Oh, Samurai Warriors. When I need to hack and slash my way through drama, you're always there for me to paint the faces of my troubles onto the random lookalike bodies of my enemy's army. But that's just my personal psychosis speaking out. I think the series is hit and miss for everyone, depending on what your preferred style and storylines are because opinions on what you're playing I always split with hardcore fans. So the fact that we're getting something a little different with Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is sure to continue that trend.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada follows the usual setup for one of these games, with a little bit of a twist. Instead of going through a dozen different storylines with multiple characters, you're following one specific storyline focused on the Sanada Clan. Rather than jumping around from village to battleground to random encounter in the woods, you're starting off in a small village during the Sengoku period of Japan, being lead by Masayuki as you turn that small village into an empire. As you move forward and conquer different battles, the game grows with you from season to season over the course of 54 years.
The dynamic that caught my attention the most is that the game feels more like there's an RPG element going for it. If you've ever played one of these games, going all the way back to the start of the series, you know what you're in for. The formula hasn't changed too dramatically over the past decade or so. However, in this one, there's more of a leveling system when it comes to weapon and abilities that's tweaked the combat and objectives, making you want to achieve those more and mow down as many enemies as you can. The free-roaming allows you to find items up upgrade weapons and improve your stats, which helped out greatly as I was able to pick up a few different items in the middle of cutting through a few hundred nameless enemies. And that goes double for your super moves, which get better exponentially over time and can be improved beyond their usual max-out level.
The combat however… it is what it is. When you make a franchise like this with a specific set of rules and game styles that appeal to fans, you're gonna keep doing it. And while the added RPG-like elements are awesome, they don't really save from the tireless and endless pool of soldiers who come by the thousands to rein hell with pointy sticks on your land. Like all hack and slash games, there's a point where you grow tired of this and want something new, but you know it's just more of the same on the way. I would have liked to see some other elements in combat break up the usual discord, but it's the same ol' generals and officers roaming around as you are the king of killing people with a large wooden fan.
The growing village element reminded me a lot of Suikoden 2, with the difference being that you don't recruit people, they just become part of your empire as you and it grows over time. When new sections open up you end up with new shops, new interactions, new people, new everything. You can go fishing in your spare time, plant a garden and tend to it, make new friends and allies from section to section, give gifts to people (this feels like Dead Or Alive all of a sudden), fight in a dojo, even flirt a little bit with women and a few other options we'll just leave as a surprise. That little addition made me feel like I was a part of something and not just a face in an army ready to die for the cause, and added a little more incentive to play.
Graphics and audio wise, this is one of the better looking Samurai Warriors games I've seen. The backgrounds and levels sometimes look like complete garbage as they're more of an afterthought to the action, but this game makes them look well designed and even a little bit of thought into what they look like. Seeing scratches on doors and fire burn stains on wood is a lovely touch compared to some of what we've seen in the past. Sometimes the character's faces look blank and show no emotion in battle, but it's kind of forgivable since I'm not too concerned about looking happy during a fight. The music plays well into this one as it gives you a sense of urgency and a peaceful calm when needed.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a pretty good game in the series. It has flaws here and there that always come with this kind of title, but there's enough of a change in the dynamics to make me come back for more and finish the story. It's a must-play for anyone who loves the series or the genre, and average gamers might like the change of pace from what every other title like this has been.