Review: Samurai Warriors 5
By: Roberto Nieves
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Koei Tecmo and Omega Force have been at the forefront of the musou genre of games for decades, bringing forth a large list of titles that are large on action and grand battlefield spectacle. In recent years, I have come across a variety of titles that have incorporated the design of musou in their games. Most recently, Omega Force applied that to anime adaptations of established anime, such as Berserk and the Band Of The Hawk and Attack On Titan and its sequel. Other titles have included the spectacular Warriors All-Stars and Warriors Orochi 4. The genre has also inspired other developers, such as the spectacular Fate/Extella LINK from Marvelous Games and innovative new takes on established franchises, such as Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.
For those unfamiliar, musou is the Japanese word for action. The genre is known for large, wide battlefields, where hundreds of enemies appear. For the Warriors games, the goal is to win the battle through speed, strength, offense, and even strategy. In Samurai Warriors 5, layers battle their way through entire armies, filled with numerous enemy combatants. At any one given moment, the screen is filled with hordes of enemies to slay. Among the enemy troops are more high-profile enemies, such as Captains and Lieutenants. Some enemies present themselves as mini-boss fights that can pose a stiff challenge to players, utilizing their own special attacks and move sets. Scattered throughout each level are a series of objectives to complete, which vary depending on the level and circumstance. From escort missions to eliminations to seizing territories, the battlefield is an incredibly fluid situation, where goals and objectives can change at any time. Some levels end in a mammoth boss fight with an enemy Commander, usually the Supreme Lord of their Army. These behemoths will find a means to crush players with their massive attack powers and abilities. For the primary campaign, many levels can last an average of 20 minutes or more. Fortunately, there is an interim save system for those that need to take a break but don't want to lose the action.
Samurai Warriors 5 puts players right into the thick of the Sengoku Period, an era of Japan's history wrought in conflict and destruction. For over 100 years, Japan was the subject of constant turmoil, from Civil War to political intrigue to the assertiveness of power. Samurai Warriors 5 introduces players to the infamous Oda Nobunaga, regarded in history as The Great Unifier of Japan. Samurai Warriors 5 follows his tale of power, combat, and tragedy throughout this period. From there, he is introduced to a large roster of characters from previous Samurai Warriors games and new ones, from Kenshin Uesugi to Sena to Kanbei Kuroda.
Samurai Warriors 5 adopts a fresh new visual take on the franchise. The previous Warriors games have all done a fine job in their presentation, but Samurai Warriors 5 knocks it out of the park with its focus on a more traditional art direction that is tied to the visual aesthetics of Japanese history. Older artworks in Japanese history are depicted through thick brushstrokes and lines, and during college, I remember seeing examples of such works. One such work had chunks of ink and crayon embedded within the piece. I recall my history professor remarking that such a feature was greatly praised in Japanese history, citing that it marked the hand's dexterity, strength, and natural ingenuity. This new visual take isn't a paint coating; but instead, it's an entirely new visual design that is refreshing, new, and profoundly impressionable. Some may find similarities between Samurai Warriors 5 and Borderlands, but the two couldn't be any more different from the other. As Samurai Warriors 5 focuses on this specific era of Japan, the art style lends itself to the game and its historical inspirations. It's a great fit, though I wish the same kind of care could have been applied to the environments, especially on Nintendo Switch. Looking at water isn't the point of playing Samurai Warriors 5, but when you compare the Switch version to the others, the Switch, while a solid version overall, does appear slightly rusty compared to the PS4 version.
Gameplay has been a huge part of the Warriors games, and in Samurai Warriors 5, it greatly delivers. The established formula returns for Samurai Warriors 5. Players hack'n'slash their way through the enemy hordes. In the Warriors games, the action is over the top. One swipe of the sword can easily eliminate a dozen or so enemies at once, meaning the hit count and kill count can run in the many hundreds. Of course, it wouldn't be a musou game without a musou gauge. After some time, the gauge builds into a trademark attack that is specifically unique to each character. Oda carries a katana and utilizes fire during his Musou Attack. Nohime is a warrior who uses the swift are of the butterfly, and when she activates her Musou attack, a swirl of pink ice and the glowing wings of butterflies erupt on-screen. Another attack is the Ultimate attack. These specialized attacks can be upgraded and customized before the start of the battle. The Ultimate Attacks are tied to a submenu for quick access. These Ultimate attacks range from increasing speed and recharge abilities to performing special attacks that may form extra damage and continue long-chain combos. Finally, a hyper attack is introduced. The Hyper Attack gauge takes longer to build, allowing for a much stronger attack and speed. It is by no means an invincibility mode, but it enables players to move swiftly through the battlefield, decimate foe, and unleash an even more powerful musou attack. As before, players may switch between characters during missions. As each character has their own unique skill set, choosing which warriors to accompany you in battle is important, including the fact that some characters can be paired to have specific conversations, a system rather similar to the Fire Emblem games.
Outside of the main campaign, Samurai Warriors 5 features a Citadel Mode. This Defense-based mode tasks players to use the large roster of characters to defend their territories from the invading forces they just conquered. Compared to the main campaign, the goal is to defend specific targets and territories, often using different characters. These are smaller than the usual mission in the main campaign but provide essential components to the main campaign. Citadel Mode can be akin to more of an Arcade Mode. Citadel Mode puts players on the ground and encourages players to select the best troops to defend targets or crush the enemy outright. Players are scored based upon mission parameters, but most importantly, playing these missions rewards resources to build buildings in My Castle. Upgrading building in My Castle allows for new weapons, new houses, and new items. Additionally, upgrading My Castle enables the ability to increase the rank and power of characters and train new Mounts. Citadel Mode can feel like a bit of a distraction, but it is perfect for acting as an important distraction for those feeling like embarking on a primary mission campaign.
Speaking of the Story, Samurai Warriors 5 has a weaving war drama of love, betrayal, dominance, and power. Each character acts with conviction, and the narrative is engaging enough to care for the characters and the world around them. The trail of war with Oda Nobunaga brings players across the many provinces of Japan, facing against various warlords and their armies, bringing forth new challenges not to gameplay but the characters. Great sacrifice is the expense of great power, and in the carnage of war, honor, and liberation are increasingly elusive goals. It bears noting, though, the story is entirely told through Japanese with English subtitles. This may turn off some payers, but I encourage everyone to try Samurai Warriors 5 to give it a chance and experience an intriguing and unique story. Additionally, the campaign easily lasts well over 50 overs, making for plenty of story to enjoy.
I've played many action games before, but Samurai Warriors 5 is certainly one of the strongest in the third-person action and musou genre. Coming off of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, Samurai Warriors 5 feels familiar but proves to be distinctly different with the added gameplay functions. Slaying and fighting hordes of enemies never grows old, using dizzying array attacks and abilities to decimate opposing armies. Every battle and every moment still feels incredibly satisfying, even if a bit repetitive from time to time. Mixing characters and abilities, coupled with the strong depth of content, make this a strong action game, but even better for Switch owners as they can take the musou action anywhere with them.
Samurai Warriors 5 made a strong impression during the February Nintendo Direct. As a long-time gamer, I can fondly remember when musou games were the butt-end of a joke, cited for being long, repetitive, and non-sensical yearly iterations that don't add anything to an established formula but the same tried-and-true formula. In 2021, that has changed for the better. What drew me into musou was that sensation of grand, absurd fun and action, which Samurai Warriors 5 effectively delivers. From a sharp art style to a large roster of characters and a multitude of missions, Samurai Warriors 5 is a definitive action title for the year. From Persona 5: Strikers to Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, it is a good time to dive into the action of Musou. Make the first cut with Samurai Warriors 5.
Samurai Warriors 5 was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch thanks to a key generously supplied to Stack Up by ONE PR Studio.