To me, I’ve always felt like Dynasty Warriors is that series where you either get it or you don’t. The appeal of being able to rack up thousand-hit-long combos and slice down hundreds upon hundreds of enemies has always been a draw to me, and I’ve never felt that repetition grind down on me (maybe it’s the ADHD, who knows). Despite this, much of my experience with the series has been through its spinoffs like One Piece: Pirate Warriors and Hyrule Warriors, so Samurai Warriors 5 was my first taste of what a more traditional Warriors game is like. And if this is the future of the series, then I’m in for the long haul.
Samurai Warriors 5 takes place during the Sengoku era in Japan, telling the story of a young, scrappy lord named Nobunaga ascending the throne of the Owari kingdom and expanding his empire. Through animated cutscenes, dialogue, and mission prologues a la Three Houses, the story is told beautifully alongside an eye-catching new art style. The story is also told along a different route with his partner Mitsuhide Akechi, who offers another perspective from a neighboring region. Even though this is a reboot and reading this didn’t feel like anything new, I still appreciate its witty approach to making a 17th-century tale feel approachable, with fun characters and impressive attention to detail.
This level of detail crosses over to its titular mechanics. With almost 40 different characters with unique attacks, weapon types, armor, abilities, and even horses to choose from, creating a tailor-made layout all depends on how deep you’re willing to go. This also means that you’ll have to engross yourself in everything the game has to offer; from the main story, to a new tower defense-style Citadel mode, to free play, and to spending skill points to upgrade abilities, be prepared to put in work to make your characters the best they can be. Throughout the 15-hour campaign, getting out of this customization wonderland wasn’t easy.
I’ve always been a big fan of games that I can just pick up and play, and Samurai Warriors 5 scratches that itch perfectly. Most missions start right in the heart of battle after confirming your loadout; as you proceed to mow through the first onslaughts of enemies on horseback (yes you can ride horses yes it’s amazing), dialogue between warring leaders sets the tone for where you’re supposed to go and who your targets are. Bulldozing your way to glory never stopped satisfying me during the 10-hour campaign, and the fact that the game was able to keep up at a consistent framerate even in handheld mode surprised me.
The simple controls and relatively-uncomplicated gameplay mechanics make this even more attractive for people looking for an action game with a low barrier for entry. Racking up combos is as easy as mashing buttons towards hordes of enemies, although some tricker situations may require the use of Hyper Attacks or Ultimate Skills. Much of the core gameplay remains the same from previous entries, although I found myself having issues with keeping the camera behind my character. Even though high-tense situations meant that it was bobbing around at times, nothing is more satisfying than finally finishing off an enemy by unleashing a final attack.
A new addition to Samurai Warriors 5 is Citadel Mode, which is a combination of Musou action and the tower defense-like nature of Ys IX’s Grimwald Nox sections. As waves of enemies approach, it’s your job to protect your base and make it out of the mission alive. This mode integrates itself as a central part of the game as it’s one of the only ways you can upgrade buildings such as shops, stables, and dojos to earn more experience and better items. You’ll likely be playing the citadel mode just as much as the main plot, and while it was nice to do something that wasn’t the main story it didn’t offer much differentiation from that.
Here’s the thing: while there’s a lot of potential in Samurai Warriors 5 to build your characters up to be absolute beasts, the game expects you to put in the work to get there. And while it’s great that there are over 45 characters and tons of horses to ride and weapons to use, you start to feel like you’re being spread thin. Ensuring that all of your potential characters are up to snuff level-wise and gear-wise, and figuring out which ones work best for your playstyle over the course of the campaign, made me feel more like I was being served a never-ending sample platter of combat techniques. I think Koei Tecmo took a lot of notes from the development of Fire Emblem: Three Houses and applied them here when it comes to how far you can go, but feeling like you have to grind in order to grind even more can get you burnt out very quickly. It’s nice having all this customization, but it felt like too much at times.
While Samurai Warriors 5 makes you put in the work, it’s been one of my favorite ways to kick back after a long day. Being able to turn your brain off and just get to battle while still having a grip on gameplay and narrative is something I treasure, although the game outpaced itself at times with its breadth. Musou games obviously aren’t for everyone – and I expect most players to probably find this too grindy – but for those who have been bogged down by the world’s gradual return to normalcy, Samurai Warriors 5 is a great game to get energized. Who needs caffeine when the drive to keep your combo going as long as possible is keeping you glued to your chair?
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo