Samurai Warriors 5 Review: A New Take on a Classic


by in General | Jul, 26th 2021

With the arrival of the latest Samurai Warriors title, Samurai Warriors 5, it’s time to take a look with a review. I’ve got a lot of experience with the series, having played every game in the franchise. Samurai Warriors 4 and 4-2 left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. This is probably because I played on PC, and it was poorly optimized on my PC. Spirit of Sanada was pretty good and a more of a return to form. Samurai Warriors 5, as I found during my time with the review, has changed quite a lot about the series, mostly for the better. My review copy of was for the Switch, so some of my opinions are informed by this iteration of the game. I have a feeling, for example, that the PS4/PS5 version will have much better load times. It will probably also look at least a bit better, visually.

It feels like a pleasant blend of historical fact and the over-the-top action that fans have come to expect from the series. Are we going to see Lances that fire cannonballs in this one, or crazy ninja demons from Hell (Kotaro Fuuma)? Probably not. That in no way changes how anime and fun this feels. Going through the Oda Nobunaga story really felt like it could be an anime series that I would watch every single week without fail. Without further ado, let’s get into the Samurai Warriors 5 review!

Musou Mode/Citadel Mode – Tale of Two Warriors


In earlier Samurai Warriors games, you played through short stories of all of the main characters. Nobunaga Oda, Yoshimoto Imagawa, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the list just goes on. This was cool because you get a little taste of everyone, but it wound up feeling hopelessly repetitive. I don’t mind the repetition in Samurai Warriors/Musou games in general, but even that got tedious. That said, Samurai Warriors 2: XL is still my all-time favorite. They’re doing something different in Samurai Warriors 5 though. There are two major modes for Samurai Warriors 5: Musou Mode and Citadel Mode, and both are intrinsically linked.

Musou Mode


The focus is on two of the most interesting figures in this part of the Sengoku Jidai era: Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi. Nobunaga Oda was on track to unite Japan, and Mitsuhide Akechi’s story is deeply intertwined with Oda’s. What’s that, you say? Akechi isn’t all that interesting? Well, his Betrayal at Honnoji changed the entire landscape of the era. You start off just playing as Nobunaga, and occasionally teaming up with other members of his force, but you will unlock the story of Mitsuhide Akechi. You’ll see how the two people’s lives intertwine and ultimately end in tragedy through the new Musou Mode. 

I wasn’t sold at first. But they do spend a fair amount of time covering stories that we haven’t experienced in Samurai Warriors before. A lot of Chapter 1, for example, focuses on the Young Nobunaga days, when he is impulsive, rash, very much like an anime protagonist. There’s a reason he was known as the “Fool of Owari”, after all. It will also include replays of these maps, from the perspective of different characters. That’s one thing I really liked. It’s not playing through the same stage five or six times under the pretense of a “different perspective”.

Chapter 1 focuses on a younger Oda Nobunaga

It’s a good, long story with plenty of really cool stages to go through. I don’t want to spoil the battles, because some of them were a pretty big surprise to me. The big stuff still gets covered though, for example, the Battle of Okehazama. You will, for the most part, control Nobunaga or Mitsuhide, but Tecmo Koei did bring back the tag-team system. I’m not as fond of this, but the AI feels better in Samurai Warriors 5. When not controlling someone, they will wander off and do something important. It’s led to me discovering secret objectives on maps on a few occasions.

If you’ve played a Samurai Warriors game before, you’ll know what to expect. It’s 1 (or 2) versus 1,000, and you will run around kicking the stuffing out of soldiers and important characters. Samurai Warriors 5 puts a pretty big focus on combos though, and thanks to the Hyper Attack/Power Attack button is the way to do that. You can mash it to, on most characters, dash forward, doing a weak attack that can snatch up tons of soldiers with you. This is how I spend a lot of my travel with soldiers on the field, keeping up my combo number, while also moving quickly.

The purpose of keeping a high combo in the thousands is that it helps build your Rage Meter. It’s how I end pretty much every map, capping out Rage, activating it, throwing my Musou on at the same time, for devastating results. The higher your combo, the faster that meter fills. This does lead me to one of my least favorite parts of the game. Occasionally you’ll come across rank-and-file soldiers with glowing blue weapons. I had such a hard time even attacking or dashing at them. They would almost always stop it and knock me back/down. I wound up just avoiding them or jumping over and hitting them from behind.

That Hyper Attack dash attack almost always gets parried by officers too, so don’t do that. Instead, attack with your normal attack first and instead use it as the Power Attack (the combos of traditional Musou games). Each map, of course, has its own requirements, and there are lots of challenges on them. From defeating spies, escorting an NPC, or simply killing someone, it’s very clear what’s expected of you. You’ll gain gold, resources, new weapons, and items as you complete stage after stage.

