Koei Tecmo’s Samurai Warriors finally returns after a seven year hiatus with a soft reboot that takes the long-running saga back to its roots, focusing on a brash young Nobunaga Oda’s unwavering determination to unify Japan whilst zeroing in on his relationship with Mitsuhide Akechi. Samurai Warriors 5 is a slick and stylish addition to the long-running Musou series that tells its tale well, introduces a beautiful new art style, makes a bunch of smart additions to the franchise’s standard hack and slash action and, perhaps most importantly for Switch fans, manages all of this whilst delivering impressively solid performance on Nintendo’s console.
Starting off with that new art style; the rather bland, po-faced visual direction of older entries in the Samurai Warriors series has now been replaced with a fresh and colourful look that’s been heavily inspired by traditional Japanese ink paintings. From the moment you boot this one up it’s a real feast for the eyeballs and even on Switch, where the graphics have absolutely been pared back in comparison to other versions of the game, things still look really slick. In battle there’s a surprising amount of vibrant and flashy particle effects on screen as you slice and dice your way through the thousands of enemies that stand in your way; the narrative cutscenes that book-end missions now look uniformly superb. Yes the draw-distance still stinks a little – a problem not unique to this Switch port – but overall this is one tasty looking addition to the franchise.
The reworked presentation really does feed into how enjoyable the narrative is too, with those stylish cutscenes presenting the various characters, plot points, perspectives and incidents in a way that just feels more captivating than it has done in the past. Yes, as long-time fans we were sucked in more than usual just checking out all the new character designs, but even for newcomers this is a campaign with a story that’s brought to life in a rather gorgeous and, perhaps most importantly, easy to follow manner.
Some hardcore fans may well take issue with a storyline that doesn’t seem quite as expansive in terms of its historical timeline as previous offerings in the series – as they may also do with the fact this new game has cut the character roster down from its predecessor’s fifty five to thirty seven. For us, though, it’s all in keeping with a reboot that’s looking to freshen things up, excising a lot of the bloat – in terms of both long-winded narrative and various fiddly combat mechanics – in favour of a game that generally feels lighter on its feet, is easy to get to grips with and doesn’t hold you back from getting blasted right into the thick of its hack and slash combat. In fact, if you’ve ever fancied trying a Musou game but have yet to take the plunge, this really does feel like a newcomer-friendly place to dive into the action.
With this in mind, getting started here there’s even a surprisingly restrained tutorial period that sees you gently introduced to the game’s mechanics while limiting your choice of characters to just Nobunaga Oda himself. It’s a well paced opening and an informative introduction to how the series’ trademark combat works that takes its time and slowly layers on new elements, ideas and mechanics before then opening up the roster and letting you get down to the action proper.
Of course that action is the beating heart of the entire endeavour, and with regards to the changes and additions that Koei Tecmo has made to the standard Musou template, Samurai Warriors 5 feels like a real winner. This is still very much a traditional Musou game, and you’ll still spend the vast majority of your time hacking through impossibly large hordes of – let’s face it – braindead enemies, but what has been added elevates the entire experience over what’s come before in this samurai spin-off series.
On top of the usual strings of light and heavy combos, hyper attacks and powerful Musou attacks that you can dish out as you blaze a path of destruction across the game’s various battlefields, Samurai Warriors 5 adds excellent new cooldown-based “Ultimate Skills” that can be deployed as and when you see fit. These new skills give the general flow of combat here a real lift, adding so much more in the way of choice and spectacle in how you go about savaging your enemies.
Ultimate skills range from useful temporary buffs that increase your attack or defence, instantly refill your Musou gauge and so on, to powerful special moves that see your chosen fighter able to supplement their usual attack options with a host of sexy new abilities and screen-shaking techniques that can be cancelled into at any time, giving your combos a whole new lease of life.
When combined with your Rage Gauge, which temporarily buffs your speed and attacks – and sees you capable of unleashing a super-charged Ultimate Musou – and each character’s own unique weapon skills, there’s a surprising amount of moment-to-moment combat choice here for a genre which is most often referenced with regards to its rather simplistic, heavily repetitive action.
Indeed, where older entries in this franchise could sometimes see you hacking away repetitively with your bog-standard combos as you waited for a super attack to refill or charge, here there’s pretty much always some gauge or power that’s flashing to let you know it’s ready to be unleashed. As you level up through simply playing and smashing your foes you’ll also constantly unlock new, more powerful Ultimate Skills and weapon-specific combos, giving you something else to work towards as you make your way through the campaign.
Combine all of these new offensive options with constantly shifting objectives that see you tasked with all manner of mini-missions as you make your way through each level and you’ve got a game that always feels as though it’s keeping you nice and busy, pushing you around its maps and forcing you into a little light strategic gameplay to compliment the all-out action as you blitz through its story mode.
In terms of that story mode itself, it took us some twenty or so hours to blast through and comprises of two main narrative arcs that you can switch between at your leisure, that of Nobunaga and another that tells the game’s tale from the viewpoint of Mitsuhide Akechi – although you won’t gain access to Mitsuhide’s missions until around five hours into the game. These main missions are then supplemented by unique character-specific sorties that flesh out various elements of the story a