Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada Review – Boring History?
Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release: 23th May 2017 (NA) / 26th May 2017 (EU)
Price: 49.99 (PC) / 59.99 (PS4)
Disclaimer: Review Code provided by Koei Tecmo
After the Warriors re-skin BERSERK and the Band of the Hawk, launched earlier this year, Koei Tecmo releases yet another spin-off of their famous series, this time of Samurai Warriors 4: Empires. With sole focus on the name-giving Sanada clan, during Yukimura´s lifetime, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada aims to deliver a historical accurate representation of the Edo period. If you´re wondering if such a concept can actually work, let me lighten your worries, yes, it does work and it´s great.
Following the “Crimson Demon of War” Yukimura Sanada, the latest addition to the Samurai Warriors franchise aims to offer a deep insight into the life of this beloved character and his clan. Starting with the young years of his father Masayuki Sanada and his first battles under the Takeda banner, to the first battles of Yukimura and his elder brother Noboyuki, concluding in one of the hardest decisions of Yukimura´s entire life. Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada doesn´t want to tell only the story of one character but of a whole family and clan in their possibly hardest struggle to survive.
Thinking about the previous stories I was pretty sceptical about this approach. Considering the mostly boring characters, dialogues and plot of previous games, it didn´t seem like a character driven scenario would work. Luckily, my doubts were quickly wiped away after I spent some hours into the game. Due to the big focus on a handful of characters over a ~25 hour long campaign, Spirit of Sanada can spend the needed time characterising them, rather than introducing new ones. The characters are still nowhere near to good or deep but offer at least a bunch of flat character traits, rather than just existing without any personality.
Especially the way we experience the early years of Masayuki, his struggles, beliefs and compromises, while only rarely changing characters, connects us with him. Combined with the later focus on Yukimura, we learn to care for these persons. In comparison to the very weak previous stories, Spirit of Sanada can shine with a character based one, that actually works because of the mediocre to decent main cast. The very accurate picturization of the events and the Sanada clan is also a nice addition, it´s just interesting to either “learn” a bit from it or googling it, only to discover Spirit of Sanada´s authenticity, for a video game.
However, don´t expect any big changes on Spirit of Sanada´s gameplay, it´s built on top of Samurai Warriors 4: Empires after all. Like in every Warriors game after Dynasty Warriors 1 we´re thrown into a battlefield against thousands and thousands of brainless enemy clone soldiers, ready to be wiped away by our mighty attacks. Everyone who never played any game of this truly interesting series will most likely scratch their head and wonder what´s so intriguing about it and I would most likely struggle at the attempt to explain, why this is so damn fun. In short, if you enjoyed Samurai Warriors 4 or any other one, you will enjoy Spirit of Sanada as well.
One of the core parts of every Warriors game is the sheer amount of different combos, useable throughout the dozens of battles, as well as the wide range of characters. Especially the two playable main characters, Masayuki and Yukimura, feature around ~15 slowly unlockable combos, providing the needed diversity. Yet, after a short while you´ve seen everything about a character, until the game decides you leveled up enough to be granted new moves, a problem that´s seemingely unsolvable. Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada makes use of this great looking but repetitive gameplay, by giving you different tasks on the battlefield, like slaying officers, capturing camps or killing a certain amount of enemies, if you die or loose, you have to start the battle from the beginning.
On paper it may sound pretty easy, slaughtering your way through thousands of little minions, too dumb to even attack, and win the battle. Unfortunately, the officers and morale mechanics spice up the mix by quite a bit. On the one hand the officers impose the only real threat and challenge for us, the bosses in particular are quite strong and able to snag a third of our health bar with a single combo. On the other hand the morale, held up by banner carriers, hugely buffs the dozens of grunts to a point, where they can actually kill us, creating a very natural barrier for certain areas, without blocking them entirely.
The day-night cycle is also a nice addition, influencing our view on the battlefield, making night battles more risky and surprising. The biggest feature of, according to the marketing, may be the stratagem system, allowing us to exchange coins, we gain after every battle or conversation, for little buffs, like an additional officer, protecting a vital key point or health replenishment of our soldiers. Overall, I found it a neat little system but never as remarkable as described.
Since we´ll spend most of the time playing as Masayuki or Yukimura, Omega Force tried to contain the repetition by adding so called “secondary battles”, occasionally selectable side battles taking place in the course of events but not in relation to the Sanada. Their main purpose, as far as I´m concerned, consists of providing the chance to play as other characters on other battlefields. Together with the option to switch characters in most Sanada battles, Spirit of Sanada can successfully avoid an excessive amount of repeating characters, making it a very diverse Warriors title, despite it´s very focused storyline.
For the pre/post battle sequences Spirit of Sanada went for a rather interesting choice as well, heavily orienting on Toukiden 2´s town hub system. After or between the huge multi phase battles, we now can return to Spirit of Sanada´s hub town, where we´re offered a bunch of different activities. From upgrading the combos of our officers, reinforce weapons, craft new healing items, fish etc, you get the idea.
It certainly is an interesting and fitting idea, giving the Sanada a hometown, in which we can talk and befriend the various NPCs, as well as packing all these different menus in a beautiful presentation. Sadly, Spirit of Sanada can´t avoid the mistakes already known from Toukiden 2, by forcing us into boring minute long walks, running from A to B, in order to talk to various persons.
The fact we´re also able to enter so called “exploration areas” from there, little open world-like side areas without many enemies, sounds like a great addition, yet ends up as just another annoying chain on our feet. Simply because they´re just not interesting nor offer anything greatly rewarding, exploring only consists of running through the same repeating areas, collecting some random items you could easily buy and get a bit of money for your effort. Surprisingly Omega Force seemed to think the exact opposite, often forcing us to explore the various places as the young Yukimura to find branches or other amazing things. Everytime I was forced into these areas, the whole gameplay flow stopped, exchanged for some very slow and boring rides through bland environments.
Unfortunately, Omega Force ignored one thing about Spirit of Sanada completly, the graphics. As always Omega Force can´t deliver a “next gen” looking presentation, due to mushy textures, empty environments, seemingly no texture filtering and stiff animations, when you´re not in combat. Character models on the other hand look pretty decent, full of detail and different patterns, showing the love of detail put into them. Overall, it´s exactly what you would expect from an Omega Force game, mixed with an interesting red-gold artstyle of the Sanada, which sadly can´t truly shine outside of the models.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada isn´t exactly what you would expect from it, considering it´s only built on top of Samurai Warriors 4: Empires. By adding a very character focused story, a hub world and some very neat little features it certainly resembles more of a full spin-off than expansion. Despite the seemingly insane plan, focusing on such a little main cast, Omega Force could somehow create a working story, which is even better than most of the main titles, along with the necessary features to keep the gameplay interesting.
All in all Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada surprised me, I expected a game between expansion and spin-off and got a truly great Warriors game. It has its flaws and problems, like every Omega Force or Warriors game and isn´t for anyone. Yet, if you´re a fan of the series, you certainly won´t regret the excessive trip to Sanada castle. It´s great, trust me.