Published on August 12th, 2021 | by Ignis
REVIEW: SAMURAI WARRIORS 5
The Warriors series is one that I hold very near and dear to my heart. With my introduction being Dynasty Warriors 3 for the PS2, I’ve played every main entry Warriors title and adore the hack-and-slash that it brings to the table. Dynasty Warriors has always been the traditional game that doesn’t take a lot of risks, while Samurai Warriors has been the experimental game in the series where they try new things and splice them into the Dynasty Warriors formula later down the track; most Samurai Warriors titles are quite different from one another, and this is certainly the case with the 5th main entry in the Samurai Warriors series.
Taking a page from their last title Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada, Tecmo Koei have essentially rebooted the series and are looking to tell a more focused story on one particular part of the Sengoku era of Japan. Characters have been rebooted, movesets have changed with an all new story behind it.
Story/Concept: Taking place during the Sengoku era of Japan, we follow the journey of our hero Nobunaga Oda who starts off as a small daimyo looking to carve out his own piece of Japan, following his journey to becoming the most dominant warlord in Japan, effectively uniting the country and then his eventual fall from grace.
Conceptually this is the exact same storyline that Samurai Warriors has been following for years now, they’ve directed the focus however specifically on Nobunaga and his own journey. Other warlords that traditionally got their own time in the spotlight (Ieyasu Tokugawa, Kenshin Uesugi, Shingen Takeda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi for example) are relegated to side characters with the entire story focusing on Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi, the man who would eventually betray Nobunaga and bring about his end at Honnoji temple. This is something that has never really been covered before and seeing the bond between these two grow knowing exactly how it’s going to end was a real treat and watching both Nobunaga and Mitsuhide change from young, bright Samurai to becoming battle hardened war veterans is pretty amazing.
The focus on the Oda clan allows a few characters to build bonds with each other and give each of them a level of depth not found in other titles. While previous games have always done this in a campy, over-the-top manner; SW5 seeks to do this differently by attempting to flesh out a small number of heros from this era rather than giving a bloated roster their 10 seconds of fame – for the most part I think it does this quite successfully. In doing this, Samurai Warriors 5 takes a more story oriented approach, rather then using the story as a plot device to move to the next battle, they attempt to give someone like Nobunaga a reason for what he’s doing rather then a battle happening simply because it’s the correct time to do so. If I was to have a gripe about the story, it would be that it spends far too long with everyone just being best friends. The first 5 to 10 hours of the game is almost too light-hearted, death is taken lightly. Rather then attempting to form strategic alliances, friendships are made because everyone just gets along. Fortunately, the good news is it doesn’t stay this way forever – things do definitely take a dark turn and the game becomes very serious and this is when I felt it was at it’s best. When people start having skeletons in their closet, when death starts to weigh more heavily on their mind and rifts start to form between each other.
By the end of the game, I can honestly say that I was quite impressed. Tecmo Koei can put together a good story for a Warriors game when they want to and if this is what the future looks like for the Samurai Warriors series, I’m excited to see what story they focus on next.
Graphics: I have to say, initially I wasn’t a big fan of the cel-shaded art that they were using for the characters when I first saw screenshots and gameplay footage – it just didn’t quite seem like it fit in the mainline Warriors game as it was such a departure from what I was used to. It really grew on me though, I can safely say the graphics in this game are… Actually pretty awesome.
I really like the new character designs for the roster as well, many of them are just familiar enough that veterans of the series will immediately recognise them, but are different enough to keep things fresh. I would in-fact go a step further then that, and say that many of these designs should become the main character designs from here on out, some of these are absolute killer – young Nobunaga looks amazing and the redesign of Nō is to die for. Movesets look and feel great, animations feel very clean and the flourish that happens at the end of all Musou attacks, unique to each character, are a nice touch.
I didn’t have any performance issues playing this either which I know can be particularly challenging in these types of games, there are a huge number of enemies on screen at any one time and with the various fire, ice, wind, lightning effects going off at the same time I’m surprised the game didn’t drop any frames at all – though I will say that I was playing on PS5 so your mileage may vary; I wouldn’t be surprised if PS4 and Xbox One struggled to keep a smooth 60 frames, and there wasn’t a Performance mode that I could see in settings either.
