Samurai Warriors 5 – Cell Shaded Slicing and Dicing
PS4, Xbox One
The Musou genre is not something I have extensive experience with. I played a few of the original Dynasty Warriors games way back on the PS1 and then Ninety Nine Nights on the 360 when it launched, but since that time I haven’t really played any at all. Those early games left an impression and I figured that over the years not much had changed. But when the chance to review Samurai Warriors 5 came up, I thought it was time to dive back in and see what the genre had evolved into over the years since my last dabble. I have to say this, I am glad I did because I had a grand old time taking on the hordes of Japan’s past.
That’s not to say things in the core gameplay have changed massively. There are still thousands of warriors that need to die by your hand. Swarms of enemies rush you as you slice, dice and bash your way towards various goals set out in each mission. There are special moves, Musou moves and Ultimate Musou moves, all of which combine into a simple yet satisfying fighting system that plays into the power fantasy that the game presents. This is not a game of finesse, it is about making you feel like an unstoppable Samurai superhero and the entire gameplay loop is built to support that fantasy.
What has changed is the structures and systems that support the main game. The last time I played a Musou title there was very little in the way of progression or RPG mechanics but in Samurai Warriors 5 there is a host of ways to improve characters and their equipment. From RPG skill trees to weapon crafting and augmenting, Samurai Warriors 5 gives players quite a bit of ownership as to how they play and how they guide their characters through the main game. This leads me to Citadel mode, which is essentially a Musou version of Horde mode. This mode sees you choose two characters and defend your Citadel against waves of enemies. These are short 10-15 minute chunks of distilled Musou gameplay that earns rewards and upgrades for the player which can then be used in the main story mode. While not essential to the campaign, Citadel mode is a great way to make sure your characters are levelled and geared up ready for the tougher later missions.
Speaking of the main campaign or Musou mode, the story here is a little on the confusing side. There are a lot of names, places and topics that are thrown at the player in a rapid-fire manner, making it hard to sort out what is happening at times. The individual chapters are a nice slice of storytelling though, it is just the overarching story that can dive into confusing territory. The main campaign gives you two main characters to focus on as well as branching chapters with some of the secondary characters. It also encourages experimentation with the different selectable characters available, as in quite a few missions you don’t have to use the characters that the story focuses on. There are a host of different warriors to pick from, each using a different main weapon and feeling unique in the process. It is a testament to the developers that they have managed to create this much variety in such a large cast. It can’t have been easy and while some of the ranged characters feel a little underpowered, for the most part, no matter who you pick you will be in the fight.
What really deserves a special mention here is the cell-shaded graphics. It is the perfect style for this game, giving it the feel of a comic book version of history, which is essentially what these Warriors games are. That slightly hand-drawn look only enhances the power fantasy that comes with slaughtering 1000’s of warriors in a single mission. Not only does the game look great, but it is as smooth as butter which is a big tick in the box. With literally hundreds of enemies on the screen at once, it is easy to imagine the frame rate being all over the place, but thankfully that is not so. There isn’t a frame rate drop to be seen, not even in the most hectic of battles. The entire engine seems to be super stable and it comes with low load times and very few issues at all. It is clear the developers have polished the base tech of this franchise to a premium shine and Samurai Warriors 5 is much better for that hard work.
I think with a game like Samurai Warriors 5, a lot of the appeal will depend on how many Musou games you have played in the past. If you are a genre mega fan, you will be in for a good time. If you are like me and haven’t dipped your toes into the genre for a while you will also have a lot of fun. But for people who play these games on a semi-regular basis, the core gameplay loop may be too similar to keep you hooked until the end. There is no doubt that Samurai Warriors 5 is a well made, enjoyable example of the genre but it is subject to the restrictions of the genre and therefore will not be for everyone.
Samurai Warriors 5 is a perfect slice of junk food gaming. It knows it isn’t an award winner, breaking new ground or pushing gaming forward, it simply aims to provide an entertaining ride, nothing more, nothing less. In that light, it is impossible to see Samurai Warriors 5 as anything but a success, as it meets those goals with ease.
Samurai Warriors 5 was reviewed on the PS5 (PS4 Version) with code kindly supplied by the publisher.