It has taken a long seven years, but the Sengoku era in Japanese history is finally reemerging oIt has taken a long seven years, and the Sengoku era in Japanese history is reemerging once again, thanks to the developers at Omega Force and Koei Tecmo. The long-awaited Samurai Warriors 5 may still be about impressive battles and the unrelenting button-mashing of the Musou style of games but it brings everything around together this time with a healthy narrative focus that is a big surprise.
Instead of a huge cast of characters that require players to split their time across, the main story follows the dynamic duo of Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi and while there are opportunities to bring the other 37 characters out for a spin, you are mainly experiencing the history of the two men and how fate intertwines around the pair.
It might be jarring for fans returning to the sister series of Dynasty Warriors, and you can easily fall into two camps, where you’ll either be bored by the narrow focus, or be immersed in two of the more fascinating characters the series has produced. Every battle and story development leave enough breadcrumbs for players to follow, and you will inevitably be lured into the drama that unfolds.
Samurai Warriors 5 brings two paths to the story mode, one for Oda and the other for Akechi. While there are similar battles fought from their distinct point of views, it is the unique missions that give these characters even more room to breathe and come into their own. This is a grand tale of political intrigue, massive conflict, friendship and betrayal, and an excellent alternate take on Japanese history.
Even if the well-developed story of our heroes is not your cup of tea, the magic of Samurai Warriors 5 arrives sooner rather than later. Forget about historical accuracy or realistic battles, players are here for mayhem, and that is what the developers have prescribed. From wielding destructive acoustic drums to giant hammers that can split the land in half, whacky weapons and combos continue to be some of the game’s best features.
The masses of soldiers are exactly what they are, cannon fodder for you to cut down and feel that power fantasy unapologetically. The return of Hyper Attacks allows even the slowest of characters the ability to manoeuvre through the battlefields with ease, all while dragging helpless soldiers along to rack up more hits for your everlasting combo chain.
The formula for combat remains largely familiar as well, but Samurai Warriors 5 mixes things up delightfully with the addition of Ultimate Skills. Each character can unlock up to four different Ultimate Skills specific to weapons. These flashy moves are powerful in their own right and become an integral part of your arsenal throughout the various battles.
This is especially apparent when coming up against the new archetypes of soldiers that Omega Force has thrown in to keep you on your toes. Flashing enemies like those carrying spears or shields are hard to break down conventionally, but they are weak against certain Ultimate Skills. The game also helpfully provides you with a breakdown of what to expect in an upcoming battle so that you can be more prepared.
In addition, there are also your dependable light and heavy attacks, and the Musou attacks are still as crazy as ever, bringing the hurt and the visual flair to crowd-clearing attacks that are meant to cut your opponents down to size in an instance. This constant flow of light and heavy attacks, Ultimate Skills, Musou attacks, and Hyper Attacks never truly gets boring, especially with the variety available. For returning fans, there is even more to love in Samurai Warriors 5.
Pick Your Poison
Of course, players would expect more than just the story-focused Musou mode, and Samurai Warriors 5 throws in another surprise in the form of Citadel Mode. Taking the battle to a smaller scale, these missions are all about defending your base from invading hordes. Different environments bring different challenges, and you can even count on your own troops to help out during a fight.
Citadel Mode provides the avenue to gain resources necessary for the upgrade systems in Samurai Warriors 5. Each mission will drop a set number of resources, and you can even get bonuses based on your performance. Once you have the necessary resources, you can then upgrade your Dojo, Shop, Stables, and Blacksmith, all in the name of improving characters, get better items and horses, and upgrade your weapons.
Although it can function as a nice breather from the Musou Mode, it may not necessarily make the most sense to separate a crucial part of the entire Samurai Warriors 5 experience from the Musou Mode.
Either way, you are making progress for character levels and weapon mastery, and your story progression also dictates the building upgrades you can enact based on your Castle level. A more cohesive melding of systems would have done more good for Samurai Warriors 5.
The game also allows players to go into most battles with an AI companion, and rudimentary commands can be given in terms of movement and attacks. So while you cannot hope for them to defeat the bosses, you can easily save yourself some time when a battle requires the completion of multiple objectives.
Switching between characters on the fly is easy and intuitive, and you can dominate on multiple fronts with two strong characters. Add in a co-op partner either in Free Mode or Citadel Mode, and the fun is doubled.
Playing with a friend in Citadel Mode is highly recommended, as the short fights are great to see what the core gameplay is all about. At the same time, you can be building up characters and even their relationships, leading to support conversations that add a nice touch of humanising these warriors.
It will come a time when even playing on Nightmare difficulty will be a relative cakewalk, especially after you have upgraded all your weapons with the best enhancements, and unlocked all your character skills and stats. Being able to walk into battle, shrugging off attacks, and unleashing multiple Musou attacks is the pure definition of fun in Samurai Warriors 5, and the game has it in spades.
On its own, Samurai Warriors 5 is one of the greats of the series because it has shed some of the bloated weight that one can expect from similar offerings. Add in some beautiful visuals, with a mixture of voiced cutscenes and beautiful visual art and we have a winner. The new character designs definitely stand out as well, with the cel-shaded technique proving to be more eye-candy than the attempts at being realistic in earlier games, making this the best looking game in the entire franchise to date.
A focused narrative ups the stakes for those looking for an engrossing tale, while the less significant Citadel Mode and all the side missions give added value. Coupled with a refreshing new visual style, Samurai Warriors 5 is well suited to take the franchise to a new future. As long as you are a fan of Musou-style games, you will not want to miss this gem.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Samurai Warriors 5 surprises pleasantly by trimming the fat and offering a distinct storytelling arc among the slashing and killing made famous by Musou games.
Gameplay - 7.5/10
Story - 9/10
Presentation - 8/10
Value - 7/10