Note: This is a review for the video game Samurai Warriors 2. Also, this is just my personal opinion on the matter.
Samurai Warriors 2 is how I got my start. I was introduced to the franchise in middle school and the rest was history. As I got older, I focused more on researching the figures in the game rather than playing it. Now that I am trying to make studying Japanese history my full time job, I have been nostalgic for the days I used to stay up late, playing this game. To fix this, I am finally going to write the article I have been wanting to write for almost a year now. It’s just my opinion, but I believe that Samurai Warriors 2 is the best game in the entire franchise.
Samurai Warriors 2, also known as Sengoku Musou 2, came to Playstation 2s and Xbox 360s in 2006, following the heels of the first game which came out only two years prior. Created by Koei, who is famous for its Dynasty Warriors franchise, this had the exact same elements but the setting was the Sengoku Jidai in Japan instead of the Three Kingdoms era in China. Samurai Warriors 2 had a similar set up to its Chinese counterpart, Dynasty Warriors 5, where each character had their own story to tell. Samurai Warriors 2 also had a brighter color palette than the first game in the series, which brought about a certain beauty to the game.
Samurai Warriors 2 extends a longer period of time than the original. The first game mainly focused on the age of Oda Nobunaga. This is apparent from the character roster, many of which were people who lived during this time with a few exceptions, like Sanada Yukimura and Date Masamune. Samurai Warriors 2 goes beyond Oda Nobunaga and includes Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s rule, followed by the Sekigahara Campaign. This also means we are introduced to more people who lived beyond the age of Oda Nobunaga.
While this does have a smaller roster than other games that have came out in recent years, this is where some of the most popular characters in the entire franchise get their introduction. The list of characters includes:
- Sanada Yukimura
- Maeda Keiji
- Oda Nobunaga
- Akechi Mitsuhide
- Toyotomi Hideyoshi
- Honda Tadakatsu
- Saika Magoichi
- Date Masamune
- Hattori Hanzō
- Uesugi Kenshin
- Takeda Shingen
- Okuni (no personal story mode)
- Mori Ranmaru (no personal story mode)
- Tokugawa Ieyasu*
- Azai Nagamasa*
- Miyamoto Musashi*
- Shimazu Yoshihiro*
- Fūma Kotaro*
- Naoe Kanetsugu*
- Shima Sakon*
- Ishida Mitsunari*
- Tachibana Ginchiyo*
- Shibata Katsuie (NPC)*
- Sasaki Kojirō (NPC)*
* New characters to the game
While the characters of Imagawa Yoshimoto, Ishikawa Goemon and Kunoichi were removed from this installment, the creators made up for the removal of those three by bringing in a lot of new playable characters, many who became important during the Sekigahara Campaign.
It is this part right here that makes me nostalgic. In recent years, it seems that the Samurai Warriors franchise has moved in a different direction. The stories are following closer to history. The most recent game to do this was Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada which was released 2016. While I liked how they aged the characters, presented an almost accurate timeline of events, side missions and castle settings, I felt like it lacked something the previous games had. What drew me into Samurai Warriors 2 was not just the gameplay and the stages, but how I got to know the characters through their individual stories. The original stories, whether or not they were close to history, is what kept me coming back. To show this, I will give a few examples from my favorite stories to come from this game.
