That title probably sounded harsher than I intended. Don’t get me wrong, I love Koei Tecmo’s Warrior series, which was my intro to the whole 1 vs 1000 genre. It’s amazing what massacring your way through an army will do for your stress levels. But after a while, it tends to feel like they’re just re-releasing the same game over and over again, albeit with a lovely update to the graphics and move sets. Ah well. Still fun.
To those not familiar with this series, Samurai Warriors tells the history of the Warring States period of Japanese history. You as the player control a single samurai/ninja/daimyo and fight your way through one battlefield after another, following their story. Previously the story would change based on who you were playing, to the point that you would see alternate versions of history. For instance, if the samurai you were playing lost according to history, because you won the battle in the game they would wind up being victorious. Nowadays there are about 61 different characters available to play, so with that kind of saturation, the developers parsed it down to one overarching story that…mostly sticks to history.
Spirit of the Sanada follows the same period of the Warring States, this time focused almost entirely on the perspective of the Sanada clan. This differs from earlier versions where you picked an individual characters story or cycled through each of the clans one at a time. Spirit mainly follows Masayuki Sanada, father of Koei’s poster boy Yukimura. The game picks up with Shingen Takeda’s early battles against Kenshin and rolls on from there. For anyone worrying about being locked into a small selection of characters, the entire cast is still available. The pieces of history not witnessed by the Sanada are still told in side missions, where you’ll be able to play other warriors and unlock them for use elsewhere.
Shown here: Not a Sanada.
So what makes this game unique? For one the set-up is a bit different. The story mode is divided into three different parts. Extended Battles, where you fight through various stages of a war both as the Sanada and other clans. Time at home where you’re free to wander your current town or city in order to raise bonds with other officers or upgrade your gear (and advance the story). The last part is exploration, where you basically run around the countryside killing bandits and picking up conveniently located raw materials for improving your weapons.
Or planting crops…aggressively.
Naturally, the wars are the most interesting part. Battles are broken into several different stages, so a war might have 3-6 battles that make it up. What you do and how well you perform in each battle will change how things go in the one that follows. For example, if an objective in the first battle is to keep all your officers alive and you manage to do that, you’re in better shape for the next battle and unlock additional stratagems. Stratagems can be executed in each battle when a certain event occurs. Again to give an example, if assassins are about to take down your main camp, causing you to lose then you may have access to a stratagem that will summon your own people to defend them. They’re little things to help make swing the battle in your favor. Though for the record; don’t rely on them for something like saving your main camp. That will bite you in the ass if you don’t personally go and clean house.
Complete with dramatic pose!
Controls are still much the same as in Samurai Warriors 4, which is a good thing in my opinion. All characters have distinct move sets and are extremely mobile for the most part, thanks to dash attacks. One thing I will say is that once you get to certain points further into the story it gets harder to just switch to new characters. So you may see some warriors for the first time as you’re getting closer to the end, but they’re still level 20 instead of like 40. Not a big complaint since you can spend resources to level them but still. Also while stratagems are nifty, there are a few cases where you absolutely need them in order to win which will force you to back-track at certain points if you miss any.
Bottom line, it’s a Koei Tecmo warriors game. If you like those, you’ll like this one. Or if you like games like Fate: Extella which I reviewed awhile back, you’ll probably like this one too. Also, Dynasty Warriors 9 (similar game for Chinese history) is coming up relatively soon, which looks like it will be a whole new take on that franchise. If you’re a fan of the series or played it yourself, let me know what you thought in the comments below. Happy gaming everyone!