The base formula for the Samurai Warriors franchise has remained for the most part unchanged ever since its first title with the well-known "one versus thousands" gameplay style. While Koei Tecmo has been exploring and adding new gameplay mechanics in recent titles, each new game has remained faithful to its roots. Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada, a spin-off of Samurai Warriors 4, is no different, as the game offers the same gameplay style that fans have come to love, but with a plenitude of new additions and small changes.
Unlike other Samurai Warriors titles, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada focuses primarily on one family, the Sanada Clan, with the game putting players in the role of Masayuki Sanada and his son Yukimura Sanada. Previous games was hard to follow when they tried to tell the story of several families at the same time, so the change to a tighter narrative is definitely a step in the right direction that makes the story far more interesting and appealing. With the campaign playing out over the course of several decades, this leaves room to some interesting character development, as we get to see Masayuki Sanada changing from a young warrior to a legendary tactician, and Yukimura Sanada growing from a young boy to a general that would become known as "The Crimson Demon of War”.
Combat will now occur over a longer period of time across multiple battlefields, as players get to experience the historical events of the Sengoku era Japan. Although the game focuses on the Sanada clan, players can also choose to experience other battles and stories. Along with the main story battles, the game also features Secondary Battlefields, where players will be able to engage in battles where the Sanada family did not play a major role while witnessing key historical events from another perspective.
As I said before, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada doesn’t move away from the series’ hack n’ slash combat. Players will face against hundreds of enemy soldiers, but only the enemy commanders will provide any real challenge. The game also features a morale mechanic to make combat a bit more strategic. When the enemy morale is high, red zones will appear, and inside these zones enemies will take less damage from your attacks and inflict more damage on you. This is why lowering the enemy morale should be your priority in combat, something which you can do by completing objectives, or defeating banner carriers and enemy commanders.
One of the new additions is the day-night cycle. When on the battlefield, time will pass and occasionally change between day and night. There’s a bit a strategy involved here as well, as at night visibility is greatly reduced and ninjas will appear to strike you down. However, night also represents a time where you can turn the tide of battle as there are no red zones, giving you a great opportunity to lower enemy morale more easily.
Another addition is the “Stratagems”. As you talk to certain people, and complete mission objectives or feats, you will acquire Sanada Coins. These coins can be used is battle to trigger “Stratagems”, special strategies which alter the flow of battle. For example, you can use stratagems to summons ally officers, to restore the health of a character that you can’t let fall in battle, prevent the movement of enemy officers, among several other situations. While it’s a neat gameplay mechanic, it’s a shame it feels so restrictive, as you can only use Stratagems to “counter-attack” specific situations in each battle.
Along with the traditional combat missions, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada also features exploration missions. In these missions you explore small maps as you take on specific tasks, such as gathering materials, escorting someone or defeating certain enemies. Although exploring maps provides a break from the action-packed missions, the game starts to rely too much on these missions toward the end of the campaign. I felt like the story went on about 5 hours too long just due to the insane amount of exploration missions I had to do towards the end, especially when these missions for the most part don’t add anything to the story.
After completing a mission, the player returns to the Castle Town, which acts as the game’s hub area. Here you can visit the Blacksmith to improve and upgrade weapons, the Stables to purchase horses which you can use during missions, train your characters at the Dojo, and more. The player can also accept sidequests from the town’s people, which for the most part just require you to get some ingredients or materials. In addition, there’s some fishing and farming mini-games, but nothing particularly outstanding.
The game’s overall presentation is definitely the game’s weakest aspect. For starters, Spirit of Sanada’s graphics feel dated, as the game looks the same as its predecessors. While the combat is really fluid despite all the action and hundreds of enemies involved, the Castle Town is plagued by a poor frame rate, which shows that the game needed a bit more polish. I can’t also ignore the fact that while the main characters’ appearance changes throughout the story, some other characters don’t change one bit, even if 20 years have passed.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada brings new elements to the table, some of which aren’t really that great, others are definitely a step in the right direction for the series. While the core gameplay remains faithful to what fans of the series enjoy, the new focus on telling the story of just one family instead of many allows the game to provide a more interesting and engaging narrative. Despite some of its flaws, such as the overall presentation and the boring exploration missions, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a great spin-off to Samurai Warriors 4, and without a doubt, a good addition to the Musou series.Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada was reviewed using a digital code provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
|Interesting story with great character development.|
|"One versus thousands" combat continues to be as fun as ever.|
|Day-night cycle and Stratagems add some strategy to the large scaled battles.|
|Outdated visuals and frame-rate issues.|
|Too many exploration missions towards the end of the game.|