Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is one of the coolest history lessons I’ve ever sat through/played along with. I’ve never played a Dynasty Warriors game or any other game like it, so this is my first foray into the sub-genre. It’s a pretty damn good game, I must say, because it held my interest pretty much all the way through. I didn’t really expect it to, because of the game’s reputation of just slamming the attack button over and over until you win. You could still say that it’s true, because the main thing that you do in the game is hackin’ and slashing’ through hundreds of enemies and the occasional boss. It’s just more fun than I thought it would be, though, and having to constantly juggle mission objectives and keeping units alive keeps me interested.
For those that don’t know, the story revolves around the very real events that went down during the Sengoku period in Japan. The titular clan, the Sanada, take up the majority of gameplay time, and you play as multiple incarnations of characters at different points in their lives. You follow them throughout history, in the conflicts that they were involved in, the friends and enemies they made, so on and so forth. When I started playing the game, I didn’t really care for any of the characters, I felt a bit disconnected just because the only English bits are the subtitles.
That’s one thing that I didn’t love about the game, but it’s not something I’m going to take points off for. I don’t love having my eyes glued to the bottom of the screen to read the subtitles, because I miss the action a little bit at times. During the battles, it’s even worse, because they speak in Japanese, with subtitles below, but I can’t read the subtitles while I’m fighting, so a lot of the time, I have no idea what they’re saying. Still, though, it’s a Japanese game, and they do pause the action to tell you what your next objective is, so that you’re not wasting time stopping to read what to do. Again, not taking points off for that, it’s just a pain for the Western audiences that will play the game.
Anyway, back to the story, for being a history lesson, it’s quite exciting to watch unfold, and I did find myself genuinely emotionally moved at certain points. I suppose that if you already knew the events that happened, it wouldn’t be as intense, but for me, I liked it quite a lot. Each chapter takes place during a particular multi-stage battle, and the amount of time between chapters fluctuates a lot, from a few days/weeks to several years. Most of the important things actually seem to take place during the breaks between chapters (which are summarized before the next chapter starts). I actually liked this a lot, because obviously, much of the game is romanticized and embellished with magic and crazy combat prowess and all kinds of stuff. Having the very normal, human, sad, and sometimes strange history bits between chapters really brings you back down to earth and keeps the game from getting too anime.
So what about the gameplay? Well, like I said before, you do a lot of slamming on the face buttons to do crazy attacks, and kill hundreds of soldiers at once. You build up two different bars as you fight, one that allows you to perform crazy big “Musou” attacks that wipe out everything around you, and a rage meter. Using the rage button makes you stronger and faster, and if you can fill up another bar before the rage runs out, you get even stronger and faster. Combining this with your Musou attacks usually result in the equivalent of a screen-nuke from a shoot-em-up game. The fighting mechanics aren’t that deep, but the sheer amount of characters that you can play as makes up for it. Each character has an okay-sized move pool, but multiplying that by how many characters there are makes for a pretty expansive amount of moves! I tended to stick with the same 4 or 5 characters throughout the whole game, but I tried every character at least once, and they were all fun to play as.
Certain characters tend to lean towards performing specific types of attacks, in terms of damage output. Characters do more damage with either normal attacks, special attacks, or hyper attacks. It doesn’t really seem to matter what their specialty is, because they can all do every type of move, and Musou moves always do the most damage, so it’s really just player preference.
I noticed something about the game that made finishing it pretty easy, but it felt like I didn’t do enough. You really don’t have to do anything extra, like giving gifts to people or doing side quests or anything, and you barely even have to upgrade weapons or add equipment. I very rarely found myself using potions or anything, and I only really spend money on increasing my attack level. You can make it through this game with little to no effort at all, the only thing I recommend is trying to do additional objectives within every mission. By doing this, you get stratagems, which you can use in each mission to help you out and keep your troops alive/weaken enemy troops. The stratagems were vital to getting S ranks in a lot of the missions, as sometimes, you wind up across the map from an objective, without enough time to get to it. Using that stratagem can buy you time to get there and either defend your troops or defeat your target.
Visually, the game doesn’t look amazing, but considering how many enemies can be on screen at once, and everything that you can do to them, it never once stuttered. The game runs incredibly smoothly, and the music goes back and forth between traditional calm Japanese music in towns, and fast-paced electronic music during battles. The game is easy on the eyes and ears, and for that, I compliment it, because with everything typically going on on-screen, having loud, unfitting music, or crazy, overly colorful visuals. The game just works.
There are even extra side missions that you can tackle in the game, that allow you to play out other conflicts that were happening at the time. It’s fun to take a break from the same characters and story to sort of see what else was happening in Japan at the time. You don’t have to play them, but I highly recommend it!
If there’s one thing that I can say, it’s that the game’s length does feel a tad stretched and repetitive towards the end. There are also some objectives that just don’t work with this game, such as stealth sections. Samurai Warriors is meant to be loud and crazy, not quiet and sneaky. The exploration levels are also somewhat of a drag, the linear missions work the best with the gameplay. I suppose, knowing that there are so many games in the series, that this one doesn’t do much new, but the focus on story really did get me. It’s like a Japanese history book sprang to life and fused with a DragonBall Z Manga, and it’s awesome. Although the game isn’t perfect, for someone who’s never played another game in the series, I think it’s a great entry point. It makes me want to check out the other games in the series, and I’d say that’s a sign of a good game!
“Making you a better geek, one post at a time!”