Samurai Warriors 5 is the latest entry in the one-versus-one-thousand hack-and-slash style of games from Koei Tecmo. Following a tried and true method of Dynasty series and its own predecessors among countless other musou style spin-offs, Samurai Warriors 5 brings a fresh face to PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC for fans of the genre.
Samurai Warriors 5 combat brings the light-heavy-hyper attack scheme the mosou games bring, Koei Tecmo expands the depth with four customizable ultimate attacks. Giving each round something new to try and switch up the gameplay. Outside of battle, there is an upgrade system for characters’ weapons and abilities that gives a feeling of progression. While Samurai Warriors 5 follows the core mechanics and gameplay loop of the mosou formula, Koei Tecmo has changed their formula a bit by actually cutting down the amount of time during the Warring States period it covers, rather than expanding upon previous entries. The time is spent honing in on the two stories of Nobunaga Oda and his rival Misudhide Akechi. While the game gives some chances to play with the rest of the cast during the story, it is more focused on the two main characters’ stories rather than the entire period. This works as a double-edged sword, in that the story feels more complete and easier to follow, but the lack of diversity in which characters you actually play can make the story feel repetitive.
Alongside the overhaul to the story, there has been a visual refresh that uses a Japanese ink painting-inspired look that gives the game a unique feel while also still being quite visually appealing. The art style, as well as the performance of the game, is quite a large step from previous Samurai Warriors entries. The visuals deliver a satisfying experience without the cost of frame drops or stutter even when there are hundreds of enemies on screen and all kinds of beautiful attack effects.
The music feels to fit the aesthetic of this game, but the entire game is voiced in only Japanese. This may not be a problem for some, but I do not speak Japanese, and while this does feel authentic for the Warring States period It causes some issues for non-Japanese speakers. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem since subtitles are available, but when mowing down thousands of enemies trying to see just how high the combo count will go without dropping, they can become very difficult to read. Not only are the subtitles hard to read during the combat, but the amount of things being relayed via subtitles is also overwhelming. Constant battlefield updates from the NPC “generals” make it nigh impossible to be up to date with what’s happening on the battlefield without stopping and reading every few seconds. While a minor complaint to some I found myself just ignoring what was happening actively in the battle and smashing enemies until all the red was gone.
The replayability of Samurai Warriors 5 is where it really comes to shine. When you open the “free” modes and have the option to play around with the entire roster of 37 officers’ play styles and weapons the game finds a lot of depth. The real fun in these games is to destroy thousands of enemies in different ways, with different characters and their own unique special moves. Once the story has been completed is also where the co-op portion of the game can really stretch its legs. Unfortunately, you cannot play a mission in the story with a friend online unless they have already beaten that mission. So, you won’t be slashing away with a friend progressing through the story together. I feel this is a missed opportunity as the gameplay loop of these hack and slash games can really become a slog, and having a friend in there can add a fun competitive nature in the sense of “who can get the biggest combo” or “who can rack up the most kills” in each round.
A quick word of warning, the controls are intuitive and serviceable on a controller, but the entire format is difficult to manage on mouse and keyboard. While available on PC the game is clearly intended to be played with a controller as the camera is incredibly difficult to manage while slashing your way to victory with your mouse.
Koei Tecmo has reimagined Samurai Warriors in just enough ways to make it feel fresh, but familiar enough that you can hop in and start mowing down enemies. The focus on Nobunaga and Mitsuhide did deliver a story that had more “value” than the previous entries’ attempts to cover a larger span of time. Samurai Warriors 5 does what it sets out to do well. It can deliver a quick campaign for players interested in a well-delivered story during the Warring States era as well as bring players around for hours of hacking and slashing with the depth of the cast and customization.