The “One vs. Thousands” model that the Musou franchise has utilized for years continues to be entertaining to me. There are folks that think it’s boring, but I can’t even imagine why. What’s more gratifying than obliterating thousands upon thousands of soldiers as you save the day, complete objectives, and in general, be a badass? Though it has been a while since I’ve played a Samurai Warriors title; I bought SW 4-II for Steam, only to find that it was not optimized for my PC. It was lag city forever, it would not play, so I gave up, got my refund, and went on my way, admittedly disappointed. But that’s not what we’re here for. Today, we’re here for the latest installment, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada! Yukimura Sanada has long-since been the posterboy for the Sengoku Musou series, the main villain being Oda Nobunaga. Since Samurai Warriors 3, I’d wager, Yukimura has been one of the most important figures in the game. But what did we know about the Sanada clan as a whole? Outside of historians, it’s likely that we only knew that the Sanada clan rose to prominence with the Takeda clan, and Yukimura himself dying on the battlefield around the Summer Siege of Osaka. The story is rich, and Tecmo Koei focuses just on the goals and desires of the Sanada clan in this title.
But it’s not all about him! You spend a fair amount of the game in command of Yukimura Sanada’s father, Masayuki Sanada. Eventually, he passes on, and Yukimura takes his place as the titular character. Every important battle, every time the Sanada took the field, it’s likely that you will as well! This is a more historical title than we’ve seen in a while [outside of the Strategy games that Koei produces]. The timeline makes a lot more sense, and there are lots and lots of things players might not know, understand, or be familiar with. There are hotkeys that will pull up a pair of encyclopedias to tell you about key terms, people, battles, etc. I love this. Most of it I already knew, thanks to my time spent in the series/the Nobunaga’s Ambition franchise/general love of the era, but it’s nice to see some time being spent on just one faction/clan. Though if I were being honest with myself, I’d rather see focus on one of the larger or more notorious clans. Yes, like the Oda. Come on, they were way more interesting! However, there are more new characters than Masayuki! Also added were:
- Chacha: Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s concubine. Oichi/Azai’s daughter.
- Sasuke: Yukimura’s assistant/ninja. Loyal servant to Yukimura.
- Katsuyori Takeda: Shingen Takeda’s son and successor.
- Hidetada Tokugawa: Ieyasu’s son and heir. Younger and Adult playable.
The game takes place over roughly 50-54 years, and everyone ought to be aged, born, and died in their appropriate place. Instead of using “game modes” that you select from the main menu, your Castle Town is where you start, and it has one main mode that branches off, to exploration and the actual battles. This is a very straight-forward title, but there are still quite a few things to do in the game. You might look at it and say “Well, this is just gonna be playing as Yukimura forever, that sounds awful!” but that’s not the case at all. While yes, you mostly play as Yukimura Sanada and Masayuki Sanada, they brought over the Samurai Warriors 4 system of playing as two characters in battle, and swapping between them at will. Lots of favorites from previous games will be playable and visible, such as Takatora Todo, Kotaro Fuma, Goemon Ishikawa, Tadakatsu Honda, Sakon Shima. 61 characters in total! And once you’ve built your relationship with characters in the Castle Town Hub, they can go on exploration missions with you as well. You can invite them to the Tea House [when it’s unlocked] or simply go to them and give them items. Giving them what they want the most helps the most, but that’s no big shock. But once they cap [and it’s not hard to], they’ll join you in battle.
The Hub is where you talk to your family members/clan mates, upgrade your weapons, add skills to them, perform missions, and do a host of side missions. You’ll farm, you’ll fish, you’ll brew potions for people. All sorts of stuff to keep you busy! Many of these will give you benefits after your next battle, such as planting seeds in your garden and sacrificing something at the shrine. If you’re lucky, you’ll get great resources to put to use elsewhere in your gameplay experience. The shrine was really frustrating to me because it’s a Shell Game, where you might get something good. But the farming was where it’s at for me. It was simple, and the better you mash the X button/the higher quality seed you used, the better your crops were. Simple as that. So the Hub is where you spend your non-battle time. You progress the story here, watch the Castle Town grow, and more. You also have the Dojo there. As the game goes on, you’ll accrue exp, which is stored. You can use it on other characters, such as storing exp for Yukimura when you inevitably play as him, or as the character you want to take with you into exploration missions. It’s also where you increase your combat powers, your Rage, Musou Bar, etc.
Let’s talk Exploration. As the game goes on, there will be “Exploration Missions” or maps, that are open, without real objectives. They have “bonus objectives” like “find resources” or “kill this guy”, and so forth. This is where you farm exp, resources, items, and things of that nature. These are not historic battles, and you can take whomever you have earned a relationship with onto them. There is a time limit, so explore as much as you can, get what you need, and head off back to town! These are very cut and dry, but you’ll probably find yourself doing them every few battles to make sure you are keeping your weapons up to date. As you grow in power, you can add new skills to your weapon, and add levels to it. The more levels of a skill, the better it is! You can add reach, shockwave blasts, elementals [several of them], attack speed, and that’s just the beginning. The historic battles are much different. It’s a grind, but it didn’t feel like a hateful, terrible grind where I had to play forever just to keep up.
There is a new system for Tactics, and for each important objective you complete, for your grade in combat, you receive Coins of Sanada. They represent the symbol of the clan, the Six Coins of Sanada. You can also gain them from talking to certain people in the Castle Town. They’ll have the clan symbol over their head. There will be times in battle where you need to use them by pressing a button [within a time limit], to get your Strategies going. Such as lighting the field at night, healing an injured comrade, and using the Strategem burns one of the coins. So it’s important to do as many of the objectives/bonus objectives as possible. These are key to success in battle! Sure you can just swap people, obliterate thousands of troops, but using these tactics are imperative. However, if you don’t talk to people and don’t focus on objectives, you will find yourself not having enough coins to make these key battle decisions. Speaking of which, the stages still have timers, but now they use a Day/Night feature, and many battles require you to get things done in short order [before nightfall/daybreak]. Not to mention at night, you face perilous ninja attacks and a seriously decreased lack of vision.
In the Land of the Rising Sun: ⅘
I love the more historic approach, and the focus on one character/clan. Though I enjoy the main games approach of being able to play the same story from several different perspectives, playing just one family line and all the important battles they took part in? That’s wonderful. You can also take part in battles they weren’t in, in little side missions! These are how you unlock characters they don’t normally interact with. I do wonder if this is going to lead to other games like this, from say the Toyotomi, Oda, Takeda, etc. That could be perceived as a cash grab though, and I understand that. I’m still interested in it though. This is a compelling story that we’ve already been at least partially familiar with. We’ve always known that the Sanada fell in battle to the last, but never before did we see the early battles, the hardships, and decisions that Masayuki Sanada had to make in order to see his clan not only survive, but thrive in such a harsh world. I got lost in this game and found myself playing for hours and hours at a time. The multi-stage battles are fantastic and challenging and all told, this is a nice change of pace and the new way to experience the Musou series. The only serious criticisms I had were that I can see where people might not be interested, that it might be seen as a niche game. I highly recommend any fans of Samurai Warriors or Dynasty Warriors give it a shot though and it can feel a bit repetitive, going back to town, going into a multi-tier battle, exploring, rinse and repeat. I still found it incredibly enjoyable, being quickly wrapped up in the story.