The Nintendo 3DS, and Tecmo Koei's "Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3". That's a mash-up I never thought would happen. After having played it for a while, and having sampled the way it's deeply involved features were applied on the 3DS I can kind of understand why I felt that way in the first place. Certain aspects of this game port did a huge disservice to the gamer, and functionally made things more difficult than they should have been. Without disclosing all of that intended point in one paragraph, and spoiling the purpose of this review early on I will say that sometimes one screen is better than two ...
For those of you unfamiliar with the "Samurai Warriors", or "Dynasty Warriors" franchise you'll find that each game in the allotted series is an objective based action RPG experience with a historical timeline of events geared towards driving the exclusively included story forward. Most, if not all games in said franchises feature epic campaigns with various warring Asian empires/dynasties involved who are each trying to overpower one another for some reason. The games are always rich with content including a variety of different combat-centric modes of play, historical references, and a story mode that centers around a base conflict. In the midst of it all you get to play as a created character, or a character from a selection of available or unlockable protagonists. These characters of choice help to win the wars, or engagements for the generals, and warlords they choose to align with, or whom they are assigned to. When it comes to the "Samurai Warriors" games your duty as a samurai warrior will of course be combat related, and objective oriented throughout all modes of play. In the way of objectives there are always targets laid out for you in the form of characters of interest whom you must defeat with your weapons/abilities as well as lesser soldiers who attack in army sized hordes that must be defeated as well. Objectives do vary as you progress in said games, but you'll find that the provided challenges always come with a time oriented nature.
While this, in general is the basis for most "Samurai Warriors", and "Dynasty Warriors" games the developer does try to innovate, and expand upon what is offered with each new installment. In the case of "Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3" for the 3DS you'll find that it's no exception to this rule. It comes packed with the usual action RPG elements, a deeply involved story that covers a specific timeline of historical events, and some extra features that offer gameplay options beyond the core story. New to the series is a dual screen experience that will have the gamer battling as usual in the various 3D environments while micro-managing a team of four samurai who can be activated, and manipulated via an animated map that is located on the 3DS's bottom touch screen.
When the game begins the player will be tasked with creating a custom female, or male character in traditional Tecmo Koei style. By this I mean everything from the name of said character to sectional body parts/features, and added on accessories can be tweaked to your liking using the limited, but nice supply of immediately available options. Once this process is complete you, and your character will be drawn into an animated cutscene involving the current Daimyo, and the soon to be Daimyo, 'Oda Nobunga'. The scenario plays out in a semi-flashback style showing events leading up to the betrayal of the current Daimyo by his own brother, and shortly afterwards a return to the current situation. Siding with 'Oda Nobunga' (The Fool of Owari), or not through a series of interactive questions you will become a part of his warring faction. As it turns out Oda Nobunga's ambitions, which are also now your own are to rule with an iron fist, and let no one stand in his way. In light of his goal which was inspired by the passing previous Daimyo, Nobunga aims to conquer all lands no matter what the cost even if said mission requires the killing of kin, or the recruiting of enemies.
After the animated intro, and character setup you will be thrust immediately into the heart of battle via the 'Story Mode'. In this hands-on introduction to the gameplay elements you will be bombarded with screens of text, and explanations of various things regarding the top screen action RPG part of the experience, and the functionality of the bottom touch screen map. In general the action RPG portion of gameplay remains as it always has been, but with a twist that ties-in the new character switching options. You'll face off against hordes of lesser enemies, enemies of interest (aka, targets), and boss characters whom must be defeated in order to declare the mission objectives at hand a success. To do this you'll be attacking in a simple combo style using two face buttons (X & Y) while mixing them up to get different attack results. The additional abilities you have available come in the form of all powerful Mosou attacks, and spirit attacks that each require the building up of a specific meter in order to be used. Once built up each special attack acts as a high damage screen clearing combo with flashy results. As you defeat enemies via the available methods the combo count will rise in an onscreen number that keeps count of the amount of kills you have scored. Expect the combo count to reach the high hundreds well before you've fully completed any mission outing.
