+++ Completely new storyline and characters
++ New, much more in depth combat system
++ Moderately Difficult
++ Every character feels unique and several of them are supreme badasses
++ Story mode for each of the 15 characters is basically unique
++ Superb Voice Acting
++ Adds 3 force battles
+ Fairly well connected storyline
-- No Sekigahara
- Too many "comic relief" characters
- Some of the fifth weapons are nearly impossible to get
- Eventually gets somewhat repetitive
- Castle levels always have the same layout
- Strike Ninjas hit way too hard
Samurai Warriors is based on the Sengoku (Warring States) period in Japan, in which Japan eventually unified under a single warlord, Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Hideyoshi is naturally a character in this though he isn't playable in the vanilla game. The game centers around his lord for much of the period though, the legendary Nobunaga Oda, who seems to have as many stories about how he died as Rasputin (though he's not quite as tough as that mad monk), this game follows history somewhat closely and each individual character has a variety of battles in which they were actually present, some of them completely unique to the character. These characters span 70-80 years of actual history so you don't necessarily cross many of them on your path through the storyline and there isn't as much overlap as in DW. Amongst the characters in the game apart from Nobunaga are the famed strategist Shingen Takeda, the crazy drunken badass Kenshin Uesugi, the most legendary ninja in history Hanzo Hattori, and rear guard specialists Yukimura Sanada and Keiji Maeda. The traitor Mitsuhide Akechi also appears (in a rather sympathetic light compared to Kessen 3) to defeat the demon.
Even if a battle isn't unique this game now has missions to follow which vary greatly between characters and can lead you on completely different paths in a level. Additionally each of the battlefields feels completely unique and different areas of the same battle look different and more interesting, which is more or less unique in the DW universe. Thus, even though you may initially feel "jipped" that there is 1/3rd as many characters as there was in DW4 you gradually realize that each of the characters is totally unique and quite playable on their own.
Unlike DW this game has a different attack system and added several movement methods that were later added to the main series. The mid-air recovery is extremely useful, as is rolling, and jumping on horseback, along with that characters' speed enhances as they level up (using a much better experience based system instead of the "collect every +1 attack on this level" gimmick) so eventually some of the ninja characters move faster than most horses. The two ninjas can double jump, allowing them to access specific portions of levels that are completely inaccessible to other characters, and take useful shortcuts at other times.
The attacks themselves are now split into 4 groups, the square x 4 main attack, default charge attack, the first charge (after one normal attack) which hits them into the air and then follows them up or continues to combo them (as opposed to just knocking them in the air in DW) before smashing them back into the ground, the second charge attack which stuns the opponent but also has several different attacks within it, and the third charge attack which is generally an effective AoE attack. Additionally Musou now slows time around you and enables to do your regular attacks (in case your character's musou attack sucks you can use something else that will do substantially more damage than it would otherwise), which is important since "Musou KOs" is one of the experience based ratings you'll get at the end of the stage. While on Horseback every character in SW attacks on one side of their horse like Ma Chao and this enables you to play entire stages on horse if you wish (and adds another layer of diversity to the game) Naturally much of this is more intricate than DW's very simple system and allows for quite a bit of variety when playing different characters, though of course some are better than others.
This game also adds 3 side battles so it's not just "red vs blue" like every DW to date. Now you can wind up fighting 2 different forces while they're busy trying to kill each other, or occasionally assist one force against the other along mission paths. There aren't a ton of these battles but each of the one's present is quite enjoyable. Okehazama is probably my favorite level in the basic game since it was the first 3 side battle I fought and there's lots of different ways for the battle to end (as opposed to just bumrush the commander).
There are several flaws with the vanilla game, Chaos is present but immensely difficult on anything but the first stages (and still ridiculously hard then) as stats max out fairly low for most characters (only Maeda and Kenshin really have a shot). Strike Ninjas hit for almost half your HP on Hard and Chaos (and rocket you across the map), and even on Hard it is very troublesome to get some of the 5th weapons. Yukimura Sanada's (this game's Zhao Yun) weapon requires you to get 1000 KOs in the hardest mission in teh game while succeeding at all missions and keeping all of your generals alive, for instance, which takes 20-30 attempts to actually accomplish assuming you played perfectly.
Final Score: 9/10
Samurai Warriors Xtreme Legends
+++ Adds 4 new characters to the mix with their own unique, well polished storylines
++ Adds 6th Weapons for each of the original characters
++ Greatly improves the leveling system
++ Balances several enemy types
++ Adds a new survival mode which kicks ass
++ Retreat at Kanegasakai is the best level in both games
-- A few of the 6th weapons are nearly impossible without a second character
- Still has that terrible title
This game essentially is what an XL expansion should be, additional characters and balancing alongside new content for each of the original characters. No retarded gimmicky modes like Xtreme or Destiny here, simply more, better content and various improvements to the original game. The limit for leveling of characters has increased by 100 points per stat, so now each character can perform reasonably well on hard and functionally well on Chaos. Essentially Chaos becomes a slightly harder version of Hard instead of being impossible for most characters, and getting 6th weapons on Chaos is extraordinarily difficult (though it feels quite rewarding). Alongside SW this is the only game I've really done everything there is to do in, I now have each character close to being maxed out and all of their 5th/6th weapons.
The new characters added include Tadakatsu Honda, Hideyoshi, Inahime, and Yoshimoto Imagawa. Imagawa is the only weak character here, though his attack pattern is unique and halfway decent, he's basically retarded in the game (and he was one of the first lords killed by Nobunaga in reality so the storyline is pretty much out of nowhere). Honda is a huge addition however, as he is the Lu Bu of this particular storyline, albeit Maeda and Uesugi are actually better in game. Ina is Honda's daughter and fights with a bow in a style completely unique to every other character up until the newly designed bow characters in Strikeforce. She basically hits people with the bow prior to opening fire at the end of each combo and hitting everything in a wide swath in front of her for quite a load of damage, her first level is also the most fun level for powerleveling since it is well balanced and enables you to kill several hundred enemies while still fulfilling every mission requirement and sealing every stronghold (without having to backtrack at all). It's not as quick as Guan Yu's Escape in DW5 but it is still very enjoyable.
This combined with SW make for one hell of an experience, though the splitting of the game into two needlessly ultimately hampers this score a bit. Still when combined this is a near perfect design for the genre and would deserve a 10 in some alternate universe. However since we still have to function in reality I can only give it a modest score for being half a game. I've always thought Koei could produce a masterpiece but I didn't realize that this game was probably the height of their creations, the subsequent SW and Orochi games are all unfortunately terrible.
Final Score: 8.5/10