- Developer: KOEI TECMO
- Publisher: KOEI TECMO EUROPE
- Release date: 24/6/2021
- Price: £54.99/$59.99
- Review code provided by KOEI TECMO EUROPE
Introducing: Samurai Warriors 5 Review
If you’re an avid Switch fan, like myself, chances are you’ve played one of the Hyrule Warriors games or maybe even Fire Emblem Warriors. To be fair, given the number of times those games were ported, you may well have played some of them on 3DS or even WiiU. Remember those old relics?
Despite ploughing hours and hours into the Hyrule Warriors games on WiiU, 3DS and Switch, I had never played more than a few minutes of any of the Samurai Warriors or Dynasty Warriors games, which the Hyrule-centric spin-offs were based on. Suffice to say I was pretty excited to take a look at the mainline series and have a play with Nobunaga and his big chopper!
Unifying Japan – 1000 deaths at a time
Unlike the Hyrule Warriors games, the story in Samurai Warriors 5 is a bit more coherent. Instead of convoluted plot twists designed to shoehorn in an entire series’ worth of characters, the game tells the tale of Oda Nobunaga, Daimyo on a quest to unify Japan during the Sengoku period.
Telling a tale which is allegedly fairly historically accurate, you experience the twists and turns of Nobunaga’s tumultuous rise to power and the many betrayals and shocks he experiences along the way. The story follows Nobunaga through two different periods in his life, starting with the younger cockier Warlord, before jumping forward to his later years where he seems somewhat jaded with his quest to unify Japan.
On the way there are lots of exciting moments and a fair bit of drama, as you would expect from a period notable for its warring clans and violent betrayals. The game manages to tell the tale from both Nobunaga’s perspective and also that of Mitsuhide Akechi, who begins as Nobunaga’s enemy, before joining him on his quest. Mitsuhide’s chapters allow you to see events from a different perspective at various points throughout the story and serves to provide an interesting counterpoint.
Overall the story keeps everything engaging, but can be hard to follow during battles, with a Japanese voice track forcing you to read all the text, which can be challenging at the same time as juggling a 2000 hit combo.
Whilst the story is (as far as I can ascertain) grounded in reality, the gameplay is more of the same crazy Musou action you love (or hate)! Samurai Warriors 5 feels like a simplification compared to the Hyrule Warriors games (and even more so compared to Fire Emblem Warriors). Despite that, it plays very similarly to any other Musou games. If you have bounced off any previous games in the series, I’m afraid to say you’ll find Samurai Warriors 5 unlikely to be to your tastes. Those that have enjoyed other games in the series however, are in for a treat. Samurai Warriors 5 manages to offer a nice spin on the combat mechanics which have served the series well.
For the uninitiated, Musou games generally involve large-scale battles, where your character can easily slash through 50 enemies at a time, sending hordes flying and racking up combos in the thousands with relative ease. Combat, rather than focusing on intense battles with one enemy, focuses more on cleaning up the map and corralling enemies and your teammates around the map to complete objectives such as capturing forts.
Where Samurai Warriors 5 deviates from other games in the series is the introduction of ultimate attacks, which are a pool of unlockable moves which can clear huge swathes of enemies in one strike. These are a little like the special attacks in previous games, but require no special resources to build up, instead relying on a cooldown period after each use. The introduction of ultimates gives you more ready access to a range of big, flashy moves and helps keen this entry feeling even more flashy and over-the-top than its predecessors.
Fear the man who has practised one strike ten thousand times
Combat is also changed up by the removal of the gold power-up chunks seen in Hyrule Warriors. This negates the need to go hunting for resources in order to use your most powerful moves. Moment to moment combat is handled using the age old system of weak and strong attacks, with strings of weak attacks followed by one strong unlocking different elaborate combos dependent on the number of weak attacks unleashed first. As you progress, you unlock a host of different characters each with very different playstyles, from the more strightforward Nobunaga with his sword, to characters with bows, scythes and even the odd mage thrown in for good measure.
The main mode of the game, titled Musou mode, follows the stories of Nobunaga and Mitsuhide over 6 chapters, whilst the game also includes Citadel mode, which is more of a free mode, with randomised enemies and objectives making up a simplistic tower defense scenario. Both modes have an overarching system of unlocks, with characters gaining XP and ability points which then feeds in to a web of perks and new moves. With 39 unlockable characters and the huge range of unlockable perks and weapons, as well as the ability to improve each character’s skill with different weapons types, there is a huge amount of content here for those that want to go deep. Citadel mode adds to this with a range of farmable resources which feed back into the various buildings in your castle, subsequently providing a range of unlocks that feed the wider upgrade system.
The combat and unlockables combine nicely to help Samurai Warriors 5 get its hooks into you and keep you coming back for the duration of the game’s 20 hour or so campaign.
Samurai Warriors 5 uses a cel-shaded graphical style, not unlike Japanese ink block paintings. The end result is quite striking style compared to the more drab and generic graphical style of older Dynasty and Samurai Warriors games. Player models have bags of style and a little bit more of an anime look, which helps provide the series with a bit of a soft reboot. As is always the case with the series, enemy models are fairly simple and each type is identical, with hordes of generic soldiers sometimes looking a bit odd. This is understandable when you are fighting several hundred on screen at once, but with each console generation this becomes a little more jarring.
Environments are simple, but nice enough to look at. They tend to be based mostly on towns rather than countryside environments. A little more variety in the places you fight would help make things even more interesting.
Menus are artfully designed, with everything looking vibrant and painterly and very easy to navigate, despite the layers of complexity in the different systems.
Everything sounds great, with the crashing cheese-metal soundtrack of previous games replaced with a more traditional soundtrack befitting the source material. The game includes a great Japanese voice track, but it can be difficult to keep track of the dialogue during battles if you don’t speak Japanese. Battles are so chaotic (in a good way) that reading the subtitles becomes almost impossible. This can make some of the twists and turns a little harder to follow.
What’s that coming over the hill?
Musou games aren’t generally known for their slick performance. Fans in the past have often shrugged these issues off as par for the course when defending their favourite games in the series, but Samurai Warriors 5 seems to buck this trend to an extent. The frame-rate issues which plague Hyrule Warriors and its sequel are no longer present here, with everything feeling a bit smoother and easier on the eyes. Draw distance for enemies is shockingly short, but again this is a series staple. Over time you learn to accept it, but it is a little jarring and detracts from the overall experience. Like many of the niggles of Musou games, you either learn to live with it or you are put off completely.
The game manages to run at a nice clear resolution (I ain’t no Digital Foundry) in both handheld and docked, something which is becoming a rarity for some of the cross-platform third party games at this stage in the Switch’s life cycle.
Samurai Warriors 5 offers a fresh take on the series, both visually and in terms of how it plays. The core gameplay hasn’t been shaken up too much, but everything feels different enough to the older games to keep old fans happy. The campaign mode will keep players busy for a while, especially for those who go back and complete it on the harder difficulty. Post game content manages to keep things interesting and online and local coop is available to anyone with a willing partner. The gameplay is a little more grounded than Hyrule Warriors, given the nature of the characters involved, but the compelling story kept me engrossed until the end. Series veterans may find the combat a little simplified, with things like keeps and crafting removed, but many of the new additions help to add new, easier to follow layers to the combat.
- Cutting through swathes of enemies never gets old
- Deep customisation options ensure you are always progressing
- The range of combat styles keeps everything interesting
- The usual draw-distance issues are present
- Story is hard to follow during combat