Those of you with a penchant for Japanese history and a simultaneous desire to thwack the ever-loving hell out of a constant stream of mindless enemies have likely been looking forward to Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada. Focussing on a family of warriors during a war-torn era in this country’s past, it’s a reserved tale, and doesn’t necessarily provoke wonder in any of its aspects, but it’s a solid action RPG with plenty to do and some lovely, large maps that are just ripe for casual animated mass violence.
The Sanadas, a family of fighters loyal to the Takeda clan are the subjects of this tale, with Masayuki, his sons and the clan’s leaders doling out multiple instances of butt-whooping during what was known as the Warring States era. The story itself shows the Sanadas during their time at the forefront of their army’s battles, and their increasing influence during the Takeda’s large-scale scraps with neighbouring states.
As narratives go, Spirit of Sanada maintains a pretty straight-faced and easy-going approach throughout, without being too dramatic or oppressive. It isn’t bad in any way, it’s just that the game’s primary focus is elsewhere. Masayuki and his family aren’t the most developed set of characters that you’re ever going to meet, but when their main job is to kick backsides and take names, they don’t necessarily have to be.
Unsurprisingly, the combat is the big draw here. Fans of Dynasty Warriors, of which Spirit of Sanada is a double spin-off of, will likely feel right at home thanks to the hack-n-slash nature of combat. It’s particularly exaggerated, a bit silly and somewhat satisfying,with each strike throwing your enemies either into the air or further away from your good self. The impact of charged and special attacks is even more enjoyable, with your foes tossed up into the air like ragdolls in zero gravity. It’s silly, non-bloody violence; the grunts you come up against offer barely any resistance, and are essentially fodder to boost your KO chain, but the emphasis is on fun here, and it works. Even though battles have time limits, it never feels like you don’t have long enough to accomplish your goals.
You’re not expected to take out all of the enemies on offer in the game’s decently-sized areas, which is just as well as they can frequently number over several thousand. The game instead encourages you to explore each map, uncover sub-objectives like battling lieutenants, pick up materials and eventually take down a boss, thus ending the battle. These large-scale fights will slowly get more complicated as you delve further into the game, with the ability to control multiple characters, issue commands to attack specific targets and unleash stratagems to strengthen either yourself or your troops added into the equation. Traversing each map is made easy thanks to the addition of a horse, who will remain nonchalant and utterly unfazed as you chop down hundreds of people right next to it, whilst awaiting your next command obediently. Cracking steed.
Away from battle, time is spent in your hub doing standard RPG stuff; fishing, item upgrading, crafting and training. It’s a nice change of pace from combat, with the ability to slash enemies repeatedly and mercilessly nicely juxtaposed by the fact that you can give presents to the other members of your clan. Would your son like a dandelion, a stick, or a wolf pelt, perhaps? Everyone’s too polite to say anything other than thank you, at least, even if you don’t give them their favourite type of item. All of these things and more can be picked up from previous areas that you’ve explored, with exploration outside of main story battles encouraged as a means of gaining loot, and then using said loot to upgrade your abilities, like attack, reach etc with your chosen weapon. Fishing feels disappointingly basic, given that your input is a simple, quick button prompt when you’ve got something hooked, but it’s nice to have it there at all. The addition of museums that house the game’s cutscenes, soundtrack and a comprehensive index that chronicles every character, place and minute element of this world is a nice touch, too, given that the game’s plot can get a little convoluted.
Spirit of Sanada doesn’t feel particularly tough to get into; even if you don’t have an interest in the narrative, the basic principle of a game handing you a weapon and a seemingly unending supply of enemies and prodding you to have some fun isn’t tough to wrap your head around. What it loses due to the quality of its visuals, it makes up for with a consistent framerate, colourful style and good performance, which is impressive given how often the sheer multitude of the things happening on screen borders on the ridiculous. As action RPGs with plenty to offer and fun combat go, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada will likely quench your thirst for throwing fools up into the air whilst making you feel like a historical badass in the process.
OTT, flashy and satisfying combat
Lots to do
Serious in subject but light in tone
Graphics engine showing its age
Less-than engaging story