Fernando Da Costa
Comparison Review: Samurai Maiden
Developer: SHADE Inc.
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and PC
Review Console: PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch OLED
ANIMEew SWORDSWOMAN! - Introduction
Inclusivity is something I readily endorse, praising it whenever I see LGBTQ+ representation. Of course, when addressing the topic, a certain sensitivity has to be applied. If it’s using tired stereotypes, it defeats the purpose of embracing all sexualities. When it comes to fan service, well, the morality is iffy. When boobs, ass, and the female figure are sexualized, sometimes to outlandish degrees, a careful approach is the furthest thing from your mind. Enter Samurai Maiden, a legitimately surprising experience. Look, it’s really no secret the anime aesthetic is a guilty pleasure of mine. To this day, I stand firmly by Gal Gun being a capable on-rail shooting romp. Regardless of what society thinks, there’s some genuine fun in a journey dabbling with perversion. Join me as I evaluate the quality of both the PS5 and Switch versions. Let’s get lewd.
IT IS I, A MILLENNIAL! - Writing
Upon starting Samurai Maiden, my expectations for literary prowess were minimal. I knew that ridiculous shenanigans were on the menu and was willing to bathe myself in that ludicrousness. It still caught me off guard, mainly because during my initial minute or so, Tsumugi, the character I control, refers to herself as Gen Z. She mentions it ad nauseam in the opening cutscene, too. Worry washed over me as I thought perhaps; this was the title's way of appealing to the younger generation. Needless to say, my impressions from the get-go were terrible. I already concluded that this adventure was one full of pandering and forcibly positioning itself as relatable. Frankly, the writing was shaping up to be the wrong kind of cringe, but I continued. Against my better judgment, I pushed, and you know, I’m glad I did.
The truth is there’s a staggering bit of development among the four women making up the core group. Some are obvious, while others have a more subtle evolution, requiring me to spot the differences. It’s a strange thing to fathom, considering growth doesn’t usually happen in these self-indulgent adventures. Samurai Maiden dares to break through that glass ceiling, however, with two tremendous examples being the previously touched on Tsumugi and Iyo. Watching as their friendship flourished felt realistic. As each second ticked away and their bond became stronger, their camaraderie slowly built into an ending that pleasantly surprised me - in no world did I expect the final act to be so sincere. Sure, there’s never an investment deep enough to invoke an emotional reply, but I did double back, swearing as I nodded in approval. I was impressed, but it won’t always be gumdrops and lollipops.
AN IMPERFECT TALE! - Writing
The actual body of the narrative remains subpar. The only accurate method of describing what I read is that beneath the story beats, there’s a ton of, and again, I repeat, a ton of inconsequential fluff. Imagine if this is a porkchop with an excessive amount of fat around the edges. Most would trim that off, but D3Publisher wants the chewiness - nothing is cut off. Due to that, conversations have a nasty habit of dragging - the enormous wall of pointless text waters down the attempted banter. Fortunately, I can still discern the personalities of the girls. Granted, they’re cliche, but I appreciate trying to give them individuality. Keep in mind that there are anime tropes, too, like the presence of a Tsundere. After rolling the credits, it becomes clear the script lacks polish and is akin to a rough draft.
SAME-SEX MUSINGS! - Writing
Now, I’m sure we are well aware of the raunchy promotional marketing around Samurai Maiden. You know, where the focal point is these CGs depicting Tsumugi and the other ladies cuddling up together. At first, I wrote it off as simply pandering to teenage boy fantasies, but that wasn’t a fair shout. Unbeknownst to me, this game is actually just a Yuri title. For anyone wondering, that’s another way of saying it explores lesbian relationships. Coming in, I knew there would be a variation of girl-on-girl, but I wasn’t ready to find a full-on romantic hack-and-slash. Not only that, but I assumed the illustrations would be lathered in gratuity, but shocker, that’s not the case. In fact, it’s oddly wholesome. None of those depictions are sexy just for the sake of showing skin. I admit there’s chatter of breast size comparisons, but the handling is playful, not creepy.
