If history class has taught us anything…it’s history. More specifically, and less obviously, it expresses how people have pretty much been the same throughout the ages. You’ve got mean people, nice people, people who flip-flop between the two, innocent people, guilty people, cool people, weird people, people who are really loud and obnoxious, people who give stern looks to the obnoxious people, and at least a handful of people who think their era could really use some tidying up. Samurai Warriors 5 gives us all of these people…and, like, a really high body count.
Delving once more into the much-explored Sengoku (Warring States) period of Japan’s history, this latest instalment in the Samurai Warriors spin-off franchise is set to explore the rise of a fairly prominent figure: one Oda Nobunaga. Having never played a Samurai Warriors title before, I was rather intrigued by this, as my only experience with this tumultuous historical period had Oda pegged as a villain. To be fair, said experience came from other video games and anime, so take my knowledge with a grain of salt. Still, it’s always interesting to see how history is utilised, tweaked, and romanticised to make an entertaining property; so, the question then becomes: is this an entertaining property?
Short answer: yes. Samurai Warriors 5 is a fun experience if you are looking for some mindless chaos. In my brief preview of the game—being the first two chapters of I don’t know how many—I tore through roughly ten thousand samurai…a chapter. There is, just, so much wanton destruction…and I kinda dig it. This isn’t a game devoted to realistic violence, or blood, or gore; instead, swinging a sword can create a shockwave that quite literally decimates an opposing force. There’s a sense of catharsis in actually being as powerful as video games claim a protagonist is: knowing that you can stroll into a literal war, claim that thousands of opponents against you makes it a fair fight, and mean it. The game also knows that this power fantasy is what people want, as immediately after starting it up an option appeared asking if I wanted to activate Easy mode. I can’t think of many games that don’t use that option as a punishment/insult after you fail enough times, let alone ones that proudly display it as an option. Personally, I’m a fan of Easy. Let me frolic with reckless abandon; don’t tell me that my aversion of hair-tearing challenge is a weakness.
Pivoting to the specifics of the aforementioned slaughter, Samurai Warriors 5 provides you a handful of characters and weapons to cause it. Your primary vessel into battle is, of course, Nobunaga: the man of the hour and the one around whom the story revolves. He rocks a sizable sword—an odachi, to be specific—allowing for sweeping swings that tear through enemies. That being said, the sword is not king in this world; at least, not gameplay-wise. Provided through the opportunity to play as Nobunaga’s various allies, you will also be able to fight using spears, naginata (which is, like, not quite a spear), bows, katana (like an odachi, only smaller), ninja blades (smaller still, plus a shuriken side-arm), hammers, kusarigama, and talismans/shikigami. Though the wide-swathing destruction they cause is all pretty similar, their combos vary enough that you’ll find a favourite. Personally, I found that the ninja sword provides a fun blend of melee and ranged combos and lends itself to a feeling of speed over power. Still, no weapon or character will play well if you skimp on the upgrades.
Oh yeah, there’s levelling…like, a lot of levelling. And frankly, it’s a double-edged sword. There will always be a joy to seeing your character’s numbers and stat bars increase, but it’s also a necessity in this game. Increasing a character’s level, their skills, their mastery with a type of weapon, and the skills on said weapon are what stand between this game being mindless fun and a chore. Unfortunately, the story’s tendency to make you play as characters before you have a chance to upgrade them put a limiter on your freedom from level to level. New characters also enter your roster at a decent enough level, but chances are you just spent your accrued experience on the characters you already played; so, tough luck. And I’m not even talking about the lack of skills or upgrades to speed and defence: it’s attack power. Not upgrading that will leave you hacking at a nobody for way too long to fell them. Your Oda could tear through a map with the gear you’ve built up, but you have to play as Akechi and you’ve never used katana before: good luck. I mean, it’s not game breaking or anything, but playing as Momochi for the first time in chapter two left me with an average impression of what kusarigama can do. Also, that was an escort mission: which leads me to my biggest complaint about this game…
Everyone who isn’t you is terrible. Every NPC ally, ever playable character you’re not currently playing as, they all just stand around and get beat up by regular foot-soldiers…on Easy. For this reason, missions can devolve into you simply running around to keep your allies alive, lest you fail the mission. Multiple times I would see an ally stationary on the map, only to discover that they were stuck behind a barrel or running into a wall. That’s not even mentioning the mini-map littered with red and blue dots, meaning you may not even know where an ally is being attacked, or that there was even an ally there in the first place. Yes, important characters provide you with information mid-battle, but I can’t speak Japanese and the text boxes can become a little lost in the chaos of slaying five-hundred men with one sword swing. I guess this all definitely makes you replay maps at a later point, since you’ll need late-game upgrades to compensate for the AI and achieve that coveted S-rank in every objective, but that’s putting a very positive spin on my grievances.
All that being said, I enjoyed playing the early chapters of Samurai Warriors 5. Yes, it has its issues which can gnaw at you—especially when you’re tasked with protecting an NPC who seems programmed to run into harm’s way and then escape by running away from the objective—but that was only overtly prevalent in one level. For the most part, I simply enjoyed being an overpowered combatant in a world of possibly accurate historical war. Again, my knowledge of the period is sparse, but everyone probably wasn’t actually that in-shape and attractive. Although, good for them if they were.