It's crazy to think that the last mainline instalment in the Samurai Warriors series — Samurai Warriors 4 — released almost seven years ago. There have been a few spinoff titles since, but after so long, it's clear that Koei Tecmo wanted to do something relatively new with the franchise. And so we have Samurai Warriors 5, which, despite the numbered name, is basically a reboot.
We've spent around 20 or so hours with the Japanese version of the game in order to bring you this preview, and while it's safe to say that our understanding of the Japanese language is basic at absolute best, we've played more than enough Warriors games to know that Samurai Warriors 5 is pretty darn fun.
Fun, but familiar. In terms of structure and gameplay flow, Samurai Warriors 5 doesn't deviate much at all from the hack and slash success of Samurai Warriors 4. Hyper attacks — fast, far-moving blows — are still here, allowing you to carve a quick path through generic enemy soldiers. Then, when it comes to fighting officers, you'll still be making use of light and strong attacks to create combos.
Again, the fundamentals are the same as they were in Samurai Warriors 4, but the inclusion of all-new abilities gives combat an extra dimension. As your characters level up and become more proficient with their chosen weapon, you'll unlock new cooldown-based skills that can be unleashed in battle. Some provide temporary buffs to your stats, while others are explosive techniques that can be woven into your existing combos.
This new ability system gives the game a kind of action RPG feel, where you're cycling through up to four special moves in tandem with standard combos. A great addition, and combat only gets better as you gain access to longer combos and a wider range of abilities.
By the end of the game's first story mode, we were having a blast with the amount of combat options available to us. And, just like in Samurai Warriors 4, you'll often be controlling more than one character in battle — switching between two heroes with a press of the touchpad, even if they're positioned on the other side of the map. This ensures that the action is never far away, even when you're rampaging across the title's biggest battlefields.
So, what about the story mode itself? Well, as mentioned, Samurai Warriors 5 is essentially a reboot. Its narrative efforts focus on the lives of two prominent Japanese warlords: Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi, each of them having their own dedicated storyline. This more personal approach seems to work quite well, as you get to see the two lead characters develop into the legendary figures who are still idolised in Japan today.
Of course, the game being in Japanese, we struggled to pick out the narrative details — but we enjoyed the storytelling nonetheless. There are a number of cool cutscenes on display, and seeing how the two plotlines intersect is pretty interesting. As you'd expect of a Warriors title, it's all rather dramatic, but it contrasts well with the hectic hack and slash gameplay.
Now then, let's talk about the character roster. A source of some controversy among fans, Samurai Warriors 5 strips the playable roster down quite significantly, cutting a number of popular personalities in the process. Being a reboot that takes place across a specific period in history, some of the removals make sense — but it all gets a bit questionable when you realise that some characters share the same weapon, and therefore basic moveset, with others.
"Clones" have always been a talking point in the Warriors community, and yes, Samurai Warriors 5 does have them — but it's perhaps not as bad as you might think. The inclusion of the aforementioned abilities system allows for a lot more gameplay freedom, and characters do end up with their own distinct combo enders if they're equipped with their preferred weapon type. The bottom line is that there's enough depth in the combat mechanics to make us overlook the "clone" issue. In fact, we'd go as far to say that there isn't a single character that we didn't enjoy playing as.
The new art style does a lot for the game, by the way. Utilising a kind of cel-shaded look, Samurai Warriors 5 stands apart from its peers, delivering a more anime visual identity. Alongside cracking character designs, the graphics really pop, both in and out of combat. It's easily one of the best looking Warriors games on the market.
All in all, we've had a lot of fun with Samurai Warriors 5 so far, to the point where we're dying to get our hands on the English release. It's an undeniably familiar hack and slash foray, but we don't think that's such a negative thing — not when Samurai Warriors 4 still stands as a top tier Warriors title.