|Developer||Omega Force, Koei Tecmo|
|Platforms||PS4(reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC|
|Release Date||July 27th, 2021|
We can date the Dynasty Warriors series back to a fighting game on the original Playstation. What spawned from that turned out to be a different genre entirely, spawning many sequels, spinoffs, and licensed games. The most significant spinoff being Samurai Warriors, which takes place during the Sengoku era of Japan instead of the Three Kingdoms period of China. Samurai Warriors 5 aims to be a soft reboot and tells a story set before the original game from 2004, packaged neatly with a fresh new art style. Players take control of Oda Nobunaga during his rise to power along with his rival Mitsuheda Akechi. Koei Tecmo and Omega Force wish to breathe new life into this series after seven years. For me, the changes are welcome, but there isn’t anything that advances the subgenre that they pioneered.
Violence: Players take control of a roster of warriors who wield swords, spears, bows, and other weapons to subdue their foes. The objective is to slash through endless hordes of soldiers that fight for the enemy army. Surprisingly, there isn’t any blood to be found as the player character plows through literally thousands of enemies. During some cutscenes, however, characters are slashed off-camera or in indirect view. The same goes for scenes in which characters kill themselves—one of them slits their own throat while another stabs themselves.
Sexual Content: Some female characters wear skin-tight outfits, and others have clothing that shows off the sides of their breasts.
Language: “Bastard” and “a*s” are used in the dialogue.
Samurai Warriors 5 is the next entry in the series and is significantly scaled-down compared to Samurai Warriors 4. For example, the roster in 4 was 55 playable characters. The latest entry has only 27 and features a much more compact story. The previous titles have featured both individual and faction-focused stories. As I mentioned above, players will be taking control of Oda Nobunaga and Mitsuhide Akechi primarily. This was the first time I’ve ever cared about the plot of a Warriors game as I’ve generally treated the “Musou” genre as mindless fun. If you desire to do so, you could easily look up the fate of these two historical figures and why their paths are intertwined, but that might be less fun than this romanticized version. However, I’ve occasionally found myself doing some light research after my time with the game.
Along with changes to the roster, I need to mention the new art style. Samurai Warriors 5 has a new cel-shaded look inspired by Sumi-e, also known as Japanese ink painting. This same style has been used in other video games before, specifically Street Fighter 4 and Samurai Shodown in 2019. This particular visual style fits the series well, and I hope they continue to use it. The new presentation also brings redesigned characters, not just the younger versions of Oda and Mitsuhide. Part of the fun of this reboot approach was seeing how some of my favorite characters looked, such as Hanzo Hattori and Magoichi Saika. Of course, we enjoy seeing our favorites return, but we have ten new warriors too. While all of the characters in these games are based on their historical counterparts, the most notable addition is Yasuke, the African Samurai who has been fictionalized most recently in the Netflix show of the same name.
Samurai Warriors 5 sees little change in the overall gameplay; you’ll be carving your path through thousands of enemies as one usually does in a Warriors game. Skills make a return, and I appreciate customizing my loadout with abilities that help me turn the tide of an encounter in my favor. Hyper attacks also remain from the previous games and help your traverse through the battlefield as you cut through massive hordes of soldiers. Lastly, the rage mode puts your character in a super-like state with an option to unleash a Musou attack that is more powerful than the original one you use throughout battles. The feature I’m especially fond of that feels like a more recent addition in the Warriors series is lock-on. The ability to lock onto enemy officers makes those encounters feel personal, which makes sense when I’m playing through a story that wants me to care about what is happening and the people involved in the conflict.
What players do between battles in Samurai Warriors 5 is standard for this series. The “My Castle” menu is where I spent my time between battles upgrading my warriors and their weapons. You’ll find menus labeled Dojo, Blacksmith, Shop, and Stables. The Dojo is where you’ll strengthen your characters’ stats, and the Blacksmith is where weapons can be upgraded and dismantled. The shop has consumable items available for purchase, whereas the stables are where you can purchase and upgrade your horses. These buildings/menus are upgradable too, which mostly means that the things you can buy in these areas will be of higher quality. I treat this aspect of the Warriors games as more of a chore than anything because I’d like to get to the next battle instead, and unfortunately there isn’t any real depth out of these systems that usually seem incremental.
Speaking of depth, the offerings in terms of gameplay modes are shallow. The Musou mode is where you’ll be playing through the main story, and the “Free Mode” that usually accompanies the primary campaign exists, but you’ll need to choose past chapters to engage with it. For those unfamiliar, Free Mode is where you are able to select any character in any chapter you want to play because the story focuses on a specific group of characters during each battle. Citadel Mode is the other option for players to get into the action, though it is rather dull. The focus of this mode is on defending your base in a battle. It includes a light social system as you pair up warriors together and a soldier mechanic. Playing Citadel Mode isn’t very fun and is a mediocre challenge mode at best while serving as an alternative way to gain resources for your castle menu.
Lastly, I thought the environments could use some work. The battlefields are lifeless open spaces, which seems to never change, as several previous entries have had the same issue. However, I don’t think much can be done to improve that aspect because these locations need to fit massive amounts of soldiers and the player-specific officers that will slay tons of them. What stood out to me in particular was that there are a few interior areas to fight in that seem to have vases and other decorations along the walls. These battlefields could use some destructible objects in parts of a castle or outdoors that tell us a battle isn’t meant to be fought there. That particular instance managed to take me out of the game for a moment, but is not something I expect to improve anytime soon.
I experienced Samurai Warriors 5 on my Playstation 5. While there isn’t a specific nextgen version of the game, I enjoyed that the load times were almost instant, and I didn’t run into any issues while playing the game. I can’t speak to how it runs on the Nintendo Switch, but it’d fit right in thanks to the many licensed spinoffs already finding a home on that platform. Thanks to the soft-reboot approach, this entry is the right one for newcomers to the Musou subgenre. If your first was one of the Hyrule Warriors games or Fire Emblem: Warriors, you won’t feel lost when jumping in, as many characters are introduced again with a plot that acts on its own. For veterans of the series, if you’re craving something new, you won’t find it here.
Samurai Warriors 5 is the refresh that the Warriors games needed, and I hope that Dynasty Warriors follows in its footsteps. For the first time, I genuinely wanted to see the story to the very end. This addition to the series is far from game-changing or revolutionary and may feel like a few steps back. However, the sacrifices that the developers made and the new art direction were ultimately worth the risk. This is a game that I can recommend to both dedicated fans and curious newcomers.
Review copy kindly provided by Koei Tecmo and One PR
The Bottom Line
Samurai Warriors 5 is the refresh that the series needed, but doesn't bring anything new to the war table.