One versus a thousand
You might think that that phrase can be interpreted in multiple ways: a philosophical mindset, a mental state, or a frame of mind. You would be forgiven if you overlooked the literal meaning behind the phrase: One person versus a lot of other people. Samurai Warriors 5 is a game that pits you against entire armies and spoiler alert: the armies do not do well. This type of game has the moniker of “Musou” and if you have not experienced this before, now would be a perfect time. Koei Tecmo has rebooted the ‘Warriors’ series into a “fresh re-imagining”; complete with a more compact storyline, new gameplay additions, and a new visual style. Will newcomers to the series be drawn into this historical hack-and-slash? Will returning fans be happy with the roster of changes? Let’s find out.
Samurai Warriors 5 focuses on the Sengoku period of Japan, a 150-year period of almost neverending civil war that saw clan leaders and warlords fighting for power until the 3 “Great Unifiers” restored a central government in the region. The main storyline in the game focuses on a condensed timeframe of the Sengoku period where the story is told through the viewpoint of two primary characters: Nobunaga Oda and Akechi Mitsuhide. Whilst the game boasts an impressive roster of 37 playable characters, you will mainly be playing through the story as Nobunaga Oda (with smatterings of Akechi Mitsuhide). This main-character-centered focus helps to bring a level of continuity to the story and also adds a refreshing change of pace when a side-character steps into the story and you can carve up the battlefield with a fresh pair of blades. I will say, this forms more of a double-edged sword as I found myself falling in love with the playstyle of a side character (the legendary Lady Nō) and subsequently thereafter, falling out of love with Nobunaga’s playstyle throughout the story. This creeping feeling of boredom started to become worryingly apparent when the real enemy of the game started rearing its ugly head: repetition.
With such an ugly beast on the horizon, surely the game can now turn to its biggest champion: the gameplay. I will say that the core idea behind the Muso playstyle is incredible. You stand alone in front of hundreds of (apparently brainless) soldiers who all fall victim to your blade. You can string together simple combos that play off variants of Square and Triangle and you have a “Hyper” attack that propels you forward whilst still attacking enemies (and knocking them along with you). Combine this with customisable ultimate attacks and a devastating Muso finisher and you have the ability to chain combos that reach into the thousands. To me, there is nothing better than carving through the battlefield whilst sending hundreds of enemies flying away with each arcing slash. It really helps to de-stress after a long day at work. The visual style complements this beautifully and the revamped musical score adds a layer of speed and aggression to the game.
Are all of these positives enough to ward off the beast of boredom? Sadly, no.
The story and gameplay are the two worst casualties of this beast. The game does well to inform you of the story through in-game cutscenes and beautifully rendered artistic showcases and the voice acting on the characters is stellar but the game really can be boiled down to a simple “Move from A to B and kill everything along the way.” The historical elements add a level of intrigue and awe as you find yourself immersed in famous battles but the repetitive nature of the level structure and gameplay makes the game hard to stay passionate about. The “One versus a thousand” element is exhilarating and it is hard to complete a level without a smile on your face but once you have completed a few levels, you find that the details start to get lost in the wind. I love intense gaming experiences but there needs to be more respite and variance to break up the repetition. There is an impressive amount of weapon customisation available but this almost seems redundant when you are sending whole armies back to the stone age with each sword-swing. The AI also seems inconsistent to the point where the difficulty between the filler soldiers and the end of level bosses is too great. I found myself blindly massacring hordes of soldiers who seemed to struggle to even tie their laces, only to run head-first into a boss who made me feel like a 5 year-old armed with a butterknife. There is also a citadel mode which acts as a pseudo-tower defence mode where you can train characters for EXP and additional weapons but the appeal wears thin after a few hours of slaughter.
Overall, Samurai Warriors 5 is an impressive reboot of an already well-loved series. The repetition was a huge issue for me but I must confess that I am relatively new to the Musou style of gameplay. I was immediately hooked with the beautiful visuals and the voice acting (and of course, the gameplay) but I did not find myself wanting to play longer than a level or two at a time. The game is also relatively smooth-running (except for the PS1-grade camera AI which threatens to get stuck behind anything and everything on the battlefield).
If you are happy with a solid story, an absurdly destructive combat system, and an artistic rendition of a bloody time in Japan’s history then you will love Samurai Warriors 5. If you are like me and new to the series then you might want to take it slowly to avoid the danger of burnout but don’t worry, there is enough meat there to satisfy your bloodlust until the end credits roll.
I give this 7.5 Demon Kings out of 10
GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.