You couldn't possibly be blamed for being unable to keep up with each new Warriors release at this point. The Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors franchises have enjoyed a steady stream of new titles for about as long as anyone can remember, but thankfully, both series have maintained a good, consistent quality over the last few years, with Samurai Warriors 4 being a particular highlight.
Borrowing much from last year's brilliant hack and slasher is Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 – a Vita title that puts a more personal twist on the tales of feudal Japan. The Chronicles games are spin offs that focus on your own custom character, but unlike the Empires titles – which also support custom made officers – they slot your avatar into the main narrative, as you follow the trials and tribulations of warring Japanese clans. With Chronicles 3, you're plopped into the shoes of a warrior who's loyal to the Oda – a family that essentially set the country onto the path of unification in the 16th century.
The game's story mode takes around 10 to 15 hours to see through on the first run, as you're guided down a linear set of scenarios that shape Japan's future. Two separate elements make up the story mode: events and battles. The former involves dialogue between members of the title's large cast, while the latter consists of your classic Warriors gameplay, where you're tasked with taking down enemy officers, capturing bases, and generally just tearing things up as a near unstoppable samurai.
If you've played Samurai Warriors 4, then you'll likely know what to expect. The aforementioned dialogue scenes flesh out each character quite well, and since your own custom warrior is included in most events, the game is able to instil a decent sense of belonging. This is especially true when you're given dialogue choices, which determine the reactions of those that you're talking to. Yammering with your allies before a big battle is an effective way to shine a light on the giant cast, and it's surprising to see how much depth has been given to some of the less important personalities.
Indeed, where Samurai Warriors 4 separated your custom officer from the main story by dividing things into two different modes, Chronicles 3 combines them into one epic, and largely enjoyable plot. Seeing your character have a direct effect on historical proceedings and interact with legendary generals is something that fans will no doubt love, even if the bonding system – which determines how friendly you are with each officer – is a little tedious.
The fact that you can forge relationships with every single officer is impressive, particularly since each of them have their own hidden dialogue scenes that unlock when you become close friends, but the system's just not implemented with much care. Your friendship with other samurai rises as you fight alongside them, but with only around 20 or so main battles to attempt, forging bonds quickly becomes a grind. Fortunately, you can join your allies for tea in the town menu in order to help boost your relationship levels, but even then, all that you're doing is using your precious in-game money to see a few friendship bars jump slightly. In other words, it's still pretty boring.
Of course, you could just skip bond-building exercises entirely, but then you'd be missing out on battles that are only unlocked when you manage to raise your relationship levels with specific allies. Couple these extra stages in with a challenge mode that tasks you with completing battlefield objectives as quickly as possible, and you've actually got a pretty meaty portable title on your hands – it's just a shame that some of this content is blocked off by bouts of tedium.
Thankfully, the combat is as accessible and as fun as ever. Hyper attacks, which allow you to carve through whole swathes of enemy troops in just a few fast motions make a return, while all of the other mechanics from Samurai Warriors 4 are also present and correct, including devastating linked musou attacks. The big difference here, though, is the fact that you don't just play as your custom hero and a partner. Instead, you'll be taking control of up to four different officers at once, switching between them by tapping their icon on the touch screen. Obviously, this means that each battle is filled with more variety, as you swap between several different fighting styles on the fly.
The switching mechanic sounds good on paper, and it remains quite enjoyable in practice, but be warned: it definitely takes some getting used to. Swapping between you and your allies is easy enough – it's just that there's already so much to keep track of during combat. Officers on both sides spew lines of dialogue and orders in Japanese as you try to take down numerous opponents, and everything becomes a juggling act when you also have to worry about the positions and current condition of each playable character. And, when the game insists on pausing the action so that it can throw a new objective at you before you've even finished the task that you're currently undertaking, it's tempting to just put your Vita down and walk away from the chaos.
The saving grace, then, is that you can hop into the options menu and disable the title's annoying objective pop-ups. It goes without saying that we'd recommend doing so almost as soon as you begin a new save, because without such interruptions roughly every 30 seconds, Chronicles 3 is a far more manageable experience.
Likewise, when you first load up the release and it asks whether you want to begin the game in easy mode, you should probably accept the offer. The title boasts three difficulty levels: easy, normal, and hard, and on your first run, when you haven't had a chance to level up any of the playable characters, anything above easy can become an absolute slog. This is mostly because with each new battle, you'll be stuck with a new set of allies for that particular stage. As such, the only character that you'll be constantly levelling up is your own custom hero, and since the difficulty gradually rises as you get near the end of the narrative, fresh level five allies just don't cut it, and they'll likely get killed off while you're busy controlling a different officer.
That said, officers tend to level up quite quickly, and with a high level cap and an addictive weapon upgrade system which essentially acts as the game's loot hook, developing your ultimate team of four warriors can be a lot of fun, and gives the title an extended lifespan.
Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 is a solid handheld Warriors title that's let down by a couple of questionable design choices, namely the tedious bonds system, and the initially overwhelming battle objectives. However, look past these problems, and the personal touch of following the grand tale of Japan's unification as your own custom character is something that fans will adore, while the combat mechanics which Samurai Warriors 4 introduced act as the always enjoyable core of the experience.