I’ve been following the Musou line of games since the release of the first Dynasty Warriors back in the late 90s, with their mixture of hack-n-slash fun bringing me plenty of joy over the years. Naturally, over time the series grew to encompass far more than just the ‘Three Kingdoms’ period, expanding into various time periods and franchises with games like Warriors Orochi, Warriors All-Stars, and even Hyrule Warriors (which for the record are all great games in their own right). That said, I’ve always been a stickler for the original stories, so I was pretty excited to get my hands on the newest title from Omega Force and Koei Tecmo that covers one of my favourite time periods: Samurai Warriors 5.
Samurai Warriors 5 covers the Sengoku (or ‘Warring States’) period, a time of great upheaval where the Daimyos and Warlords of Japan vied for control of the country and usher in unification. Most people will know the more common heroes of the time like Oda Nobunaga or Ieyasu Tokugawa (I mean, you might not… but I do and that is what’s important here) and the storyline of Samurai Warriors 5 covers the tumultuous rise of these Warlords and the eventual unification of Japan under one Shogun. Naturally, there’s the occasional embellishment on some of these characters’ personalities and events to make the game story more exciting, but for the most part it’s historically accurate.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
If you’re familiar with the Musou genre, you’ll know already that these hack-n-slash games typically involve plenty of all-out war across battlefields, with players carving their way through hundreds of soldiers, no doubt creating plenty of war widows in the process (wow, you monster). Samurai Warriors 5 is no different in this respect. It still involves the typical foray of hoofing it around the various stages filled with castles and fields whilst dispatching lowly soldiers and the occasional tougher officer or named character. Don’t get me wrong though, whilst the series has done little in the way of changing the core mechanics, there have been some great additions to Samurai Warriors 5 that have freshened it up nicely this time out.
First and foremost, combat. The basic combat in Samurai Warriors 5 is standard for a Warriors game. Each character has their own weapon and line of moves that they can utilise to dispatch enemies. Despite this sounding reasonably basic, the mixture of moves you can use to chain attacks makes combat both satisfying and slick, with the system seeing more improvement in terms of fluidity and flair. Attacks are made up of basic attacks, hyper attacks, and power attacks, and chaining them together is a hell of a lot of fun with various combos for each character unlocking as you level up. What’s particularly great this time out in Samurai Warriors 5 is the fact that you can interchange weapons for characters. Some characters have the ability to use more than just their initial starting weapon depending on their proficiency, allowing you to switch up your tactics between battles if you need to, or if you’re just feeling a bit tired of using the same move-set.
“If you’re familiar with the Musou genre, you’ll know already that these hack-n-slash games typically involve plenty of all-out war across battlefields, with players carving their way through hundreds of soldiers…”
It’s not all about chalking your way through scores of enemies though, with officers and other named characters from the roster offering a lot more challenge when you run into them, especially on hard mode. It’s a refreshing change of pace that feels welcome mid-battle, where sometimes it can feel like you’re almost too powerful chopping down tallies of enemy soldiers, to slow down and have to utilise lock-ons and blocks to finish the job. You’ll also have access to a foray of timed skills for each character, with some of the more impressive ones being both tactically sound to use and graphically impressive. There’s nothing quite like ending an enemy character with a well-timed and stylish skill execution, with their defeat proving to be both brutal and slick.
Samurai Warriors 5 has two modes to get stuck into, with Musou Mode providing the means to follow the story of Oda Nobunaga and other characters from the series, as well as the Citadel Mode that intertwines nicely. When I say intertwines, I mean both modes aren’t mutually exclusive and actually rely on each other for you to progress.
“There’s nothing quite like ending an enemy character with a well-timed and stylish skill execution, with their defeat proving to be both brutal and slick.”
Starting out, you’ll only have access to Musou Mode, and the first chapter of Nobunaga’s story will take you through a tutorial that outlines a couple of the new additions to Samurai Warriors 5. After each battle, you’ll get a rank from D through to S, with each giving you a particular set of rewards that can include new weapons, mounts, gold, and experience. Rank is determined by factors like clear time, objectives completed and so on. Whilst this isn’t new for the series, it still manages to provide that sense of progression to stop the action becoming too monotonous. There are various objectives to discover in each scenario too, so it’s in your best interest to do some exploring to make sure you’re taking in as much of the story as you can.
