They say that history is written by the victor. What they forgot to say is that sometimes history is also slightly re-written hundreds of years later by a game company, in order to retell climactic moments through the medium of a hack-and-slash. Mustn’t have been enough room on the page for that part.
Oh, Samurai Warriors 5, what knowledge of warring states do you bring? What insights into a tumultuous period of history have you to teach us? What cool Ultimate Moves will your figures perform when slicing through thousands of unnamed samurai? Well…I’m not exactly sure. Okay, I know the Warriors games aren’t intended to be a one-stop-shop for history lessons, but I figured it was still worth mentioning how it seems like this games plot would be far more coherent to somebody with a major in Japanese history. I’ve picked up a few details via anime and their various interpretations of actually-existed-in-the-past samurai, but boy does Musou Mode (a.k.a. the story mode) fly though decades of content. Characters just drop in and out, switching sides, marrying each other, swearing oaths to each other, breaking said oaths they swore to each other, killing each other, declaring themselves the children of each other, yelling their convictions at each other, questioning their convictions in their own minds, yelling their faltering convictions at each other, getting kidnapped, freeing themselves from being kidnapped, betraying their lord, revealing that they didn’t actually betray their lord and are just pretending so that their partner can covertly find the real person who betrayed their lord…also stabbing each other. Lot’s of stabbing each other. It’s just…it’s a lot. And the desire to remain somewhat historically accurate means that the story suffers. Maybe Yasuke was a retainer to Nobunaga, but did you really have to throw a new character in five missions before the end of the game?
Speaking of story issues, only two of the character models change. Ever. Was it cool when Nobunaga and Mitsuhide rocked up in their time-skip outfits? Hell yeah. Grow that moustache Nobunaga. But everybody looks the same. There’s even a scene where Nobunaga’s allies are discussing how long they’ve all been working together and they look identical to when they first appeared: which was decades ago. Seriously, one character turns up in a mission and everybody wonders how he survived being held captive for a year. I didn’t realise he was gone. I have no idea how much time passes between each mission. One character claims to be the child of another part way through the game, and it took me a while to realise that they were the baby from the beginning of the game; so, I guess at least fifteen years passed. It’s just…combined with the story’s insistence on hitting the big moments from this period of history, the unchanging character models make it a chore to keep up with the plot. The fact that some characters are introduced with their full name, a nickname, and a title also doesn’t help, but I digress.
As far as gameplay goes, this is a Warriors game. Not a revolutionary statement, but an apt one. You play as a single samurai (frequently with the ability to swap back and forth to an ally in each mission) who has the power to slaughter entire armies. Just absolutely murder them. Mash the buttons to use combos, use Ultimate Moves when the gauges allow, and plough through your objectives. Is it fun? Yes. Can it be frustrating? Also yes. Here’s the thing: I enjoy the Warriors style of gameplay…when I’m overpowered. With an A-rank weapon and way more levels than required, the game is a blast. You are literally a one-person army; it’s cathartically living out your anime fantasy. None can stop you. None can stand in your way. On the other hand, being under-levelled means that the game is an endless sea of chip damage and stun lock, making you curse the series of 1s and 0s that allow such atrocities to occur. What makes this even more of a binary bundle is that those are your two options: overpowered or under-levelled. There is no middle ground. At least, I never found it.
Okay, so as not to be unfair, there are systems that allow you to speed your characters’ growth along for the sake of beating the game. As you play, you accrue a pool of experience that you are able to spend on any character, jumping them up a few levels. This comes in very handy as, dictated by the story, your access to characters periodically shifts. There are a few levels that were difficult only due to the roster featuring characters I had never used. Should I have rotated my selection more frequently? Maybe. But I knew that characters would leave, so why do anything other than toughen up Nobunaga and Mitsuhide? Why not have at least one powerhouse I knew I’d be able to use? To that point, you can utilise any weapon with any character, so even that preference can be worked around. Sure, characters each have proficiencies and are able to level up certain weaponry faster, but so what? You want Sena to use a gun? Why not? Let Nobunaga chase his ambition with an essentially magical drum. The history books don’t say he didn’t.
Okay, so that was a little more of a rant than I intended, but I did already sort of give some thoughts on this game before (see, here, I’m not lying); so, you got my second wave of thoughts this time. That being said, my thoughts remain largely the same: Samurai Warriors 5 is a fun time when you are playing as the strongest character on the battlefield. This isn’t a particularly skill-based game, so as long as your numbers are bigger than the AI’s numbers you’re golden. Still, even on Easy the NPCs were more of a detriment and the AI is rigid in its execution. Don’t believe me? Push a boss out of their spawn area and they will divert all of there energy to getting back there. It’s less of a home-field advantage and more of a home-field dependence. Regardless, if you’re in the right mood then this will give you some good times and scratch that Warriors itch…until the next one comes out.