I like the Musou Mode, even if it’s only two characters. But it’s two stories well told, instead of 20 stories with a mediocre build, many of which are repeats. When you unlock My Citadel Mode, you’ll also unlock the ability to upgrade your pre-battle Camp, so I will lump those together.

My Citadel Mode


Citadel Mode is your more generic, play two characters and grind through stages mode. It has you as the player control a Citadel, and have to defend it from wave after wave of enemy soldiers, officers, and complete other challenges. You can play both of these modes co-op, and Samurai Warriors 5 does also feature online play. Sadly, I did not get to try co-op. Both Modes have the following options:

  • March (Pick a Stage)
  • Dojo (Improve Characters)
  • Blacksmith (Improve Weapons)
  • Shop (Buy/Sell Items)
  • Stables (Get Cool Horses)
  • Settings (Change your Settings)

My Citadel Mode has Hermit’s Retreat in addition. Hermit’s Retreat will have you view interesting scenes between characters. Each character in My Citadel Mode has other characters they can build relationships with. As the two play together, the relationship grows, and this unlocks scenes between the two. For example, the first one for Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi is “Stubborn Logic”. This is just fun lore building for the game and gives you another reason to repeatedly play My Citadel Mode.

March is pretty self-explanatory. In Musou Mode, you pick your next stage. You do the same in Citadel Mode, but instead of a story, it’s a list of challenges to pick from. In Citadel Mode, you have a defensible position and a timer. You need to either defeat the enemy leader or survive until the end. Your grade/score is dependant on successfully completing challenges, getting kills, and winning instead of surviving. The better you do, the better the rewards are, up to S-Rank.

Dojo features a variety of useful stuff to improve your characters. Officer Training, for example, lets you unlock Skills (through Skill Points), Training (increasing levels with Stock EXP), and Weapon Mastery (through Mastery Stock). You gain stock exp and mastery exp each stage, and you can buy/unlock scrolls that give you this with gold. Each character has a preferred weapon, but they can use/improve in any of them. Improving weapon mastery makes you better with it, and will also unlock new Ultimate Moves and items.

Upgrading your buildings in Citadel Mode can help you out in Musou Mode

There are 12 weapons, though the most fantastic is the Talisman. The others are more practical but are all incredibly fun. No Drill Lances, Bombs, or weapons that don’t fit the era. That’s absolutely fine with me. You can also change characters’ equipment/skills, select troops, look at character info, or Upgrade Buildings. Each of the buildings in these modes can be upgraded, when you meet certain requirements and have the materials/gold. This is important for maximizing your growth, but it will be grindy.

In My Citadel Mode, you can take three types of troops to summon (left/right D-Pad, down D-Pad to summon), and these increase in level by using them. There are 16 types of troops, so you can really customize the force you bring with you, and that’s a lot of fun. You can even get the new, annoying Drum Corps. Your opponents mostly use these, and they increase the strength of soldiers and officers on their side who are nearby. Always. Kill. These. First. Do not let them stick around.

In Blacksmith, you can upgrade weapons (Add Gems with a variety of skills), Dismantle Weapons (break down a weapon, keep the skill gems), or, Craft a Weapon. It’s going to take some time for you to get some really cool weapons, but I still advise stocking as many of the skill gems as possible. There are way too many to go into here though. When I get random weapons with 3-6 slots, I come back here and set up something really cool. Giving more range, elemental attacks, increase EXP, et cetera.

The Shop and Stables kind of speak for themselves. You can buy Accessories, Scrolls/Materials, Sell Skill Gems/Materials. At the Stables, you can buy a horse, do Skill Drills, Equestrian Drills, Sell Mounts, and see info on the mounts themselves. The My Citadel Mode is pretty neat, but I think it will be more fun in co-op/online co-op. I’m torn about how I feel though. It’s fun, and it’s challenging. It is a grind mode though, at its core. It’s a way to help you increase your characters’ strength which is pretty important. I just wish the characters that you play in it were played more in the Musou Mode. It’s a fun casual mode though, where you beat up lots of enemies and take on some pretty daunting challenges.