Akechi Mitsuhide/Saika Magoichi
Here are two personal stories that overlap one another to create one. Starting with Akechi Mitsuhide, his story mode begins with the retreat at Kanegasaki. Before the first battle, the opening video has Mitsuhide walking in the rain, contemplating on joining the Oda forces and serving Nobunaga. He finally does and he helps his lord retreat after his brother-in-law, Azai Nagamasa, betrayed him to help the Asakura. He begins to question his loyalties to Nobunaga when they attack Nagamasa again at the Siege of Odani Castle, thinking that Nobunaga is being extremely ruthless. Nagamasa surrenders to Mitsuhide, to which he commits suicide in front of Nobunaga with Mitsuhide’s sword. Nobunaga then turns his focus to the Saika where he orders all to be killed to make them pay for fighting against the Oda. Mitsuhide is appalled at the outcome and begins to realize that he does not need to serve anyone to create a better Japan: he can do that himself. He leads an army to Honnōji and attacks Nobunaga. When it comes to dealing the final blow, Mitsuhide cannot take Nobunaga’s life. He then states that control of the land is not what he wants, rather Mitsuhide wants to see the world as only Nobunaga can make it. When it seems like they are about to put aside their differences, Nobunaga is killed by Saika Magoichi, who snipes him from a rooftop.
Saika Magoichi’s story up until this point has been extremely eventful. He is hired by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, an old friend, to assist him and the Oda army when facing off against Azai Nagamasa at the Battle of Anegawa. Once he leads them to victory, he heads back home, but because he is a mercenary, he gets called back into action, this time fighting against Nobunaga. He fights along those who are holding their ground against Nobunaga at Ishiyama Honganji. Unfortunately, because he fought against Nobunaga, he sends an army to destroy the Saika. Hideyoshi comes to Magoichi to explain what happened, but Magoichi does not want to hear it. He manages to escape but he has sworn to get revenge on Nobunaga. He manages to do so, but he is left pondering over the final words Nobunaga said to him, “What do you desire?”. Magoichi believes that because he killed Nobunaga that he got everything he desired, but he’s unsure what to do next, or what anyone would do next since Nobunaga is dead. Mitsuhide finds Magoichi and orders his men to get him.
Before the big battle at Yamazaki, Magoichi finds himself in a hut with Hideyoshi sitting next to a fire. He explains that he needs Magoichi’s help to defeat Mitsuhide and take control of the land. Magoichi gets upset, saying that Mitsuhide was not the one who killed Nobunaga and the one Hideyoshi should want to kill would be him. Hideyoshi explains that killing him will not bring Nobunaga back and he would just end up losing two friends instead of one. Hideyoshi finally convinces him to fight and it is on to Yamazaki.
Here is where the storylines change to fit the characters. Mitsuhide’s story mode ends with him winning at the Battle of Yamazaki, bringing an end to the wars. He talks to himself in his castle, stating that this is the land that he wanted to create and that the only thing that is missing is Nobunaga. He feels a presence, which happens to be Nobunaga’s spirit standing behind him, and Mitsuhide turns to face him, only for the spirit to disappear. Nobunaga’s last words to Mitsuhide echo throughout the keep, leaving Mitsuhide on the verge of tears.
Saika Magoichi’s story ends more tragically. He fights at Yamazaki but becomes mortally wounded towards the end of the battle. He manages to return to the main camp to which he begins to realize the his is at death’s door. Hideyoshi becomes distraught as he realizes that his friend is about to die in his arms. He promises to create a world where everyone can be happy, but he wants Magoichi to live to see the land that he creates. Sadly, Magoichi dies in Hideyoshi’s arms and Hideyoshi cries for the loss of his friend. Do not worry, though, Magoichi lives on in another storyline, to which he becomes an ally to Date Masamune.
