• Alberto Mezzalira

Review: Samurai Warriors 5

Reviewed on: PS4

Publisher: Koei Tecmo

Developer: Omega Force

Available on: PC/XB/PS/NS

After 7 years, the long famous hack and slash series Samurai Warriors is back with its 5th instalment, featuring a brand-new story and new character designs.

Developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo, this hack and slash game represents a reboot of the Samurai Warriors series. Announced during the Nintendo Direct on February 17, 2021, the game represents a “fresh re-imagining” of the franchise, featuring an all-new storyline, revamped character designs, and new visual looks. It is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam.

Like for previous games, Samurai Warriors 5 is a hack and slash, specifically a mousou game, where the player faces hundreds of enemy soldiers in a battlefield, with the objective of defeating various enemy commanders, conquer garrisons or rescue the allies. New features include the Hyper Attack, which allows crossing great distances while attacking enemies, and the Ultimate Skill, a set of skills that are used to continue combos, regenerate Musou Gauge, stun enemies, or deal a barrage of attacks.

As for the plot, the game follows Nobunaga Oda on his quest to unify the warring states of Japan, spanning from the end of the Ōnin War to the Honnōji incident. Compared to the previous games, this episode goes deeper into the historical events and explores more the relationship with Mitsuhide Akechi.

The game’s art style is based on anime art and is accentuated by Sumi-e Japanese painting highlights; the soundtrack contains traditional instruments paired with rocking guitars; this title manages to narrate these historical events entertainingly while keeping an overall accuracy on the details. Of course, some events include fictional elements to make the story more exciting, I’m thinking about that Hollywood-like ending scene when in real-life that event was more anticlimactic.

Considering the game experience, rushing through enemies’ armies to slay them on large castle battlefields with constantly changing objectives and conditions give a nice feeling of tension and uncertainty. The size of the opposing armies also gives a great feeling of scale, and the numerous smaller battles you can see around the map create the right dramatic atmosphere, especially because you are updated about the shifting and the outcomes of these secondary battles from your allies.

Slaughtering foes with incredible overwhelming power is enjoyable and entertaining, especially because you can select two different characters at each level – a main and a partner – to achieve the chapter objectives. This is a great gameplay feature as it allows you to combine different fighting styles; switching between the two characters also works as fast travel across the map as you can assign your partner to attack other targets. The other method to cross long distances is dashing across the map on horseback after receiving a desperate call from friends; these events can change the tides of a battle right in front of your eyes. Despite your intervention is usually fundamental, these events make you feel like you are a small pawn on a very large and well-produced chessboard, and the result is awesome.

The action flows really nicely as it allows you to quickly get rid of small armies as you can more easily adjust your attacks. The only issue I encountered with the camera, which is entirely manual, is a bad lock-on feature, which can make you lose track of the action if the target moves behind the camera. The horse riding animation doesn’t look great, and enemies sometimes fall through walls or pop up as you approach them, but considering the amount of frenetic action you will get, you’ll likely be enjoying yourself far too much to care.

Samurai Warriors 5 features 37 playable characters with skill trees, relationship meters that unlock exclusive cutscenes and 14 different upgradeable weapon types such as swords, spears, bows and even a drum. Traditional weapons give nice feedback and they are well animated, but the less conventional ones are more entertaining to use, especially the drum and the bow, which is my favourite. Nō, Nobunaga Oda’s wife, has an extremely powerful bow that lets loose with some epic combos at great speed making you kill hordes of enemies in literally a few seconds.

Upgrading characters and their weapons is addictive and the system is well designed but it’s locked behind the ‘my castle’ feature, the main hub which includes a blacksmith, to upgrade, sell or evolve your weapons; a dojo, where you train your characters and unlock their skills; horse stables, to buy and train your horses, and a shop, which sells items to be used during battles or to upgrade your buildings. However, to upgrade the buildings you are almost forced to play a secondary mode – Citadel Mode – where you fight to defend your castle and gather materials but it’s less engaging than the story and appears more repetitive, so perhaps unique features for this mode would have helped to differentiate the gameplay a bit more.

As an anime fan, I think that most Japanese games don’t need a dubbed audio, but in this case, the lack of English audio can affect the overall flow of the battles; you receive updates from your allies in Japanese with English subtitles, so that to understand what’s going on in other parts of the map, you need to drive your attention from the battle to the subtitles. Luckily it is not always a big issue as updates will mostly come after you’ve defeated your foes in that area, but receiving them during the action can be distracting. The soundtrack is really good and has some really addictive tracks peppered and makes visiting the soundtrack feature in ‘the vault’ something you would like to do every time new tracks are unlocked.

The story mode can be played over and over. Not only replaying already completed missions allow you to replay missions with characters non-story related in a ‘Free Mode’, but there are the 6 chapters of Mitsuhide Akechi’s story and a ‘What if’ section, so there is a huge amount of content for those wishing to dig more into the game. It took me around 14 hours to finish the main story for the first time, but this unlocks only around 20% of the total achievements, so there is room for many more hours of entertaining battles. But that’s not all, if you’re a fan of multiplayer you can try the local co-op or online modes for some full-scale warfare.

To conclude, Samurai Warriors 5 may not be excellent, but Koei Tecmo and Omega Force have managed to refresh the musou basic action formula in a tremendously fun way, mixing action-packed hack and slash battles with cinematic war dramas. This version of the most famous Japanese tale is also more appealing to newer audiences thanks to its revamped visual style, which is perfectly combined with fun action and a very well implemented RPG system. I would suggest this game to all action lovers, both to those who are already familiar with the series and to those who love a fast-paced hack and slash games.