Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada pits the player as several characters fighting the many battles of the Sanada clan. Starting out at Masayuki Sanada’s first battle, players can sit down to a fairly well told history lesson. Taking a moment to suspend all disbelief with the whacky combat and overly colourful characters, I became appreciative of what Spirit of Sanada was teaching me.
The politics of feudal Japan were messy and seemed to change with the wind. But this game takes its time in making sure that you understand each engagement and why it is happening. Over their last few titles, Omega Force seem to have been stuck in a creative rut. But Spirit of Sanada genuinely impressed me with the many ideas it offers up. All the while, typical bugbears found in previous games are nowhere to be found. While making tangible improvements to how they create games, Omega Force have not sacrificed any areas in which they excel, retaining their signature Warriors style frantic gameplay.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koie Tecmo
Avg Game Length: 20hrs
Spirit of Sanada May Be A Little Confusing At The Start
Initially any player could be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed by Spirit of Sanada’s first battles. Indeed, it will take a little time to understand the artistic visual cues and exactly what they represent. I’m sure it is for this reason that the full spread of gameplay opportunities is not unleashed from the get go. In view of the many battlefield stratagems and hub level options, Omega Force have ensured that the player builds up to them before getting the full spread. Aside from this gradual unlocking of things to do, Omega Force has delightfully fixed an issue that has always haunted their games.
Using Berserk as an example, I can say it’s a pretty regular occurrence to get turned around on the battlefield in Omega Force’s games. The most obvious route isn’t always a viable one. In the case of Spirit of Sanada, we now have pause screen with explicit directional arrows, informing the player of a suitable route to the objective. This simple change is very much appreciated. It removes that nagging feeling of not being quite sure of what you’re doing. Which makes the game suddenly a lot more fun.
Battlefield Stratagems Mix Things Up Nicely
As far as direct gameplay is concerned, players will have added investment in everything they do on the battlefield. With the “Six Coins” system in place, every successful action is rewarded by filling a Six Coins bar. When the bar is full, a coin is awarded. Not only do certain actions result in available stratagems for the following battle but the coins allow you to carry them out.
This could include sending ninjas to thin the enemy horde or disabling a key component of the enemy’s forces to make your battle that little bit easier. It is indeed satisfying to know that you have earned this battlefield boon. All the more so to carry it out and witness its effects. But with the main premise of this game being its battles, does it run the risk of Attack on Titan syndrome? In other words, does it begin to feel repetitive?
Well, yes and no. Sure, the layout of each battle is basically identical. One large sandbox is segmented by different sections. Initially, things start out small-scale then gates and routes open up and the battle widens. As is it does so, more optional objectives pop up. The player must then juggle priorities to achieve the compulsory objectives while mopping up any cheeky side objectives on the way.
This is nothing new for the Warriors format. Although, there is plenty here to keep players invested in what they’re doing. Not only will several characters become unlocked to you, but each of them can be levelled up. It’ll be up to the player how they want to buff certain character’s stats. Or who they’ll be leaving behind. This makes for some serious decision making if a particular battle is getting the best of you time and again.
Much Needed Chill Time Is Appreciated
Outside of the battlefield, there’s still plenty to see and do. The hub village, known as Castle Town, may not be as big as Omega Force’s previous hub areas like Toukiden 2, but there is plenty to invest in there. Cleverly, the Castle Town doubles up as a kind of playable menu. Instead of levelling characters up on a screen, players must go to the training ground to invest in new skills. Several story NPC’s are also dotted about. They can be interacted with to earn side quests in the loot collecting “exploration areas”.
Friendships can even be formed in order to bring allies with you on side quests. What’s so important about this hub area is that it breaks things up nicely. Instead of relentlessly going from one battle to the next as we saw in Berserk, we now have time to take stock of events, talk to characters and level things up. It all adds a much needed sense of context as we go from one scenario to the next.
Spirit of Sanada Runs The Risk Of Wasting Its Words On You
While cinematics are kept to a bare minimum, Spirit of Sanada tells its romanticised story rather well. It may feel a little unclear in the opening moments as we aren’t treated to a cinematic to ease us in. Yet, once we learn what kind of timeline we’re dealing with, any nagging confusion about who’s who and what’s going on tends to dissipate. Sadly, a lot of mid battle dialogue will be missed for us Westerners. A lot of the text based dialogue as a result of no dubbing means that we cannot focus on staying alive AND read what characters are saying.
Although, that said, we don’t stand to lose out on too much information as the pre-battle map tells us all we really need to know. The addition of a 3-D map of Japan by Omega Force is fantastic. It allows them more breathing room to explain the complexities of feudal Japan’s politics. We are shown character logos moving from one place to the next. Which gives an understanding of troop movements or exactly why armies had to clash where they did.
On top of the multi-stage battle comprising a full campaign, we have also have secondary battles. These were a great addition. They allow players to understand what else was going on Japan and get their hands on entirely new characters with different move sets. The anti Nobunaga resistance springs to mind. While Masayuki is hacking and slashing his way through his next battle, which will also be playable when chosen, we are treated to an insight elsewhere in Japan and an added understanding of potentially growing alliances or hostilities.
Simplistic Hack ‘N Slash Combos Help New Characters Feel More Accessible
Each character has totally identical button inputs for combos. While this may seem like a bad thing on the surface, it actually isn’t. While the button input may be the same, the output of the moves is indeed different. Each character will have different strengths and weaknesses as a result. More importantly, a full understanding of any one character will allow the player to master crazy crowd control combos on the battlefield.
Knowing when to initiate rage moves and special moves plays into how well a player can manage the battlefield. Normally, this formulae would run the risk of becoming repetitive and boring. Yet, there are so many characters to spend time with learning and levelling up, the simplistic combo system is not to be sniffed at.
Does A Playful Art Design Clash With The Serious Nature Of A History Lesson?
Anybody could be forgiven for thinking the serious nature of warring factions in a true story design clashes with Warriors style aesthetic. They’ll soon come to accept Spirit of Sanada for what it is. Quintessentially Japanese, with their quintessential art design choices.
Eventually, you’ll give in in the wake of the seriousness found in say, For Honor, and simply accept Spirit of Sanada the way it is. Once you have that acceptance, the game will suddenly feel all the more accessible to your Western mindset. That’s not to say we don’t have a few issues remaining in Omega Force’s graphical departments.
Sacrifices Must Be Made To Create A Perfect Machine
World design still suffers from blanket, dull colour palettes. Foes pop-spawn in droves in your face, giving way to NPC clipping galore. But is all this ever going to be avoidable with Warriors’ format? Well no. The scale we’re dealing with and the sheer number of units on screen would require an alien super-computer to run adequately at a high fidelity level. Since we don’t have one of those, this is what we get. And it’s fair to say that Spirit of Sanada runs like a dream on the PS4.
Despite the hordes of enemies and artistic graphical overlays, I never once suffered any slow down or frame rate issues. Omega Force seem to have also made gains in the areas of water effects and lighting. A nice glow to our games is always good! Cleverly, if the camera can’t get into a cool angle on your special moves, it knows not to bother. This is not even something we’ve seen in massive Sony backed projects like The Last Guardian (that game’s camera was sickening, literally).
When all’s said and done, Spirit of Sanada has succeeded in every aspect it has set out on. It has successfully romanticised an era of feudal Japan, while retaining a serious telling of its events. Its combat is undeniably fun and its repetitive nature is nullified by investing time and care into its many playable characters. For fans of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, Spirit of Sanada is guaranteed to please with its successfully experimental new ideas.