The way I saw it, if I was going to shell out for a 3DS I need some insurance. I needed to know the game I bought first was going to hold my interest for a long period of time, because my next batch of must gets (Resident Evil, Kid Icarus, Star Fox, Zelda..etc) aren't out yet. Samurai Warriors Chronicles, by w-force and Koei, and I have had a rocky past. I wasn't into the original Samurai Warriors 1 or 2 or Warriors Orochi...so would this hit-and-miss formula hold my attention long enough to call this new system a hit?
Short answer: Yes.
Dynasty Warriors is a staple dish, like bread. It's always bread, every time you try it, but the subtle differences in flavor is what makes the different kinds stand apart. Samurai Warriors is the wheat bread of the w-force franchises: the under-appreciated and slightly harder to use cousin of the one we can all agree on (Dynasty Warriors). I own and dabble in Samurai Warriors 2: Empires but I can't really say I like it all that much. Sometimes we keep games on principles (see: Not For Sale). But when a new system comes out there's a lot on the line; You need a game with longevity. You need the sort of game that will settle your buyer's remorse until more titles hit the market. A game with some sea legs, with something proven. For the DS's launch that was Super Mario 64DS. For the 3DS, the newest iteration in Nintendo's handheld dynasty (no pun intended), I believe that game to be Samurai Warriors Chronicles.
For the uninitiated: Samurai Warriors is an action RPG where players take on the role of a young and dashing/adorable warlord in Edo period Japan, fighting alongside All-Stars from Japanese history such as Usegi Kenshin, Nobunaga Oda and Takeda Shingen. Unlike other games in the Warriors series, this game focuses the story mode on the player character. By going from battle to battle you meet different armies, talk to different officers and leaders, buy equipment, upgrade your character and take part in massive battles to decide your character's ultimate fate. There are little story segments (sadly unskippable but pretty enjoyable if you're into visual novella) with choices that result in improve certain officers disposition towards you, and a simple weapon development system that's accessible and fun. It's not the deepest of games, compared to its big brothers on the consoles, but it works for the 3DS nicely. But let's get to the battles themselves.
The battles themselves make this game, normally a grindy hell, a pretty enjoyable grindy hell. Samurai Warriors throws different missions into the middle of each battle, some required and some optional (with no way of telling one from the other until you fail. This works for better and worse in the story by motivating me to do everything I can but putting some objectives waaaay out of my reach.) The missions keep you on your toes and have you utilizing the game's shiny series-new features: character changing. By pressing the portrait of your other officers you can hop right to them and take direct control, saving the time of having to traipse across the entire map on foot or horse. When not in control you can give the AI movement and attack orders only, and it's only useful to set them up in a place for you the player to control later. And even then it feels like they have a mind of their own sometimes if you're not in direct control but it somehow balances out. Even if you sometimes have to bite it to learn a lesson, then come back to that stage later. Be warned, this game play is textbook Samurai Warriors: Mash Light Attack till you have to mash Strong Attack, Roll away from officers, Ukemi up from being knocked down, unleash hellish Musou attacks. If you're down with that, then you've been signed up for a while now to enjoy this game. The game even warns you that you may have to replay old stages to level up to proceed. This fits perfectly with one of my major launch game goals: longevity. The level up system, the new weapons, the three dozen plus playable characters...it was a game I had a feeling I could sign up for the long run.
The graphics of the game, the 3D effects and the always impressive cutscene work truly shine in Samurai Warriors...about as far as the 3DS can shine right now. Like all new systems the 3DS will take some time for non-Nintendo developers to find footing on. That being said the graphics in Samurai Warriors are about the best we can expect right now. They're actually really great during battles; Animations and cut scenes were exciting and fluid, very impressive for the young device. The 3D effect adds a palpable depth to the battlefield, one that left me happy I'd decided to give in to the hype and pick up the system at launch. However there's some terrible enemy pop in, jagged edges on characters, and reading the objectives was sometimes a chore thanks to the awesome sounding but tactically unsound Japanese voice overs. It was little things, really, that mar the surface of this game. Nothing truly major is "wrong" with it, but it's just got some areas that feel a little hastily done. That's where the givens come into play: Launch title, Samurai Warriors, Handheld "limitations" (despite what the press releases would suggest, handhelds right now simply do not look like their bigger cousins. Being as strong is nice, but presentation is everything).
Samurai Warriors: Chronicles unique blend of player-centric narrative with the classic, well-polished w-force Warriors series game play stands out as one of the best offerings in the Samurai Warriors series. It's good looking, long, action-packed and fully voice acted. The little things this game does have going against it (Lack of even Ad Hoc co-op, unskippable cutscenes, thin overall customization) just don't add up to keep it off my "Must Have" list for the 3DS. With the Street Pass battle system as the cherry blossom on top of this Japanese sundae, I'd suggest Samurai Warriors Chronicles to any players who own a 3DS, new fans and old, looking for a game good enough that if you were to oh, say, misplace five DS games, including your only 3DS game Samurai Warriors Chronicles, you would run out and buy it again immediately*.
*It was me. I did this.
To close it out, I want to show some game play. Here's the trailer, which I can vouch at least shows what features are in the game (even if they're a little more spaced out in reality).