Whilst I’ve always enjoyed musou games, it has typically been for the outright action-packed battles they offer as opposed to their historically focused narratives. I’ve never really cared about the story behind each battle or the characters taking part in them, but rather about smashing apart huge armies as one character. It’s glorious, satisfying fun that’s easy to pick up and play whenever I fancied doing something that didn’t require much thought.
With Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada though, I’ve been looking forward to the story driven experience. I figured it’d be a nice change for the series; especially after enjoying releases that took a similar approach such as ‘Berserk and the Band of the Hawk’ and ‘Dragon Quest Heroes’. Given that it’s based around the previously released ‘Samurai Warriors 4’ though (which has already received two spin-offs), I was left to wonder if the introduction of a more character-focused narrative would really be enough to keep me interested in the game or if it would grow old fast.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada offers more of a story-driven experience than other titles in the series. It gives an in depth look into the history of the Sanada clan, with a focus on the story of series favourite Yukimura Sanada and his father Masayuki Sanada. It actually works really well, giving the game more of a RPG feel that sees actual character development take place in-between all of the ‘one versus a thousand’ gameplay. It spreads itself across a multitude of years too, so you’ll actually see the Sanada clan grow both in prestige and maturity. To see characters grow old and witness how their outlook on everything changes with time is quite refreshing, whilst all of the trials and tribulations that the clan face ensure everything stays interesting for the player. It’s a nice change for a series that has typically put all of its narrative focus into battles as opposed to the characters that take part in them.
It actually made me appreciate the lore of the series a lot more. I’ve often looked at characters and not really cared about what drove them, but instead how good they were at beating enemies down. Seeing this more personal side to the Sanada clan has actually made me care a bit more about them; they’re not just faces with cool weapons, but actually have a sense of presence that has been missing for me in the series with previous titles. Of course, this is just something I’ve personally felt when playing through the games. As mentioned, I’ve never had any real investment in the historical significance of any of the ‘Warriors’ games but instead play them for fun. Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada has changed that with its narrative-driven focus and it’s something I feel the game should be commended for.
Everything doesn’t just take place in wide open battlefields in Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada, with the player also able to explore a town that acts as a hub between battles. It’s here that you’re able to take on extra side quests, buy new items, upgrade your weapons, or even learn new combat skills. Those who want to leave the danger of the battlefield behind can even indulge in a spot of fishing or take on the life of a farmer, though these mini-games don’t really offer enough depth to hook you in for longer than twenty minutes. Still, they’re a nice touch and add a more personal element to the town.
The whole concept of exploring this town adds to the game’s RPG vibe. There are times during Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada where you’d easily think you’re playing an action RPG as opposed to a musou title; exploring this town and interacting with its inhabitants is one of the best examples of this. It makes for a nice break from all of the button-mashing combat and shows there’s certainly room for new innovations in the well-trodden genre.
Whilst Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada has shown signs of innovation within its design, a lot of the core elements from previous entries in the series remain the same. It’s something that is clearly evident in combat, with showdowns against enemies still boiling down to mashing buttons to pull off a range of quick combos and powerful attacks. It’s more of the same, with nothing new or particularly exciting added to invigorate the genre – that being said, if you loved playing these kinds of games before then you’ll certainly have fun here.
At least some of the missions feel different though. You’re not always faced with a huge army on a wide open battlefield, but also explore smaller areas that encourage exploration as opposed to simply seeking out the nearest fight. Their objectives are often on a smaller scale too, giving you a brief look into the side operations that took place alongside all of the epic showdowns between armies. It’s not an area of the game that is overly expanded on and the smaller missions will feel repetitive in time thanks to lack of diversity with environments, but it’s a nice change to the formula for returning players to sink their teeth into.
When you are up against armies of enemies in huge battles though, the game follows the same style that you would’ve been used to in the past with epic encounters based around button-mashing combat. However, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada spreads battles out across multiple parts, with each stage representing the different phases of each showdown. It adds a more organic feel to the way that each battle plays out, with each stage showing the transition of a battle being started, plans being executed, and the battle eventually being won with a final push. It’s a neat change that makes battles feel like more calculated affairs as opposed to an outright skirmish for control. Your performance in each stage of the battle can greatly affect the next too, giving each showdown a sense of depth that hasn’t really been apparent in previous games in the series.
However, it does take away from the overall sense of grandeur of each encounter. Musou games are well-loved for throwing you in these long massive battles that actually make you feel like you’re taking part in an epic war. Spreading these battles out across multiple stages makes them feel dramatically smaller and in turn less impactful. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword in that respect, with the new campaign style that each battle follows offering a more intricate approach that sacrifices the epic scale that makes the ‘Warriors’ franchise so impressive. It doesn’t do anything bad by any means, but it might leave a sour taste with die-hard fans of the series.
Whilst Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada doesn’t really do enough to completely reinvigorate the series, the focus on providing a more story-driven experience along with the introduction of the hub town and smaller side-missions is certainly a step in the right direction. Musou titles are known for being pretty repetitive, but the implementation of these RPG style ideas ensured I had more of a personal investment in the game and kept me hooked in for longer. I didn’t see Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada as something I’d play for a bit of mindless fun, but instead as game that I actually wanted to see through to completion.
Whilst I’m sure some of the changes won’t be for everyone, it made Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada a much more unique experience. Not only has it proven that Koei Tecmo have got plenty of neat ideas as far as innovating the musou genre goes, but it’s got me excited to see what they do with the ‘Warriors’ series next.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: 26/05/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC