General game information
Game name: Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada
Release date: May 23, 2017
Price: US$ 49.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Third person action game
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a spinoff of Samurai Warriors 4, focusing on the Sanada clan as they navigate the tricky political landscape of 16th century Japan. Koei Tecmo’s Warriors franchise usually covers the Sengoku period from many different points of view, so this installment is a big departure from the norm in that front. Gameplay wise, Spirit of Sanada introduces a number of new features that weren’t part of earlier Warriors titles, although the basics of the genre are left mostly untouched.
Setting, characters and story
As I said in the introduction, Spirit of Sanada follows the Sanada clan as they attempt to survive and grow their power in the dangerous political landscape of Sengoku period Japan. The game begins with the rise of Masayuki Sanada, and, as the years pass, we’ll see how this character grows older and his sons Yukimura and Nobuyuki become adults and take the spotlight. The story is remarkably well told, with high quality cutscenes highlighting important events, and more personal matters being discussed by key characters during town hub intermissions. An ingame encyclopedia tracks important people, city names, major events and battles, letting us access a wealth of information with just a few button presses (a welcome aid, considering the complexity of the story).
This focused approach to storytelling pays off really well because we get attached to the main characters as they grow older and their motivations change. Being told that we should root for a certain historical figure because he’s a hero or something similar doesn’t have the same effect as following a father’s journey. The latter option creates a lasting bond between the player and the character they control, while the former may hold their attention for a while but will ultimately be forgotten.
Players may choose to gift items to key characters and officers in order to obtain more information about them (and more tangible rewards, of course). Every character has their own preference when it comes to gifts, so we should try to discover what they like if we wish to read every bit of text available. Improving our relationship with certain officers will also let us choose them as companions for exploration missions.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada introduces a number of noticeable improvements to the long running franchise’s trademark one versus thousands gameplay. The first of these new additions to the musou formula is the introduction of multi-stage battles, replacing the series’ massive battlefields for smaller, more focused maps which connect with each other, helping to create the sense that a larger battle is being fought. This is not to say that the main story battles aren’t as spectacular as ever, of course. Instead, everything ends up being turned up to eleven, as we fight battle after battle, but in different environments (and in some cases, even different provinces, as some main operations feature secondary battlefields that serve as a way of learning more about the story from the eyes of different characters).
A day and night cycle is also in effect, and far from being a simple cosmetic touch, it affects the way we see and interact with the battlefield massively. Daytime engagements will let us see both enemy and friendly armies in the minimap, and certain areas will become “red zones” where our foes’ forces are strengthened and will hit a lot harder than usual. Once night falls, our vision of the minimap will be impaired and enemies will be harder to see in the main screen as well. The “red zones” disappear, but new enemy types start roaming the battlefield, trying to catch our officers off guard. This dynamic ensures that battles always stay fresh (and sometimes it forces us to rush through the battlefield as fast as we can in order to avoid being caught by overwhelming enemy forces).
As usual in the Warriors series, important engagements will offer a number of objectives, with bonuses being awarded if we complete some of them in an allotted period of time, etc. This is where another new addition comes in, since Spirit of Sanada introduces a system based on the clan’s banner (six coins), letting us earn Sanada Coins if we achieve specific feats, items that can be used to trigger Stratagems (letting us see enemy movements at night, for example) which may turn the tide of the battle if used properly. Completing objectives in previous encounters will usually open up even more Stratagems for use in the final stages of multi-stage battles, and late game scenarios can be quite punishing, so most players will want to achieve as many feats as they can before signalling the end of the fight.
Speaking about the Sanada Coins, battlefield prowess isn’t the only way to obtain them, since we may also fill our pockets with Stratagem fuel if we talk to specific characters in the new town hub maps. These let us roam free around a small city, chatting with officers and engaging in minigames that will reward us with materials that can be used to upgrade our weapons. A number of stores may also be available, and certain NPCs will give us quests that can usually be completed in the exploration maps, interconnected areas full of loot and enemies. At the start of the game, those maps will only let us explore them for a set amount of time, forcing us to retreat back to the safety of the town and head out again, but advancing through the storyline and leveling up our characters will unlock the option to extend our exploration time significantly.
Aside from the new features described above, Spirit of Sanada‘s main gameplay loop is the same as every other Omega Force musou title’s. Players will control powerful heroes, roaming huge battlefields and cutting down thousands of enemies in every engagement. Enemy officers will face us from time to time, and we may use special attacks to defeat them, as they can endure massive amounts of punishment. The roster of playable characters available in Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is impressive (61) and they are divided in four different classes, according to their playstyle (some characters are geared towards use of normal attacks, others will be far more effective when pulling off combos, etc.). Depending on the battle being fought, we may be able to control more than one hero, and some feats will require specific characters in order to be completed.
Graphics, sound and performance
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is not exactly a looker, but the amount of enemies on screen more than makes up for its slightly muddy textures. The PC version is based on the PlayStation 4 release, so the game supports a number of resolutions up to 4K (3840 x 2160), and the character models are very detailed. Performance isn’t very stable, however, and heated battles will see frequent framerate drops (even my enthusiast Ryzen 7 1700, 32GB RAM and GTX 1070 experienced drops to the low 50s during certain taxing scenes). As usual with Koei Tecmo releases, I wouldn’t recommend playing this title with mouse and keyboard, since it’s obviously designed for a gamepad.
Thankfully, the audio aspect doesn’t disappoint in any way. The game’s soundtrack is excellent (and we may even choose our own battle tunes if we are not comfortable with the default selection) and all the important characters are voiced by more than competent Japanese voice actors.
Omega Force‘s Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada mixes tried and true gameplay elements with a number of noticeable improvements and an excellent story, creating a title that may very well be the developers’ finest yet.
9.5/10 – Excellent.