Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 marks the Chronicles series' first foray onto the Vita. While there have been other Warriors games on the great handheld system, the Chronicles series has a few key differences to set it apart.
You will primarily play as your own created character. While this is possible in other Warriors games, namely the Empires series, this time the created warrior is the main character. You will follow their journey through the Sengoku time period and work for different factions as you do your part to unite feudal Japan. There is a fair bit of fiction here, since the person you created didn't exist, but it is a good way to experience the timeline and get a feel for when things happened. While I like the more focused character or faction stories, I have wanted one that just went through the whole history, so it is easier to grasp the chronological order of events.
Granted, this one doesn't go through everything, but it also includes some theoretical plot lines, which I enjoyed in one of the recent Dynasty Warriors games. Before and after each battle there are some scenes, which may allow you to increase your friendship with the various officers. There are also many extra scenes that either give you an opportunity to raise friendship, or open up the theoretical battles. It is possible to ignore most scenes if you are so inclined. Friendship can be raised at the teahouse, and there is a button on the stage select screen that will filter out the events and leave only the battles.
The other thing that sets it apart is during battle. Where before you controlled one or two characters, you now control up to four. Each can be quickly switched between, but there are times where you cannot use some of the characters because of the story. While it is really nice to have multiple characters to help you complete all the objectives, the game is balanced for this, so the objectives are all over the map. This can make things much more hectic than I would like. Most objectives are required to finish the map, but there are a few extras for bonuses. It can make you scramble, but at least they try to make it worth it. However, I still wouldn't mind a little less stress in some of the battles.
Besides scrambling around the battlefield, there is another thing that makes the later levels harder. Often times you are using new characters for a battle, so they start at the default level, which is five. At first I felt bad about using my higher level create-a-warrior (CAW) to tear through enemies, but towards the end, it was necessary. If the first time you can use a particular person is later on, and their default level is far below the level of enemies, it makes the battle harder than it should be. Can you kill the officers? Yes, but it will take time. You can still make it through battles, so I shouldn't really complain, but you will likely fail a few missions and have to replay the battle again. Afterwards, the new characters should unlock, so you can actually raise their levels and buff up their weapons.
The AI in the battles can be really hit or miss. Half the time they go where they are needed, so it doesn't seem like you have to baby them. Then, the other half of the time, they just sit around somewhere and don't do much. Therefore, you do have to baby them and set their destination. So either you waste time checking them, or run the risk of them not helping, both of which are an inconvenience.
Other than that, battles still function the same as they did in Samurai Warriors 4. Square is your normal attack and triangle is your awesome hyper attack. Each has different combo enders if you use the opposite button at different points in the combo. Hyper attacks are great for mowing down grunts, but are ineffective on lieutenants. Each character can also use a War Art ability, like restoring health or weakening the enemy's defense. They function similarly to the strategy cards in the Dynasty Warriors Empires series. I still like the combat, although the hyper attacks seem to have been weakened somewhat.
Besides the story mode, there is also Challenge Mode. You pick four characters and start in a castle. There is a time limit and you are given quests to complete. If you complete the quest, you get a reward and bonus time. The idea is to complete as many quests as possible and build up points. Before time runs out, a character (or multiple depending on the castle chosen) must make it to the exit point. If you don't, you won't get all of the points you earned. At least you get to keep some. Sadly, you don't get experience in this mode, but the points can be used to buy some really good stuff, including the strongest weapons.
The engine is based of of Samurai Warriors 4, but also has some other changes beside the story and character focus. The weapons have also changed. It took me a bit to understand and then "get" it, but it is a nice system that I ended up really liking. You will start with 5 weapons of the lowest tier, one each for fire, ice, thunder, earth and wind (there still is death element, but you don't start with a weapon that has it). Some of the items you find in the stage are elemental stones that will give experience and stat boosts to weapons of the same element. At the end of the stage, you choose which participant gets the stone, and it automatically adds the boosts to it. Once it reaches the max level, you can visit the blacksmith to have it upgraded to the next tier. If you want, you can assign an element to each character's weapon, or buff up all the weapons of a single character. It's a very effective way of making sure the weapons level up with your characters, and you can of course put on some skills to help out.
The UI for battles isn't intrusive on the Vita's screen, but the game looks even better on the Playstation TV. The controller just feels better to me for Samurai Warriors action. The game still plays fine on the Vita, so no worries there. Samurai Warriors Chronicles 3 is a lot of fun, but not quite as fun as Samurai Warriors 4. The hectic four person battles can make it really hard to keep track of everything, but it's still a good game to get your hack and slash fix on to go. Plus, the new weapon upgrade is really nice once I figured it out and got used to the changes.