For movement in the game you'll be using the 3DS thumbpad to move your selected character around the battlefields as well as the 'L. Shoulder' button to adjust/focus the camera angle. The left shoulder button also doubles as a means of defense should you become overwhelmed in a fight. If you own the 'New 3DS' camera movement is easily adjusted through the additional thumbstick. As far as your character goes he/she will not be the only character that you'll be controlling, or managing in each of the missions. Using the map screen, which shows all areas of interest, objective points, and enemies/allies in a labyrinthine display you will be able to tap the surrounding four character avatars to switch between them on the upper screen. While not in use the characters can be instructed to wait, or move around freely. This will benefit you in that having characters placed strategically across the map will allow you to complete objectives more easily. The objectives, like the instructional texts will pop-up abruptly onscreen letting you know where you should be, and how long you've got to get there in order to get what needs to be done, done.
After each completed mission you will unlock, and make available some after mission options that will assist you in improving upon your characters' weaponry as well as help in building upon the story's lore. During battles some enemies will drop health, mosou, weapons, gold, EXP points, and other items. By collecting these things (specifically the weapon related items), and completing a timeline event you can upgrade weapons with element boosts, additional effects, and overall stat improvements. This is effectively how your characters become more powerful in-game. Outside of story mode, and in 'Challenge Mode' you can also unlock accessories that can be equipped in your characters' equipment slots which act to further boost their stats, and RPG related effects. In the way of earned story mode extras you'll find that you can unlock animated sequences with event related characters that will in turn give you a better understanding of the game's plot. This along with the bonus 'Tea Party' interactions can improve character relationships making them better allies in the battles at hand.
As far as 'Challenge Mode' goes it's basically the arcade version of what the story had to offer. In it your created character, and three other random characters will be assigned to complete a series of random objectives on a certain map. The gameplay functions the same as in 'Story Mode', but is a timed event that is geared towards seeing if you can complete all the tasks, and gain the highest score through the point power-ups that are dropped from defeated enemies. High scores after fully completed missions can be uploaded to a global leaderboard.
Also listed as a mode on the main menu is 'Network'. While a return fan of the series would think this to be something akin to an actual playable mode from the 'Dynasty Warriors', or 'Samurai Warriors' console games it is solely related to Nintendo's spotpass, and streetpass functions. By logging into the game, and playing it with spotpass active you can earn some points that can be spent in the 'Challenge Mode' menu on elemental boosts, extra gold, and even accessories that will enhance the characters they are assigned to. In fact I got 10,000 points today just for having played the 'Challenge Mode' earlier in the week. I'm sure there are rules regarding the free perks, but it's probably in your best interest to use the spotpass/streetpass feature.
Lastly the game has two different modes, or menus that house the games more informative, and lucrative features. In the 'Encyclopedia' you will find an in-depth timeline of events surrounding the history of the game, character descriptions, and location facts. This is there to help gamers better learn the reasoning behind their roles, and the actions of everyone involved. Tecmo Koei really invests their all in making this 'Samurai Warriors' informational section one of the game's richest features. Beyond that you'll find the one stop hub for all the unlockable art, CG scenes, music, and other extras that can be unlocked by playing through the game. This hub I speak of is known in-game as the, "Vault", and fittingly so. As with any extras offerings it gives the gamer something to do outside of the two core modes of play. A certain amount of added replay value.
The Verdict ...
Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 on the 3DS is a game that overly complicates the functionality of the intended experience. While the game is manageable to some extent dedicating the required attention to two screens really makes the tasks at hand difficult, and chaotic. You'll by swinging your weapon at a horde of enemies one second on the top screen, and then be interrupted by game freezing pop-ups that tell you indirectly to switch focus to the map, and the additional characters at the bottom touch screen in order to complete more objectives. Assigning tasks to each team member would help, but that too distracts you from the action portion of the game going on at the top screen. It's like the developer didn't know which of the two screen functions, or aspects of gameplay were more important, and in that mindset figured that evening the use of both would serve to make a properly focused gaming experience. It turned out that that development decision was wrong, and that the game was more scatterbrained than not. As far as the graphics, soundtrack, and features go it's not a bad game. In fact it looks, and sounds amazing for a 3DS game. In the end though the two screen orientation did the game a huge disservice, and unfortunately kept me from giving it the praise it no doubt warranted on the PS Vita. I'm gonna say pass on this version, and pick up the PS Vita version if you can. I hear it's worlds better.