Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada (Playstation 4 Review)
Every year sees Omega Force release at least one Warriors game, whether it’s an entry in the main series, an anime spinoff, or an alternative-genre spinoff. Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a spinoff of Samurai Warriors 4. Typically, these titles all share a common style of gameplay in which players will beat up hordes of hesitant enemies and sometimes square off with a historical/notable figure. As a franchise, Warriors is often criticised for its repetitive gameplay; however, the spinoffs provide room for the developers to experiment a little with their successful formula. Spirit of Sanada is a small example of this.
Set over a duration of 48 years during a romanticised version of Japan’s Age of Warring States (or Sengoku) period, the feudal lords are locked in conflict over who will conquer Japan. As the name implies, Spirit of Sanada follows the story of different characters from the Sanada clan. Starting in 1567, players first take the role of series newcomer Masayuki Sanada, said to be one of the greatest strategists of the era and the father of the series’ iconic character, Yukimura Sanada. Masayuki served the feudal lord Shingen Takeda, helping in a conquest that almost saw the Takeda clan rule the country. History is cruel, and the Takeda head fell to illness. Unlike other entries in the series, Spirit of Sanada doesn’t really dwell on the possibilities and instead recounts the most historically accurate tale in the franchise yet. The result is a linear, but tense narrative as the Sanada clan struggles to survive the volatile era, leading to a tragic confrontation between the two sons of Masayuki.
As one of the most popular periods in Japanese media, the historical accounts for the protagonists are fairly well known—especially to the target demographic and anyone familiar with the Samurai Warriors’ campaign. Spirit of Sanada focuses on the character drama, telling Omega Force’s own interpretation of the story. It’s willing to spend time with Masayuki’s sons as children, developing them into engaging characters the audience will care for. This is a title that cares about the details, and that’s made extra clear with the additional glossary and character profile that can be accessed whenever a new person or a new key word is mentioned. There’s a lot of depth to this account of the Sengoku era, even if it only really follows a single clan out of the many.
That being said, the Sanada’s aren’t the only characters that are playable. There are 61 available characters to choose from, including five new additions. Players may even participate in other battles that happen at the same time as one in which the titular clan is fighting in. While the combo strings are identical across the board, each character still has their own flourish and unique ability. Additionally, players may sometimes be granted the opportunity to swap characters in the middle of battle, allowing for thrilling moments where two separate battles may lead into a climax. There’s something especially satisfying about pulling off a momentous pincer movement single-handedly.
With the focus doubling down on immersing the player in the Sanada story, Spirit of Sanada features towns for the player to explore and interact with NPCs. This expands on the traditional RPG elements that can often be found woven into a Warriors title, and there are even optional activities like fishing and farming to take advantage of for resources. It’s a pretty neat addition that helps further ground the story, while giving players a resting point while they digest the twists, turns, and losses.
Of course, as a Warriors title, the actual combat is pretty much as to be expected. Players will slaughter literally thousands of soldiers in short, approximately 10 to 20 minute missions while they stomp around a large stage. Most of the generic soldiers will hesitantly surround the player, waiting to be reduced to fodder. Individually, the AI is slow and unwilling to act. Collectively, enemy groups can occasionally hurt, but there’s still little challenge in fighting them. They exist solely to empower the player, ensuring that they feel as badass as possible. Instead, the real challenge comes in the form of head-to-head fights with other officers. These officers have the same powers as the player, making them essentially mirror matches in varying degrees of difficulty. Some of these fights can be a little bit of a chore, while others can be very satisfying.
Considering the first playable character is historically known for being incredibly strategic, Spirit of Sanada usually relies very little on real strategy. The aim is often simple: find the boss of the stage and murder the hell out of them. Obstacles may be in the way, but they’re also usually conquered simply by murdering someone. That being said, the title takes advantage of Masayuki’s wit by introducing the Strategum feature. Occasionally, moments will present themselves in which the player will be able to activate some sort of effect that can dynamically alter the flow of the battle. Additionally, the conditions for these Strategums will sometimes be locked behind actions in previous battles and resources to utilize them can be limited. This provides the player with some room to feel like a tactician, fitting in with the protagonists’ characterisation and the empowering theme in the Warriors design.
Despite being otherwise similar to the entries before it, Spirit of Sanada can still feel surprisingly fresh. The genius of retooling the same combat lies within the framing and external features. By immersing the player more in the individual characters over the course of an expanded story campaign; the game already feels somewhat different and independent. In this title, the regurgitated combat system is a means for the player to plunge themselves into the very struggles of the characters. The familiarity even benefits this in some ways. With the inclusion of the additional features that feel more geared towards making the experience a little bit more personal to the cast, the title succeeds in standing out on its own. This is something that Omega Force has also been playing with in their spinoffs for a while, and Spirit of Sanada is definitely an example of them doing it right.
It’s worth noting that the stable standard of the Warriors combat, as repurposable as it is, allows for Omega Force to produce low budget games that still feel good to play. A lot of effort has clearly gone into the details for this title, though the graphics suffer even in the field areas. Visually, Spirit of Sanada sometimes looks like it belongs on the previous generation. That being said, the pace and zoomed out camera of the combat helps to cover this. It’s only really noticeable in the towns. In combat, the motion blur can also get pretty jarring until the player adjusts to it.
Ultimately, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a pretty strong standalone title that welcomes new players while offering a somewhat fresh experience for fans. Anyone expecting too much from the combat will be disappointed, as it’s mostly standard Warriors. That being said, players that don’t typically enjoy Warriors games might find something more to enjoy here; I found it rather engaging, even despite the repetitive nature of the battles. The historical account is also incredibly fascinating. This reviewer was already somewhat familiar with the Sengoku period, but I couldn’t really resist delving back into the history surrounding it—both inside and out of the game. That’s always a pretty cool thing for a story based on real events to do.