A review code for Samurai Warriors 5 was provided by Koei Tecmo. Additionally, the game has a multiplayer aspect I was unable to test during the review process, and will be omitted from the review.
Koei Tecmo and Omega-Force are back at it again. Whether it be Dynasty, Orochi, Hyrule or One Piece, there is always some kind of Warriors game on the horizon. It’s time for Samurai Warriors 5 to take centre stage, and for fans of the series, this one was hotly anticipated. Does this fifth entry hold up, carve a path, and see its Nobunaga-like ambitions come to fruition?
Sengoku Here We Come
Samurai Warriors 5 takes place in the Sengoku period of Japan and stars almost 40 playable characters from that era. The star of the show, however, is the almost-legendary Oda Nobunaga. The story, at first, follows his rather rapid rise to power, although it does frequently split off to cover other key figures’ tales. These take the shape of optional side missions and entire unlockable side campaigns. Not wanting to spoil anything here, but the story, for the most part, is full of alliances, betrayal, murder and even the odd massacre.
It certainly does an admirable job of keeping the complexity of a war-ravaged country filled with deceit and ambition digestible. This is, unfortunately, done at the expense of temporal cohesion. Often the story will jump years into the future without much explanation. Bitter enemies suddenly become allies, then enemies, then best of friends over the course of a decade. It feels incredibly disjointed when taken individually, but as an overarching plot, it does enough to keep things interesting between battles.
Characters are unfortunately the weakest aspect of the game’s narrative. This is mostly down to poor dialogue, one-note personalities and, like the issues with the core plot, seemingly random time-skips. It’s hard to feel sorry when a character dies when the vast amount of that character’s screen time consisted of babbling about her one personality trait, betrayal and, well, their death. Nobunaga in particular danced on my last nerve, mostly down to his constant shit-eating grin and rusted-nail personality. The guy is thoroughly unlikeable, although that may have been by design. Still, he’s one of the bigger stars of the show, so a bit of effort to make his character likeable might have helped in this regard.
1 vs 1000
Story aside, Samurai Warriors 5 is very much a Warriors/Musou/1vs1000 title. The gameplay is incredibly basic on the surface but has a degree of nuance under the hood if you dig a bit deeper. Missions take place on large maps consisting of open areas and restricted corridors (even outside). These areas are littered with literally thousands of mooks ready to die at your hand, with the occasional officer forcing you to put a bit of effort into the whole mass-killing thing.
You will be given several ever-changing objectives throughout a battle, giving each clash a real sense of flow and urgency. Sometimes you will need to kill a certain number of guys in a certain area, take out key military figures, burn down temples, or escort characters to specific locations. Objectives are often timed and come bundled with other, equally urgent, objectives. The enemy could be launching an all-out assault, whilst mercenaries are ambushing your supply lines, or looking to assassinate key figures in your own offensive. There is always something happening, and that something is always framed as being time-sensitive.
This urgency keeps battles feeling fresh, and is complemented by optional side, bonus and special objectives that can be found by going off the beaten path. As a result, each battle is full of content to discover, and it’s fairly unlikely you will see everything each mission has to offer on a first playthrough. Similarly, your efficacy at doing what the game wants is graded, with S Rank granting you a hefty increase in rewards if you manage to obtain them. There is a surprising amount of replayability on offer here, which is nice to see.
Each character has their own preferred weapon, and each weapon comes with its own combo strings that expand as they level up. Nobunaga likes chonky swords whilst Mitsuhide likes a more refined katana. Some people love fisticuffs, and others love rifles. There is surprising depth here for people who go looking for it, but Samurai Warriors 5, as is common with the series, doesn’t make digging all that rewarding. Long combos or weird weapons are often unwieldy and therefore inefficient. Killing enemies in droves is the goal here, and if getting fancy slows that down, well, the game starts to feel a bit bloated.
I found myself sticking to one character, mostly using one weapon, and spamming the most efficient AOE attack available. This just so happened to be a 4-hit combo, which, whilst powerful, wasn’t exactly engaging over a longer play session. The large cast does a decent job of disincentivising experimentation too. Since there are RPG mechanics at play, dropping my main character to play with someone new resulted in a drastic decrease in power. Being underleveled brought that bloated feeling back, which is the antithesis of what Samurai Warriors 5 wants to convey.
Samurai Warriors 5 is at its best when enemies die quickly, you get around the battlefield hastily and objectives are completed swiftly. Being an overpowered god of destruction is absolutely the goal, and being bogged down trying to get through fodder and lesser officers is never a good time. Samurai Warriors 5, when it’s doing its job, is an almost instant gratification machine that doles out copious amounts of endorphins. Being flooded with internal hoots and hollers as you kill your four thousandth guy feels great. This is made even better with the inclusion of powerful Musou attacks that can instantly bring your combo count into the thousands, but also have flashy animations that feed into that machine.
Repetition Sinks In
No matter how hard Samurai Warriors 5 tries, however, that feeling of repetition manages to sneak in surprisingly early. That being said, I kept on coming back to the game. Every day I would boot it up, play a couple missions, get a bit tired then repeat. Missions take about 20 minutes to complete, so picking up the game for a quick burst of basic but enjoyable gameplay became my preferred method of play. Almost as if the developers knew this was the case, there is even an additional mode called Citadel Mode that ties into your campaign progress in interesting ways. Citadel Mode lets you engage in super fast missions with any character you want. These are perfect for extra-short play sessions and the rewards are numerous.
Materials earned in both Musou and Citadel Mode can be used to enhance your various facilities that are accessible between missions. The blacksmith upgrades weapons, the stables upgrades horses and the dojo upgrades your characters. Gathering things like lumber allows you to bump up your facilities levels, and this, in turn, expands their usefulness. Being able to pump a bunch of experience into a new character and max out their weapon mastery before you ever play them is a great way of experimenting and helps alleviate some of the game’s RPG-based issues.
In terms of presentation, Samurai Warriors 5 looks alright. Character models are suitably over the top, with Nobunaga’s hair adding roughly 2ft to his total height. Many of the major players have memorable designs, and they all have this pleasingly hand-drawn aesthetic to them, even coming with thick black outlines. Environments are disappointingly basic, however, with most areas looking generations old. Some concessions needed to be made, of course, as the screen can be flooded with enemies. It’s a shame then that the game has an awful amount of popup which can make the game look incredibly empty one moment, and densely packed the next. It’s never a good look, and this issue has been present since the dawn of the series. Thankfully I didn’t notice any significant dips in performance whilst playing the PS5, although that may vary on weaker hardware.
Voice acting is all in Japanese, which is to be expected, and absolutely fits the game’s themes. Most performances are well delivered and convey all the right emotions, even if I don’t actually speak the language. Music is also excellent with traditional Japanese sounds and jingles being interspersed with more action-focused tracks. This gives Samurai Warriors 5 a distinct feel, whilst maintaining that high-octane sense of progression.
Samurai Warriors 5 will not convert anyone who isn’t a Musou fan, and it clearly wasn’t trying to. This is a game for fans of the genre, and it does an excellent job of delivering addictive gameplay in short, chaotic bursts. It’s a shame many of the series issues continue to linger, but this is a game I found myself enjoying regardless. I hope the series makes some significant strides once we get a truly next-gen Warriors game, but for now, this one is pretty good.