The Dynasty Warriors franchise has been running for just over 20 years at this point. And with 8 mainline titles, countless spinoffs and having the “musou” genre named after it, it’s amazing how its managed to stay fresh for so long. A big part of this is likely due to the series refinements with each entry, where mechanics are tweaked and improved to make them more fitting to the series.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada stands as the biggest and best improvement in the franchise, and sets the standard for how wonderful the Warriors franchise can be.
While most Samurai Warriors choose to tell the stories of multiple clans during Japan’s Sengoku period, Spirit of Sanada makes the smart move of focusing in on one particularly interesting (and historically praised) clans, the Sanada.
The story of the Sanada clan is an endearing one. Born to serve the Takeda clan, the Sanada quickly grew in power and soon found itself standing as one of the strongest clans of the Sengoku era. The game does a great job portraying many historic moments as more than just simple battles, they often come from conflicts about friendships, internal struggles or fighting for one’s pride.
Granted the story takes a few liberties and goes down its own fictional path by the end, but the way it portrays all the major players in the war will make you care for all of them, and you’ll more likely than not be fine with some of the historical inaccuracies because you just want to see these characters happy.
When Spirit of Sanada isn’t busy being a character driven soap opera, it’s also a tried and true Warriors game. The player picks a character from a constantly expanding list of famous Japanese warlords and sets out to decimate thousands of enemies on their way to conquering Japan. Levels are big spread out areas with multiple bases and missions to complete. While this sounds by the book so far, Spirit of Sanada quickly begins to change things up.
Since the Sanada weren’t always in battle, the game lets the player experience some downtime by hanging out at the Sanada castle grounds. Here they can walk around, talk to friends, forge new weapons, plant seeds to harvest, and explore the forests to find items used to power up weaponry.
This does a fantastic job at world building and giving the Sanada a sense of life outside of the battlefield. It’s a great feeling to return from battle as Yukitaka and see a young Yukimura welcome his dad back with a small jump for joy. It gives characters life in a game otherwise completely focused on mass genocide.
The game also changes the way that spirit (or rage) mode works. In Samurai Warriors 4, the player would have to fill up the entire meter before it could be used. Now, the player can activate it whenever they want providing a small threshold has been passed (signified with a circle). The spirit meter can then be built up while in spirit mode, to a max level of 5, and can be used to deal out massive amounts of damage in a short amount of time.
It creates room for tactical players to use this move strategically to maximise how long spirit mode can last, and how much damage it can dish out to enemies.
One final massive improvement is the overhaul to dash moves. In the Samurai Warriors games, instead of there being a heavy attack, there’s a dash move that allows the player to fly forward as they attack and chain their attack with their movements. In SW4, the attacks felt clunky and often unsatisfying to use. However, in Sprit of Sanada the timings of attacks and the feedback gained seems to have improved the moves so well that they’re some of the most satisfying moves in the game.
Mowing down a hundred men by dashing through them and watching as their bodies fly across the screen is gratifying every time it happens.
And you’ll be seeing that a lot in Spirit of Sanada as the game is capable of including a crazy number of enemies on screen at once. Normally the series gets away by cheating and having enemies fade in and out of existence when you get close to them, but here they remain visible for a much further range, which creates some fantastic imagery of an army of men running towards you thinking they have the tiniest chance in beating you.
But it’s not always back hacking and slashing. Well, most of it is, but there’s also a small strategic side to the game. While the majority of the time you won’t have to worry about strategy or character placement, as the story goes on and the day-to-night cycle becomes more intrinsic to success, you’ll be surprised to find that commanding the second playable character becomes key to your victory.
The choice not to force strategy onto the player is one of utter genius. Instead of making them use it without any choice, Spirit of Sanada leaves the strategy side for the player to discover and begin using on their own, making the player feel they are playing the game on a deeper level than the usual “press X to win” that usually permeates most gamers playstyles.
Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is the Warriors format at its finest. It perfects what issues were found in SW4, and takes the risk of having a developed character driven story to great success. It perfects what was missing from old instalments and adds a slew of new and equally wonderful new additions to make the game flourish as the best the franchise has ever offered. Fans of the series will be overjoyed with this latest entry. And for those who aren’t fans of the franchise, now is the perfect time to jump in.