Samurai Warriors 5 isn’t just a reboot, it’s one of the best Koei Tecmo games to date. Clever refinements to the series formula and a more impassioned focus on story justifies this bold change in direction. Not only that, Samurai Warriors 5 serves as an ideal gateway for new players.
The Sengoku (or “Warring States”) era of Japanese history has been the inspiration for countless video games over the decades. Koei Tecmo are particularly fond of this setting with some of their other popular series including Nobunaga’s Ambition, Kessen, and Nioh.
Even in the earliest instalment of Samurai Warriors back in 2004, the series adopted a wide historical scope, charting Nobunaga’s ascension as a fearless warlord and finally ending with the unification of Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate. Subsequent games have continued to flesh out the setting with new stories, new factions, and new characters, giving many of the warring clans their own spotlight. However, the overall narrative has always felt diluted and hard to follow.
Samurai Warriors 5 takes a different approach. In a nutshell, developer Omega Force has gone for quality over quantity. There’s simply too much history (too many rivalries and too many key battles) to cram into one game. Instead, this title focuses on the intertwined destinies of Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi.
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Samurai Warriors 5 goes at a much slower pace, taking time to develop these characters both on and off the battlefield. When warlords go head to head, there’s a lot more gravity to these campaigns instead of them being wrapped up neatly in a single mission. While this means that some fan favourites won’t appear in Samurai Warriors 5, the game has a much stronger focus on story than previous entries. We’d be surprised if the inevitable Dynasty Warriors 10 doesn’t make this same choice.
This latest sequel has also done something a Warriors game hasn’t managed for quite some time: offer a rewarding sense of challenge and variety amid the inherited hack ‘n’ slash action. I can’t remember the last time I have actually cared about levelling up the entire roster of characters in a Warriors game. It was most likely 2007’s superb crossover title, Warriors Orochi.
At a glance, combat will look practically identical to previous games. Battles have always flitted between the effortless annihilation of grunts, and crossing swords with boss-like officers. In most older Warriors titles these supposedly dramatic duels simply meant fighting someone with a flashier character model and a chunkier health bar. In Samurai Warriors 5, there’s definitely more of a one-on-one feel to these encounters, especially as you dial up the difficulty.
A lock-on, block, and evade gives the reboot more of an action RPG flavour in the style of Nioh. Boss characters will bite back more often, unleashing a volley of attacks while occasionally winding up more powerful, telegraphed moves that require you to dodge. While it doesn’t get much more in depth than that, it’s still nice to see a more advanced layer of combat mechanics.
Omega Force has also been experimenting with how character progression works. Over the years they’ve brought a number of ideas to the table, some much better than others, but Samurai Warriors 5 is the best yet. There’s a constant flurry of points and collectables as you hack your way across the battlefield, giving purpose to the somewhat mindless button bashing. Instead of immediately hopping from one scenario to the next, you’ll want to visit the Castle, upgrade weapons, buy items, and train your officers.
One major gripe fans have had with past Warriors games is cloning. It was once the norm for every character to have their own unique weapon and moveset. However, with dozens upon dozens of playable officers, we started to see many of them sharing the same weapons.
Samurai Warriors 5 has found a good middle ground. There’s a smaller pool of weapons here, and they’re shared universally among every character. Some are more nuanced than others, though it’s clear that Omega Force has tried to give them each a distinct playstyle, as if they’re like choosing different classes in an action RPG. For example, the naginata can perform air combos while great spears turn you into a tank, and rifles are able to load up on different ammo types.
As much as I love the idea of each character being defined by a weapon, this change makes progression feel more worthwhile as you aren’t collecting/upgrading dozens of unique weapons. It has also allowed Omega Force to give these weapons some added punch.
Just about every game in the Warriors franchise has featured story missions, freeplay, and then its own unique mode. These modes have repackaged the core hack n’ slash fun in different ways, but the majority feel bare and not worth your time. That’s not the case with Citadel Mode. In fact, it’s an essential part of playing Samurai Warriors 5.
Here, you lead two officers out on skirmishes, defending your base while completing various challenges. Designed to be played in short bursts, these timed missions are the best way of earning materials needed to upgrade your Castle. At the same time, you’re levelling characters, mastering weapons, and even unlocking upgradeable units who can be summoned during Citadel battles.
Another notable change is the new art style. Samurai Warriors 5 is by far the boldest game in the series, rocking a cel-shaded, almost brush-stroked style that vibes perfectly with the setting. The lack of an English dub isn’t surprising, though I would have liked to have seen the option. During battles, there are plenty of character exchanges and exclamations that fly by as players focus on the action in front of them.