Koei Tecmo and Omega Force haven’t exactly been shy about putting its Warriors (AKA Musou) games on the Nintendo Switch over the past few years. Whether you want to cut down moblins, slimes, or iconic figures of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you’re well catered for. But what if you want to take part in some historic Japanese battles? Well, after seven years, mainline Samurai Warriors is back.
1 vs. 1000
If you’re remotely familiar with any of Omega Force’s other Warriors games, you’ll know what the deal is with Samurai Warriors 5. You take control of a single powerful character, unleashing combos on hordes of nameless enemies, with the occasional named opponent to give you a very slight bit of trouble. Fill up one of two gauges and you can unleash more powerful attacks. It’s all here.
Thankfully the combat is just as satisfying as ever, so long as you’re up for something that can prove relatively mindless, especially on the easier difficulties. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, appears to be the mantra.
That said, it’s not as if the game doesn’t allow for more tactical approaches. If there are multiple playable characters on the field you can order these allies to tackle certain objectives through a menu, and it’s also possible to instantly swap who you are controlling on the fly. This has the added benefit of keeping the action up, with very little time needing to be spent walking from place to place, though you’re still encouraged to explore to find secret objectives.
Similarly character customization is surprisingly in-depth. Characters can utilize different weapons, though they have noteworthy specialties, and you can change not only their item load-out but also four abilities you can activate by holding down R and pressing a direction on the D-Pad. These can range from boosting your Musou gauge to unleashing a special attack, and they are a boon for keeping things from getting too stale.
Slashing with Style
Of course the battles need a reason to be fought, and the story mode of Samurai Warriors 5 once again takes players back to the Sengoku period of Japanese history, though this time the focus is placed on a young Nobunaga Oda and his enemy-turned-friend-turned-enemy Mitsuhide Akechi.
It’s obvious the story isn’t the biggest focus, however. Little context is given as the action jumps from historical battle to historical battle, rarely bothering to explore the characters’ downtime. Unless you’re a massive Japanese history buff, it’s easy to lose track of who is who, and the interpersonal relationships therein. This isn’t helped by many of the cutscenes feeling extremely basic, with characters standing or sitting still in barren rooms to discuss strategy in a very dry manner.
When the cutscenes do go all out, though, it’s a very pretty spectacle to behold. Rather than attempt realism like earlier entries, Koei Tecmo has adopted a cel-shaded approach for Samurai Warriors 5 and it works incredibly well for the most part. It shines particularly during special attacks, where the painterly style is exaggerated to a brilliant degree. It truly feels as though the game is embracing its larger-than-life premise, even more so when it’s pared with a bombastic score.
The shift to a simplistic graphic style also works wonders for the Switch in particular, making things much more easily readable, especially undocked. That said, I still encountered a fair bit of slowdown, especially during chaotic moments.
My favorite store in the Citadel
The story mode isn’t all that Samurai Warriors 5 has to offer, though, and it’s likely not even the thing that most fans will pour the most time into. Instead, there’s the mission-based Citadel Mode.
This section of the game is even more divorced from reality, mashing up characters and maps with wild abandon, regardless of allegiances and timescale. By taking part in missions with a duo of characters, you’ll get items and materials. The latter of which can be used to upgrade a variety of buildings, which in turn are utilized to level up your character, fuse weapons, and even customize your horses.
To encourage players to mix things up, the Citadel also has the “Hermit’s Retreat”. If you take two compatible characters into battle, you’ll build up a meter, and when it hits 100 points you’ll unlock a bonding event. Once again it’s something tailor made for the hardcore fans who’d be willing to pour in the hours upon hours of work, but it’s undeniably a solid way of maintaining the game’s replay value.
Samurai Warriors 5 doesn’t break the mold set by its many, many forebears, but it still manages to polish its edges, becoming a striking, feature-rich action game. If you ever want to wind down with a game, slicing through swathes of soldiers with style certainly isn’t a bad way to go about it.
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 27, 2021
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Omega Force