Naoe Kanetsugu is another character that has an interesting storyline. The first half of the story mode seems pretty accurate, with him serving under Uesugi Kenshin at Kawanakajima and Tedorigawa, but Kanetsugu does not really branch out on his own until the Siege of Odawara Castle. Fans of the Dynasty Warriors franchise get a treat with the next event in Naoe Kanetsugu’s storyline. Ishida Mitsunari begins going over how the Toyotomi are close to taking over the land due to rulers like Date Masamune surrendering peacefully or destroying enemies with their superior numbers. Kanetsugu points out that there is more to everything than just numbers. He points out that honor is the best policy and writes out the Ishida clan mon on the ground with his sword, and translates it: “One for all and all for one and may Heaven bless the land.”** He swears a vow of honor with Mitsunari and Sanada Yukimura, who happens to overhear their discussion and decides to join them. This looks very similar to the Peach Garden Oath that Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei swear to in Dynasty Warriors, which is based off The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in which the Peach Garden Oath opens the book. Much like the Peach Garden Oath, it too is broken. Naoe Kanetsugu learns of Mitsunari’s defeat at Sekigahara but his whereabouts are unknown. With Date Masamune drawing close, Kanetsugu knows that he has to protect his men. Maeda Keiji helps Kanetsugu out with the retreat from Hasedō. It is after their retreat that they learn that Mitsunari was executed. While his men are celebrating their escape, Kanetsugu wonders off and Keiji becomes suspicious. To atone for the loss at Sekigahara, Kanetsugu prepares for seppuku, but is stopped by Keiji, who knock some sense into him. Keiji reminds him that yes, Mitsunari is dead, but he did refuse his last meal, because he did not want to accept any favors from the enemy. Keiji points out that Mitsunari never broke his promise to Kanetsugu, and encourages him to live on. Kanetsugu joins up with Yukimura and Keiji to take on the Tokugawa at Edo Castle. They then celebrate their victory honoring Mitsunari.
**This is one of the translations that has been put forth.
The last story I will touch on is that of Azai Nagamasa. It is an unsuspecting one, but it is well executed. If we followed history, Nagamasa would not be in very many battles. To counter this, his story is done in Twilight Zone fashion. His story starts off with his betrayal to Oda Nobunaga. After the battle, he apologies to Oichi, who is his wife and Nobunaga’s sister, for he is only trying to do what is right. He faces Nobunaga at the Battle of Anegawa, and twisting history a bit, ends up defeating him there. This defeat makes others rebel against Nobunaga at Mount Usa, which is just a code name for Mount Hiei from what I can gather. Nagamasa fails to kill Nobunaga, which leads to the final fight at Odani Castle. Putting aside his feelings, Nagamasa finally kills Nobunaga, but he is saddened because he feels like he has lost both honor, for killing his brother-in-law, and love, for going against Oichi’s family. Now that Nobunaga was dead, Ieyasu challenges Nagamasa at Shizugatake to take control of Nobunaga’s Japan. Before the battle begins, he expresses how he feels to Oichi, to which he tells her that if she wants to leave him, she can, but he will not watch her walk away. When he turns around, Oichi has disappeared, which leaves him disheartened, but Oichi returns with a wisteria flower in hand and reminds her husband that he has never lost love nor honor. This renewed vow pushes Nagamasa to defeat his enemies so he can honor his brother-in-law by realizing Nobunaga’s dream. Once Nagamasa wins at Shizugatake, he has united Japan. He falls asleep while holding council at his castle and wakes up at Kanegasaki. He realizes that everything that happened was just a dream. With a clearer idea of the future and knowing that he will be able to keep both his honor and love, he presses on to defeat Nobunaga.
Samurai Warriors 2, to me, will be the greatest video game in the franchise because it really does not follow history. While I do like how they went about Spirit of Sanada, because it is almost mirrors history, I feel like it is lacking something. The stories allowed for the player to get to know the characters on a deeper level. To me, it feels like the characters have more personality when we are given a more fictionalized version of them rather than following history. Again, this is just my preference and I am not saying that the other games are bad. After playing the other games, something always makes me want to come back to Samurai Warriors 2 and I think that speaks volumes on the type of game it is. The game is almost twenty years old and it still holds up extremely well. It is a definite nostalgic trip and if you have not played it, I would recommend you try to find a way to play it to give it a try. For me, Samurai Warriors 2 will always have a special place in my heart, because it sparked my love for Japanese history, mainly, the Sengoku Jidai, which led to this website and eventually the YouTube channel.
To the game that brought me here and brought me so much joy, thanks for the memories.