From the mainline Dynasty entries to the countless anime adaptations and even the The Legend of Zelda spin-offs, the musou formula popularized by developer Omega Force still manages to produce some entertaining battles. The one-versus-one-hundred hack-and-slash action can get repetitive, but each game usually spins a decent yarn along the way. That and the dozens of different weapons available make mowing down hundreds of soldiers an enjoyable way to spend a few afternoons. Samurai Warriors 5 brings all this to modern consoles and PC alongside a visual refresh for its cast of Japanese historical figures that comes together into a safe but satisfying experience.
Based on the Warring States period of Japanese history, each Samurai Warriors game so far built on previous entries by adding new characters and covering more obscure historical ground. Samurai Warriors 5 goes for the opposite approach, cutting the roster to the essentials and focusing in a shorter span of time. It may be a tough tradeoff for anyone who’s seen these battles numerous times before, but it makes sense for the type of campaign Omega Force has put in place. Missions split into two paths, with one focusing on series headliner Nobunaga Oda and one on vassal turned rival Mitsuhide Akechi. Opportunities to play as one of the other 37 characters pop up from time to time, but most levels require spending time as the main heroes on the first playthrough.
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This decision makes Samurai Warriors 5’s first handful of hours some of its most boring, since bouncing between characters and their various methods of attacking is the real joy of a game like this. Granted, it’s easy to replay missions with any unlocked warrior via Free Mode, but immediately replaying the same mission with a staff instead of a sword is monotonous, so I found that it is usually more interesting to keep going with the next stage and hope for some options on the character select screen.
Reading The Old Scrolls
As I got further into both sides of the campaign, the mixture of cutscenes and animated visual novel segments drew me in. The refreshed character designs go a long way to distinguishing all the important players, especially for someone who hasn’t spent thousands of hours with the previous games. In addition, the ink and paint-inspired art style gives everything a distinct flair. No one is going to confuse this with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, but Samurai Warriors 5 gives the series a standout visual style that impresses throughout.
Once you get through the initial chapters and unlock a group of characters, some of Samurai Warriors 5’s true appeal begins to shine through. Playing through a level while wielding a drum that produces energy blasts or an origami dove that freezes foes is what I come to Omega Force games for, and there are plenty of wacky weapons hidden just beneath the surface. It sadly never gets as crazy as Warriors Orochi or Warriors All-Stars, but there’s plenty of over-the-top action here if you want it.
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Whether you’re wielding a sword or bladed nunchaku, making hundreds of soldiers fly through the air over and over again remains a fun time in small doses. The returning Hyper Attacks ensure that characters never have to leave the action for too long, as their repeated strikes can drag a crowd of enemies forward with you. This both adds to the unintentional humor inherent to Samurai Warriors 5’s hack-and-slash gameplay and keeps combos from expiring as you run between larger groups of foes.
Samurai Warriors 5 also makes smart modifications to the tried-and-true musou gameplay loop. In addition to light and heavy strikes, blocks, and Hyper Attacks, you can mix and match a set of four Ultimate Skills on each character. These are weapon-specific and provide both stat boosts and flashy super moves on a generously short cooldown. On lower difficulties, the attack boosts and musou gage refills can make levels even easier than expected, but the extra moves do keep fights interesting. It also lets you save the truly flashy finishing musou attacks for boss battles, which just feels right.
Some of the ways that Omega Force promotes these new moves can slow down combat. For instance, there are now groups of opponents with glowing spears or shields that laugh in the face of head-on normal attacks. They only fall to Ultimate Skill attacks – or you can simply walk around them and hit them in the back, in most cases. It’s a small annoyance, though, because these walls of shield-wielding goons can break up a good flow, and that’s a mood killer when you just want to go out there and mindlessly hack and slash through giant crowds.
Sharpening Your Blade
Outside of Story Mode and the ability to replay missions with any characters you like, the only other way to play Samurai Warriors 5 is the Citadel Mode. This is a smaller-scale defense mode that has your chosen warrior running around the battlefield stopping waves of enemies alongside either an AI or co-op partner. Pairing certain characters often can lead to support conversations a-la Fire Emblem, and the missions also earn you resources that you can invest in various upgrade trees that feed right back into the story.
Considering how linked the upgrade systems are, it’s confusing as to why the Citadel missions couldn’t have just been on a map alongside all the Story content. I really wanted to invest time here in order to get the most out of my character’s abilities, especially when I was playing on Hard. The missions themselves aren’t anything to write home about, but the prospect of squeezing out extra rounds with more unique characters like the powerful spear-wielding Shingen Takeda or drummer boy Hanbei Takenaka was too much to pass up.
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Building up your Dojo and Blacksmith allows you to further customize characters, weapons, and even your trusty steed. The usefulness of all these upgrades vary, but you’ll definitely want to at least spend points as you accrue them after each fight. Later upgrades, including the ability to charge up multiple musou attacks and shrug off attacks from archers and other annoying mobs, are particularly recommended for any character who wants to take on the campaign’s later stages.
This article was originally published by IGN.COM