Gameplay: If you’ve played one of these games, you’ve played all of these games is what critics of the Warriors formula will tell you, and that is partially true. Fundamentally this game plays very similar to all the other Warriors titles, all characters have normal attacks and charge attacks, with some characters having more moves depending on where in the string you are, but somehow this never seems to get old no matter how many times I play these games.
You need to fight your way through large battlefields with AI controlled allies trying to navigate through various battles through 16th century Japan, with the scope being made as large as it possibly can to give you the biggest power fantasy imaginable – there are thousands of soldiers on this field and an entire army can’t bring them down, only you can sway the battle in your favour. This is a formula that has become more and more prominent as the series has progressed, with allies becoming less and less useful and with enemies becoming more and more just inconveniences standing in your way as you wreck your way through ancient Japan. Samurai Warriors is at it’s best when it’s giving you the biggest, most open battlefields you can imagine. The more enemies and objectives are crammed into one skirmish, the more you feel like you’re accomplishing something and the more challenge the game offers. Most of these battles take place in massive maps across a number of scenarios, whether that be you beginning a stage completely overwhelming the enemy or you and a select few allies are scattered across the battlefield with no hope for success, forcing you to retreat.
All of the current movesets for weapons that you’ve come to know from previous games have been completely revamped with many of the playable roster getting entirely new toys to play around with, Nobunaga for example has been given the Nodachi – a longer then average Katana. There are very little remnants of the older games on offer here Tadakatsu Honda while he does still have a Spear like in the older titles has an entirely new moveset to which I have mixed feelings about… Primarily because of ‘clones’.
There are 37 playable characters in the game with only 13 weapons, meaning that more than half the cast share a weapon with someone else and 10 of the characters have nothing unique about them and are straight clones of another moveset. This gets a little worse when the diversity of weapons can be a little uneven at times, for example there are 6 characters out of the 37 playable that share the same Katana moveset, with 3 of them having strong attacks flairs that are unique to them and another 3 that are clones. It is unfortunate that so many of the characters share the same movesets, it brings down what would otherwise be an exemplary gameplay experience and especially toward the end of the game when I had played each of the main weapon types once, I started to feel a little fatigued when trying out new characters only for them to play exactly the same as the one I played last time.
Sound: The Warriors games have always had a really special place in my heart for the instrumentals that play while you’re killing thousands of soldiers, the hooks that come through these songs are great and Samurai Warriors isn’t much different. Many of the songs playing in the background take a fusion between Japanese culture and modern rock and fuse them together in a way that fans of the series will find very familiar and those who have never experienced a Samurai Warriors title will find quite enticing.
The voice work on offer here is quite well done also, though some will find it disappointing that there is only Japanese VA available as of this review – I know it can be a little hard at times to keep up with the subtitles on the screen while also focusing on killing your 2000th soldier but some of this stuff is really quite good. Praise should especially be offered to the VA for Nobunaga who shows fantastic range as he slowly descends from the happy-go-lucky Fool of Owari, to becoming the serious, cold Demon King.
Awesomeness: The narrowing of the story of the Sengoku period has really brought a breath of fresh air to the Samurai Warriors series. I thought that the last title – Spirit of Sanada was a one off game that really surprised me from a storytelling perspective and to see them continue on this trend was something I enjoyed immensely. While it is a little sad that we don’t get to spend a little more time in some of the other factions and it can feel like the pool of characters is very small at times – this gives me hope that we will see future Samurai Warriors games focus on specific groups within Sengoku Japan and really give each of the main players during this time period a chance to show off who they are, because there are so many popular and well known names from this time period… They just can’t all be in the spotlight at the same time.
Final Thoughts: This is probably one of the best Warriors games to be released in recent years, this reboot has been nothing short of a success and I expect great things moving forward. The gameplay still feels as good as ever, though I am disappointed at the lack of move diversity across characters and it brings in a new coat of paint visually, which makes the game barely recognisable when compared to previous titles, you’d almost think it was a spin-off game like Hyrule Warriors if it wasn’t for the Japanese aesthetic running throughout the game. This is a formula that Tecmo Koei have mastered for many years and one that continues to delight even after so many entries, if you’re a fan of this series then you’re going to love what’s on offer here. If you’ve never played any of the main games before, this is a great place to start. Though if you’re apprehensive about the series, this will do very little to change your mind.
Out of 5 Bugs!