Sanada Spearheads Sengoku Strategems
Sometimes the best strategy is to beat an army over the head with a massive flag. At least, in the world of Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada.
Spirit of Sanada is the latest in the Samurai Warriors series, itself a spin-off of the Dynasty Warriors series. For those who have not played a Dynasty Warriors game, they are action games where you control an over-powered army officer, taking to the field of battle and sending scores of enemy soldiers flying with odd weaponry and outrageous combos. It’s power trip tropes applied to army strategy, and it’s a blast to play.
The series is loosely based on history, with Dynasty Warriors covering the Three Kingdoms period of China and Samurai Warriors covering the Sengoku period of Japan. Spirit of Sanada covers Masayuki and Yukimura Sanada’s view of the conflict, but any lessons learned here should be taken with a grain of salt. For example, while Shingen Takeda was reported as using a battle fan in combat once, it was not his primary weapon, and he most certainly did not use it to summon gale force winds and gouts of flame.
Spirit of Sanada is out for PC and PS4. The PS4 version was played for this review.
A Time to Relax
The main battles of the game are broken up with castle town sections where you talk to NPCs around town, perform sidequests, and explore regions outside of town for upgrade materials. This is a welcome change compared to earlier games in the series where the constant battles just tended to grate and drag on. It also helps to make the world feel more alive, with various NPCs discussing the greater conflict going on around Japan.
For those who like learning about real history, Koei Tecmo has added the “Sanada Clan Chronicles,” where you can read less embellished accounts of the events covered in the games. While still prone to a little artistic license here and there, it makes for a fun way to learn more about this important moment in Japanese history. Just… you may want to double check the information if you plan on using it for a history test, before you put down something like how Katsuyori Takeda enjoyed vegetables that could double as weapons.
Bills to Pay the Skills
The main new features in Spirit of Sanada are the “Sanada Six Coins” and “Stratagems.” By talking to NPCs and doing sidequests in the castle towns between battles, and achieving high ranks in the battles themselves, the Six Coins gauge will fill, granting up to six coins that can be used during battles to enact stratagems. These are powerful abilities unique to each battle with a wide variety of effects, from restoring the HP of allies, to unlocking shortcuts through the level.
What really makes stratagems special is their relationship with Feats. Feats are special objectives in each level and not only serve as the primary way to fill up your Six Coins gauge, but also unlock stratagems in subsequent battles. These stratagems usually have some tie to the Feat required to unlock, such as saving an ally in one battle to command them to do an assault in the subsequent battle, or defending supply troops to be able to build a bridge.
While stages can certainly be completed just by focusing on the objectives, going after Feats and Stratagems creates a back and forth of doing difficult secondary objectives to ease up the difficulty of subsequent primary objectives, adding extra flavor and variety to the stages. However, if I had to make one complaint about the Stratagems, it would be that since Feats only provide a large boost the first time they are completed, if you repeat a level for any reason you typically need to go through them without Stratagems to avoid wasting coins you could have used on newer levels.
Nice Feudal Fun
Overall, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada is a game that simultaenously manages to be a power trip and a tense action game where it never feels like you can be everywhere you need to be and take out the enemy officers fast enough. The Feats provide some added variety to the missions, but also encompass some of the most frustrating features of the game, with some practically requiring having beaten the stage already to know where ambushes will spawn.
It has its flaws, but still proves to be a very enjoyable game that I had trouble putting down (as the sparse nature of this review can testify.) If you’re a fan of the series or picking up a Dynasty Warriors game for the first time, I highly recommend this.
~Final Score: 8/10~
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for PS4. Screenshots provided by dev.