Combat, Difficulty, Aesthetic


Combat


The combat system is pretty much the same as always. Instead of just having a Normal/Power attack though, The Power Attack button also has a separate function – Hyper Attack. I talked about it earlier, and it’s a great way to move around, and keep your combo going. As you increase in levels, you’ll gain bigger combos and lengthier attack chains. Each weapon also feels different, but there’s one I don’t get: The Naginata is a weapon aimed at “aerial combat” in the game, and feels incredibly clunky. It also didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

The rest of the weapons? Loved ‘em. The bigger swords were also clunky to wield and the damage felt low, but they should be awkward to use. A new feature to me was the Ultimate Skills system. Each character can equip four Ultimate Skills. There is a pool of generic moves: Refill Musou, increase speed, increase defense or attack, Pulse (dash forward and knock everyone with you). But each weapon also has a few Ultimate Moves that unlock as you increase mastery with them. Each weapon also starts with an Ultimate Skill. These are triggered (on the Switch) by holding R, and hitting one of the Face Buttons (ABXY).

Use abilities like Eternal Rain to cleave your way through enemy armies

They have a cooldown so you can’t spam them, but they aren’t lengthy timers. I really loved this as a way to also set up some truly incredible combos and damage setups. Combat’s exactly what I expected it to be. As you play, you’ll also get Skill Points, which will increase your damage capacity. Each character has its own Skill Tree also, which is worth exploring to figure out what works best for you.

Examples of Ultimate Skills:

  • Pulse:  A combo-chain move, it dashes you forward and lets you connect Pulse Ultimate Skills and Musou Attacks/Combos.
  • Eternal Rain: Eradicate your enemies with a series of cuts.
  • Heaven and Earth: Swing your sledge down and knock away all your enemies.
  • Phoenix Meteor: Hurl fiery shuriken at opponents in front of you.

It’s also important to note that blocking is so important. If you see an opponent with a big red mark on the floor, they’re charging up something dangerous. But you can block attacks at the perfect time to briefly stun the opponent. Sure, playing aggressively is fun, but be safe too. Don’t worry though, you still build Musou meter, hit that button, and cleave through waves of foes with those still amazing special attacks. That hasn’t gone anywhere.

Difficulty


When the game starts, it asks if you want to set the difficulty to Easy. Now, there’s no shame in playing on Easy. I’m not here to judge. Now, the game does feel sort of on the difficult side in some of the fights. The higher the difficulty, the better your rewards are, but high difficulties come with higher damage and are far more frustrating. I played on Normal for a while, but when I was grinding exp and items, I did it on a lower difficulty. I didn’t really find any difficulty on Normal, except for the optional characters that you aren’t normally going to go after. I tried to fight Imagawa Yoshimoto on a stage where you don’t have to fight him, and he absolutely clobbered me. I could have tried again with the newfound knowledge but chose not to. I came back later and stomped on him. It does get harder though, but I wanted to talk briefly about this. Don’t feel ashamed if you lower the difficulty.

Aesthetic


This is the part that might get the most heat, but I love this take. Samurai Warriors has gone over the top in the past. Imagawa Yoshimoto was depicted as an idiot and a clown. He just wanted to play games and be silly. In this version, he’s ruthless, and his motto is “Those without power obey those with power.” The game straddles the line between “Anime-style characters” and “Serious historic designs” in a way that I genuinely appreciate. The game’s art style is a new Japanese ink painting style, and it’s a nice evolution for the series. This art style is used across the game, and even on the Switch is looks very clean. I do feel it would look better on the other platforms, but I like this style.

Worth a Purchase?


The focus on just two main characters did work for me like it did in the Sanada game. I feel like the story is told better when we can focus on the two main characters in this fashion. Now, it did make the game feel kind of hollow compared to some of the older games. There’s still no Create-a-Character, and I will whinge about that until it makes a return. I love that it has an online co-op though feature. That’s one of the things that makes these games fun, being able to team up and slaughter thousands of foes. It’s definitely fun, and the combat is enjoyable. It is not the greatest entry into the series, but it’s a quality starting point and a solid reboot. Plenty of stages are new to the series, and the ones that are returning still feel new in their own way.

If you’re a fan of Samurai Warriors or a newcomer who just wants a fun 1 vs. 1000 action game, you’ll surely enjoy it. There were lots of little things I loved seeing represented, like  Nohime (No, Oda’s wife) attempting to kill him at her father’s behest. It is a grindy game though, but I expect that going into a Musou game. All told, it’s a fun distraction and a story well told. It’s something to pick up and play with a friend just pummel your way through thousands of enemies.

Samurai Warriors 5 art
A fun action game take on the Sengoku Jidai

Pros:

  • Fun, exciting combat with a healthy cast of characters.
  • Story Mode is focused on the story of two major characters: Oda and Mitsuhide.
  • The aesthetic is absolutely gorgeous for all 37 characters.

Cons:

  • The grind to cap out the building is more than a little tedious.
  • Non-major playable characters can feel pointless since you seldom use them in the Musou Mode.
  • Grinding Skill Points/Weapon Mastery takes time without spending gold.

A code was provided for the purposes of this Samurai Warriors 5 review.

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