Japanese history, a time when the samurai tradition was dying out and warfare had begun to modernize. Famous daimyo of the era, such as Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, and Uesugi Kenshin are duking it out, throwing lives into the meat grinder in order to secure territory for themselves. As one of the age's notorious champions, players slice and dice their way through hundreds of foes, carving up weak peons and tackling stronger generals. You should all know the core of the Warriors games by now.
There are 55 characters to choose from this time around, with almost all the old faces joined by newcomers such as Kagekatsu Uesugi, Naotora Ii, and my new favorite Koshosho. Three previous characters that never made it to Samurai Warriors 3 - Goemon Ishikawa, Kojiro Sasaki, and Musashi Miyamoto - have returned, alongside characters previously relegated to spin-off games. In total, there are 12 all-new characters debuting, and some of them feature weirder (and more entertaining) playstyles than the series has had to date.
Previous games have involved a simple combo system of combining light attacks with strong attacks to produce new moves. Samurai Warriors 4 introduces a whole new string of attacks for each character, reversing the usual process by now adding normal attacks on top of strong ones. These "Hyper" attacks cause characters to surge forward, and by pressing the regular attack button after each surge, a brand new move is performed. The rub here is that enemy generals aren't susceptible to Hyper attacks, and will knock back players if they're hit by one. This makes Hyper combos fantastic for crowd clearing (you can now cut through hundreds of mooks in seconds!), but the regular attack strings remain crucial for more powerful enemies.
In addition to Hyper attacks, each character gets a Special move, employed with a press of the shoulder button. These moves may buff the character, produce a unique attack, or lay down a trap, and as warriors level up, their Specials may gain unique variants in addition to all their regular and Hyper combos expanding. The musou system has been upgraded as well - characters no longer get to break their invincible moves and act freely, but each one is boosted by a devastating end flourish - and there are cool new finishing moves that can be performed after stunning a low-health enemy warrior.
These additions make all characters, new and old, feel fresh, and thus provide a reason to check out every single playable warrior. Hyper attacks also cause every battle to feel faster and more exciting than past entries, as characters violently dash across the map, laying waste to opposition with more speed and style.