Game: Samurai Warriors 5
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Xbox and PS4)
Developer|Publisher: Koei Tecmo, Omega Force | Koei Tecmo
Age Rating: EU 16+ | US Teen
Price: UK £54.99 | US $59.99 | EU € 59,99
Release Date: July 27th, 2021
Review code provided with many thanks to Koei Tecmo
The Musou or Warriors type games from Koei Tecmo really took the world by storm over the years. I remember first playing Dynasty Warriors 2 all the way back in 2000 and being blown away by the spectacle on display. Playing an overpowered soldier taking out masses of enemies on screen at once, it was over the top madness! I also distinctly remember reviewers being a little harsh on the series back then due to its repetitive gameplay style. Well, that didn’t stop me and several other gamers from investing heavily into this series for multiple sequels and spin-off games.
The fast running train of success got a little carried away though and the series and I did start to burn out from it by Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires on PS2. The games kept releasing in rapid succession but I stayed away. I would return to enjoy the genre with Hyrule Warriors on WiiU which kinda got me back into the overall series. It seems this break did me good as when I got to sit down and enjoy Samurai Warriors 5 it felt like returning to an old friend.
If you’re not used to this style of the game let me give you a brief description. You choose a samurai officer and you enter these big battlefield levels filled with thousands of enemy soldiers. You have allies but they really just seem to be there to offer general morale and support. It’s basically you versus the masses of armies. So using your oversized weapons you hack and slash your way to victory, while sometimes using an over the top Musou move to cause even more damage. Repeat until the battle is won.
That’s the main meat of the experience. It’s repetitive but for some reason mowing down hundreds of soldiers at a time still seems to act as the ultimate gamer stress relief. Particularly if you are looking for a game to just shut your brain off and enjoy. Of course, there is more to just hacking and slashing and Samurai Warriors 5 offers a surprising amount of depth to its gameplay. At least since the last time I was invested in this series.
Samurai Warriors 5 offers an enormous amount of depth to its options and gameplay. You can just happily switch your brain off and have fun with the game simply hacking and slashing. But there is a lot of depth to its mechanics if you’re willing to invest. There are 27 officers to unlock and discover and you can equip each officer with a variety of weapons, all of which can be levelled up increasing your proficiency with this weapon. Each officer also has a skill tree to increase their abilities. Then you can also upgrade various aspects of your castle like the blacksmith, the shop and the horse stables further expanding your options. It’s a game to very easily get lost in, but none of it feels forced or overwhelming. As you progress through the initial levels the game alerts you to new options and upgrades when they’re available.
Even the combat itself has been expanded adding additional moves in the battlefield to help you bust through armies with shields or spears and just offering you an alternative to mashing the same two attack buttons over and over. During most levels, you have the option to switch to another officer and you can even direct the idle officer with some basic commands. You can also summon small army units, like archers, to assist on the fly and were actually quite handy in a pinch.
Levels themselves feel very familiar for the series. The main objective is to take down the leader of the opposing army. But in your quest to win you’re often presented with other side quests such as helping or escorting a fellow officer. The game has gone more back to its roots with a simply contained battlefield, rather than the open-world approach the series attempted with Dynasty Warriors 9. It’s familiar but it feels like a good fit. By scaling the game back and focusing on building the game mechanics Samurai Warriors 5 feels like quite the breath of fresh air for the series.
A New Lick of Paint
The graphics themselves have received a slight update from previous games in the series. This time the game has a sort of light cell-shaded feel to the character models. When you perform a Musou move your attack resembles an infamous Japanese painting which is a nice touch. For the most part, this is the same design you’re used to seeing for this series. A bunch of overly dressed and fabulous soldiers taking on a lot of similarly designed soldiers.
The performance of the game seemed pretty good on Switch. I was very impressed by the draw distance with several soldiers filling the screen at once. Strangely it was in TV mode where I started to see rough textures to the character models. But none of these issues broke the experience for me. If you take the experience into split-screen multiplayer the performance does dip further but it’s still a bearable compromise to be able to share the game with someone else.
Samurai Warriors 5 has two main modes, a citadel or free play mode where you can make use of the entire roster of officers and take on various battles in any order you fancy. But the main highlight for me was the story mode or Musou mode. This follows the stories of Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi. Two famous officers that were known for their parts in the Sengoku Period during the 1500s. As luck would have it, I recently watched a documentary about this infamous period in Japanese history. So it was kinda interesting playing this game and seeing a more animated character depicting these incredibly influential officers. Initially, the game comes across as a more light-hearted take on history.
The warriors you play as are typically overly dressed. They look like they would be better placed in a beauty pageant than a war. But if you’re familiar at all with Musou games, you are more than familiar with this design. To my surprise, the game actually does reference a lot of the actual history, with brief descriptions of officers in the loading screens and their bios that you can view at your own leisure. The game even references some of the darker moments of this history in its cutscenes including seppuku. Something I’m not used to seeing in this game series.
It certainly made the characters much more engaging than other games in the series. I still recommend picking up an actual book. Or visiting a museum but you never know, maybe this will inspire you. The more you play the story mode, the more you unlock the free play mode. Unfortunately, all of the dialogue is English subtitled. This is nothing new for this series. It feels like a long time ago now when we had the cheesy English voice acting from Dynasty Warriors 3 but one can dream. Subtitles are fine but they do become a bit of a problem during battles when you’re trying to concentrate on what is in front of you rather than read the small snippets of dialogue that jump at the bottom of the screen.
You may be pleased to hear the game offers both split-screen local co-op and online co-op options. Unfortunately, you have to play the first three missions to unlock this feature. Which is quite the pain if you go into this game intending to play with someone else. What is also silly is you can’t take your co-op partner into the story mode, only free play. Now, this mode does have all the depth of the story mode but it’s a shame you can’t just share it with someone else. I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the game online so I can’t comment on how well this runs.
Conclusion – Return to Form
Samurai Warriors 5 is a breath of fresh air for the Musou series. If you have not been into these games before it’s unlikely this is the game to win you over to the series. For me, though, this felt like a return to a more traditional form. With keeping the battles simple like I remember back in the day whilst adding plenty of depth to keep you playing for hundreds of hours. I may have taken a break from this series for some time but Samurai Warriors 5 feels like a welcome return to form. If you’re a fan of this series this is definitely one to look out for.
Final Verdict: I Like It a Lot