SHE LOVES ME; SHE LOVES ME NOT! - Gameplay
When it comes to whisking away your love interests, Samurai Maiden doesn’t afford you total agency over that. Sure, there's the illusion of choice, but ignoring one girl in favor of another isn’t going to net you a hidden ending. See, Tsumugi is destined to have a harem. That said, I highly recommend maximizing your affection with everyone - cheat to your heart’s content. Doing so unlocks new techniques and skills and extends combo strikes - fondness is the currency used to obtain these from behind a paywall if you will. Depending on the twosome’s passion, it initiates a unique scenario - there are a plethora of these to see. Before you ask, no, there are zero alternate methods of learning abilities. The player has no other option but to indulge themselves. Luckily, skipping the skits is possible. Increasing the meter isn’t strenuous either, requiring both to battle together.
IFFY TUMBLING AND JUMPING! - Gameplay
When discussing gameplay, it’s standard for a general hack-and-slash romp. I wasn’t stunned by anything because Samurai Maiden doesn’t try to pioneer features. It doesn’t exist to innovate. Still, there’s a handful of notions that coalesce to solidify my enjoyment, thus cementing a satisfactory fun factor. One contributing aspect is the awarded weapons as you progress through the levels. It’s a nifty incentive to entice me to push toward the final confrontation. These armaments also come with passive abilities of various kinds, allowing me to deviate from my typical kamikaze play style. I can experiment with a dance I rarely do - like a systematic approach focusing on heavy attacks. My only qualm is with dodging away. Whenever I face off with a sub-boss, it’s pretty tough to successfully evade downward swings - the reach of their spear is rather substantial.
What baffles me with Samurai Maiden is an insistence on adding half-baked platforming elements. I’m unsure why that’s the case, but it’s disgustingly finicky. Tsumugi’s aerial movement is absurdly stiff. Yeah, leaping between moderately sized floating landmasses is doable, but tiny slivers demand a crazy amount of precision. It isn’t easy to convey properly, but when she jumps, there’s heft. I don’t feel like I have complete control over her trajectory. I can’t quickly recoil the joystick to readjust her landing if I overshoot. All my issues are highlighted further with tiles stuck in a back-and-forth motion. Granted, I swiftly adapted, but hitches remain, leading me to tumble into the black void of death in a good few instances. To add insult, the camera doesn’t always cooperate, either being a deterrent to me or helpful. At least by putting it overhead, I could use her shadow as a guide.
WANNA GRIND?! - Gameplay
Okay, let’s not beat around the bush, no pun intended - yes, there’s grinding. Every sword earned can be enhanced by spending a bit of in-game money. It’s called Inga, and given how astronomical price tags get as their level cap is close, a good chunk of minutes will be invested when murdering these denizens of evil. What helps prevent this facet from falling into the thralls of tedium is how quickly areas can be beaten. As I’m writing this review, my slowest time is clocked in at 12 minutes. Even then, that’s late into the journey. If we’re talking early stages, the gap narrows immensely to two, maybe four. As for the repetition, that’s also mitigated due to duration. The frustration has zero chance to seep into my psyche to take hold. Before it can, I’ve already moved on to the next fight.
I’m sure everyone is beating their noggin, curious about what’s damn addicting about Samurai Maiden. Surely it isn’t the naughty content that gets the blood pumping. Y’all might reckon the reason is the sometimes explicit dialogue. Without hyperbole, and perhaps it’s thanks to my age, it’s because of the arcade-like presentation. It speaks to me, and how it utilizes a ranking system gives purpose to redoing the same chapter. The drive to achieve a high grade can’t be underestimated. As a bonus, this game isn’t shy to toss out endless waves of skeleton humanoids, thus forcing me to maintain engagement as I try to initiate skeletal homicide. Oh, and as a man that loves scanning concept art, there are also chests sprawled about containing sketches. When boiled down, the challenge may not be up to snuff, but man, it stays a blast.
PLAYSTATION 5 IS SMOOTH! - Performance
It shouldn’t be a revelation to learn that the PS5 can handle Samurai Maiden like a dream. It’s fluent, with animations never struggling to execute. The action runs at a sturdy 60 frames per second. Every weapon swipe resembles a heated knife gliding through butter with no bother. As enemies begin spawning onto the battlefield, usually in large quantities, all the light particles they bring along go off without any sort of hindrances. It doesn’t matter how many are populating the screen. Hell, I can be faced with twenty or thirty but have the same performance as I would with five. It’s just as well, too, because the Kanji effects that emerge to signify when I’m about to be walloped could have caused stutters. Given their frequency during the late game, this title dodges a bullet. Unfortunately, in my tests with the port on Nintendo Switch, everything changes.
NIN-NIN-NINTENDO! - Performance
First and foremost, FPS has been cut clean in half, running at 30. Even with such a downgrade, however, the technical hiccups persist. The most significant example of this happens when, you guessed it, the opposition is generated. I wasn’t privy to anything in the early stages of combat against five or six sentient bone men. It was only when the number skyrocketed into the double digits - the Switch began to meander. The performance suffers as frames drop - never to a catastrophic degree, mind you, but there’s about half a second of chugging. It’s exaggerated further once the Kanji appears. As foes lunge at you simultaneously, it isn’t as silky as it once was beforehand. It’s evident that optimization could be a little more significant than it is. It isn’t unplayable by any stretch, though. For the majority of my session, I retained 30, but it won’t be consistent.
SONY VS NINTENDO! - Presentation
PlayStation 5 is adorned with gorgeous visual fidelity. The colors are vibrant, and there’s an enormous attention to detail. I can’t understate how crisp everything is. By comparison, Nintendo is not as sharp looking and is fashioned with darker shades. The scenery’s resolution has a washed-out aesthetic, too, whereas, on PS5, it’s sublime. It’s a graphical monster, as seen in the levels with cherry blossom trees. I was surrounded by petals blowing in the wind. However, on the hybrid, it’s emptiness. Shadows have also been rolled back so as not to strain the hardware, whereas, on Sony’s tank, they’re in every single spot one would think. On both consoles, the environments are sadly soaked in genericism. I will note that if you play with Samurai Maiden in handheld mode, the condensed pixelation gives the character models a mirage of higher quality. If you want clarity, though, the choice is, well, clear.
THE SWITCH ADVANTAGE! - Portability
Now, if a decline in the imagery department isn’t a dealbreaker, then I’d suggest Samurai Maiden on the weaker platform. My justification is just how the main adventure is structured. It isn’t a continuous stream of gameplay and, instead, split into chapters. This kind of layout is the quintessential portable romp. Not only does it cater to the bite-sized sessions, but it makes the grind for Inga bearable. Call me a lazy ass but slicing down enemies as you’re lying in a relaxed position and entombed in a thick quilt is ideal. The dull sound from the speakers is quite a fair point against the Nintendo Switch, but the thing is, it’s also fixable with earbuds. It’s a better experience, especially if you have a pair with bass capabilities. Finally, being able to jump in wherever made it appealing to go for S rank in each area.
ARE YOU HEARING THIS?! - Sound Design
We have to discuss this soundtrack because, well, it’s a big letdown. Any hack-and-slash title harnessing fast movements has to bathe in equally as quick and high-octane beats. It needs to inject itself with a flow of adrenaline. As I slaughter the undead, I want to be bopping my head and rocking out. When I heard a track accompanying a trailer for Samurai Maiden, I was hyped. I wanted to believe it was a reflection of the complete list of music. Well, I was wrong because it was surrounded by genericism. I was disheartened. I get licensing is expensive, but bands like BabyMetal would have been a home run. Hell, it would fit like a glove because of the female cast. I'm not too fond of docile songs that keep my testosterone mellowed when I should be going wild. I realize it’s a minuscule nitpick, but it’s a pet peeve.
AND THE GEN Z VERDICT IS…
Samurai Maiden doesn’t tell an engrossing, deep tale that introduces philosophical theories. Hell, it’s not a graphical powerhouse, either. What this title manages to accomplish, though, is being a Goddamn delightful session. Setting up the levels in an arcade-like fashion was a stroke of genius. It helped immensely when it came to the fun waiting to be had. Despite the bland level design, I was still enamored by the attention to small details, such as Tsumugi’s tattered clothing after being involved in a grueling battle. Dirt would be on her cheeks, making her look like she had gone through some stuff. Musically, it’s the weakest aspect, and the additional songs locked behind the DLC won’t fare better. I like two out of the many within this game’s selection. In the end, it’s suited for Podcasts. I think it’s still worth playing, but only when it’s at a decent discount.
SAMURAI MAIDEN IS RECOMMENDED!
Special thanks to the publisher for both review codes used for this coverage.