Once battles are completed, you’ll have the chance to head back to the My Castle screen, which throws a couple of menus at you like the Dojo, Shop and Blacksmith that will allow you to buy things to make battles easier or provide you with the means to enhance your character’s skills and proficiencies as well as upgrade weapons and mounts. It’s tied nicely into the progression too, with certain upgrades or areas being inaccessible until you’ve reached certain points in the story. Whilst it does sound a tad like artificial difficulty to stop you getting too good too soon, it worked well to pace everything and meant that I wasn’t absolutely hammering through each scenario without caring about what I was facing.
“After each battle, you’ll get a rank from D through to S, with each giving you a particular set of rewards that can include new weapons, mounts, gold, and experience.”
On that note, this is where the Citadel Mode ties in. You could call this mode ‘Wave’ mode for a more accurate description. Essentially, you’re tasked with picking two characters to face off against varying waves of enemies in five-minute increments where the aim is to complete as many objectives as possible whilst dispatching enemies, all whilst protecting your base from being destroyed. It’s a simple concept, but it’s still addictive and fun. You’re ranked at the end of the battle, and rewards are provided like in Musou Mode; however, you’ll also earn materials and considerably more gold in this mode which will provide you the means to upgrade each My Castle facility.
I typically found myself running through several story scenarios then switching over to Citadel to make sure I was fighting at top condition, so it broke up play quite nicely and kept things interesting. Depending on which characters you choose, you’ll also fill a friendship meter that once full will unlock a special scene between the two that gives a bit more depth to the overarching narrative. It’s not integral to the plot, but it’s still a nice touch that adds more personality to each character. It’s worth noting that some of the story scenarios allow you to switch between two characters, making the battle more interesting and traversable at the same time. It saves players from panic running across the map to make sure they achieve timed objectives too, which is always a plus.
“There’s more vibrancy and colour to the world, with the new visual style certainly feeling more distinct than the other Musou titles that came before it.”
You’ll visit various locales throughout the journey in Musou Mode with several scenarios unlocking for each of the game’s characters, giving you plenty to get your teeth stuck into. As you play, you’ll also unlock a sizeable roster of named characters that you can use in Free Mode, each with their own unique skills and weapons. There’s even room for co-op in the game, with players able to play two-player split-screen locally or online with a friend. It’s ALWAYS more fun to destroy armies with a pal…
One of the biggest additions to Samurai Warriors 5 is the improved visuals, with the almost cel-shaded style aesthetic certainly helping characters and the action pop-out more on screen. There’s more vibrancy and colour to the world, with the new style certainly feeling more distinct than the other Musou titles that came before it. The battles stages are a lot more fleshed out over previous entries too, and there’s definitely more attention to detail to be found. The atmosphere and tone are what you’d expect in a game of this nature, with the music being a pseudo mashup of Japanese folk and dance music. It sounds crazy, but the tracks feel right at home as they do across all the titles in the franchise.
Considering battles take around ten-to-fifteen minutes to complete, and being the rank perfectionist that I am, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve already spent a ton of hours playing Samurai Warriors 5 to unlock everything I can. But you know what? Despite some repetitive gameplay, I still enjoyed every moment of it. It’s always been one of the strengths of the series; whilst players will do a lot of the same things, the satisfying sense of power which comes with wiping out whole armies NEVER grows old.
Like all franchises that use a tried and tested formula, you could accuse Samurai Warriors 5 of being much of the same that we’ve seen in previous entries. And perhaps there’s some truth to that, but it stands to reason that I’m still playing these titles twenty years on without any sign of letting up.
Yes, this is a traditional Musou title at its core, but it follows that formula in an engaging and entertaining manner whilst making enough improvements to keep the title fresh. There have been some additions to this entry which show clear indication that the series is constantly evolving and I’ve no doubt that they’ll keep on improving the formula in the future… Samurai Warriors 5: Empires soon, anyone? Add to that the slick and vibrant visual style and it’s clear that Samurai Warriors 5 isn’t only a lot of fun to play, but it’s also taking the Musou genre in a very positive direction.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC