It’s June and everyone’s sick. E3 also wrapped up over in America and you’re stuck in front of your monitor trying to catch up on what’s just been announced, while your partner wheezes in the background. You’ve spent way too much on games last summer, so you’re forced to recycle the hot air coming out of the little vent on your laptop as your main source of central heating. It’s not long now until another summer is here and you relapse, but I urge you, make some space in your life for Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada.
The biggest problem that stands in the way of this title is the timing of its European release. Within a few days, the game along with this review will be buried so deeply under E3 content, it’ll be a surprise if I ever hear someone talk about it again. It’s a real shame, because the story, like the rest of the Warriors franchise, is an absolute killer.
First off, Spirit of Sanada isn’t a spinoff of Samurai Warriors. It’s a spinoff (Samurai Warriors 4) of a spinoff (Dynasty Warriors), all made by the same developer, Omega Force. I can already sense your brain starting to switch off, but these dudes are a big deal if you don’t know them already, and Koei Tecmo are one of my favourite Japanese publishers, so hear me out. Omega are known for producing beautifully crafted games with amazing storylines and signature stress-relieving hack-and-slash action, and I’m pleased to say Spirit of Sanada delivers. The game’s already been out in Japan for 6 months and the response for a second-degree spinoff is pretty high.
In the same breath, I need to warn you that if you’re looking for much change in gameplay and progression, you’ll be bitterly disappointed. Do not recommend this to your friends if you want to keep them, but get it for yourself for sure. It’s still a full struggle to get your head around all the mechanics, and if you haven’t played a musou game in the past 6 months, you might want to start on one with a more basic structure. It took me the best part of an hour to start grasping what was going on, and pick up on parts of the storyline. I’m highly infuriating to watch.
Omega Force have stuck to their guns and once again swamped the entire surroundings of the screen with a ton of crazy text, and the only thing really pulling me through the story is the ability to pull up a glossary. This is especially useful when an entirely new character shows up with no back-story and starts harking on about how much they love your brother or your dad, so you should treat them like your brother, and you wish your real brother treated you like he did so you form an alliance with a stranger. I still don’t understand.
A problem that’s been addressed and works great with Spirit of Sanada is the interactive UI menu system, very much borrowed from Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends. Once you start the game, one of the first places you’ll visit is Castle Town, which is basically the old splash menu laid out onto NPCs. You can activate different modes of the game by interacting with the environment and talking to the people around you. Weapons and horse upgrades are also available through this, as well as a few side-missions, like going fishing with officers to form bonds, or facing enemies in the outskirts.
A great new feature is a game mechanic called “next move” which lets you call in reinforcements when things get real heavy, which definitely happened more times than not. There’s real joy in ending hundreds of enemy lives using one ultimate attack, but doing it as a group takes it to the next level. It’s a nice touch to the already crowded gameplay mechanics, and I really hope they keep it.
Picking up from the storyline of the main series, Spirit of Sanada is set in the Sengoku period of Japan when wars between the Daimyo and their clans were breaking out. The Sanada is one of them, lead by Masayuki and his sons, Nobuyuki and Yukimura during the timeline of around 54 years, which the game closely follows, and ages the characters respectively.
Spirit of Sanada also inherits what I admire about the entire Warriors series by putting in unconventional female warriors, wives and sisters on the battlefield. It almost goes unnoticed by the way they’re so well written into the story, wielding everything from swords and bows, to oversized hair ornaments.
There’s something a bit off about the NPCs and it’s one of the first things you’ll blatantly see when starting up; the world feels as though it’s rendered straight from Age of Empires. The main characters like Masayuki have been spoiled with a few more polygons to make their clothing look 3D, but surrounding soldiers have literally had their clothes painted straight onto their generic bodies. Being a polygon snob, I like mine served on the PS4 Pro, but that makes no difference. The framerate also wobbled through the more NPC-tight battles, but the story was enough of a distraction for me to stop noticing it. Hopefully Omega might throw their 3D modelling team a little more budget in the future.
As with Dynasty Warriors 8, the more I played, the more emotionally invested I became, to the point of actual tears at the end. Things become exponentially intense with more interest, but as with any Warriors game, you’ve got to be in it for the long-run.
The Warriors series has a special place in my heart, and is easily something you could judge by face value for being too much of the same thing, or just another musou. It’s not completely different from its predecessors, but there are definitely no two alike, especially with the emotional story locked up in each. Go get the game and give yourself a weekend with it, especially if you’re now the one wheezing.
Kermath received a digital copy of Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada from Koei Tecmo for review.