Samurai Warriors 5 review: Reimagining Feudal Japan

Samurai Warriors 5 gives the hack and slash series set in 16th century Japan a much-needed makeover.

Samurai Warriors 5 Gameplay Hero
(Image: © Windows Central)

I have to confess: I've never played any of the previous entries of Samurai Warriors, nor the Dynasty Warriors franchise it spun off from. As luck would have it, though, Samurai Warriors 5 is a complete overhaul of the franchise from the ground up. If ever there was a franchise that's safe to jump into the 5th installment without previous experience, it's Samurai Warriors.

Samurai Warriors 5 follows the reign of the Oda Clan's ambitious but reckless warrior, Nobunaga Oda. Nobunaga has the lofty goal of uniting feudal Japan's various daimyos so that the troubled country can finally see peace under his rule. In addition to Nobunaga's path, you can also play as Mitsuhide Akechi and other supporting characters for certain battles.

There's a new coat of paint on the entire game, with fairly similar art to Borderlands' cel-shading comic book style. Characters look, move, and feel three-dimensional. However, they appear as if they were plucked straight out of a manga with thick, inky outlines and a digital watercolor painting aesthetic that could pass as a modern take on 16th-century Japanese art.

Samurai Warriors 5: What's good

Samurai Warriors 5 Cutscene Screenshot

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
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CategorySamurai Warriors 5
TitleSamurai Warriors 5
DeveloperKoei Tecmo Games
PublisherKoei Tecmo America
Xbox VersionXbox Series X
Game Size14.09GB
Play Time30+ hours
PlayersSingleplayer, online co-op (2-player), local co-op (2-player)
Xbox GamePassNo
Launch Price$60

Samurai Warriors 5 is a reimagining of the franchise, which means that even newcomers like myself can pick the title up and become engrossed in the drama surrounding the ambitious samurai Nobunaga Oda. Set during Japan's Warring States era, Samurai Warriors 5 weaves a story of several clans with competing ideas on bringing peace to Japan — or power to themselves.

When initially loading the game up, players are given different menu options, including basic settings like whether or not to invert the controls and language for the subtitles. The game also allows players to choose their difficulty. Easy and normal offer fairly similar reward payouts for completed missions, while the harder difficulties reward players slightly better.

Samurai Warriors 5 End Of Battle Dialogue

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There is no punishment for choosing an easier difficulty apart from the minor tweaks to rewards. Achievements can still be unlocked, although there is one lone achievement for beating a single mission on nightmare difficulty. Plus, players can change their difficulty settings from the mission select menu at any point in the campaign.

Samurai Warriors 5 offers two primary gameplay modes. Classic Musou mode serves as the game's story, and each chapter is broken into its individual battles or main story beats.

The primary path follows Nobunaga Oda, though there is an additional path that follows Mitsuhide Akeshi. Plus, a couple of side stories show how certain battles played out from the perspectives of other supporting characters. These sub-stories help to give additional insight into the behavior and motivations that really flesh the narrative out.

Samurai Warriors 5 Equipment Screen

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Before starting a new mission in Mosou mode, players have the option to use any skill points they've earned in previous missions to upgrade the characters they will be using for the mission. There are more than 30 characters to choose from, though a few are not available in story missions and can only be accessed in free play.

Along with the stories in Mosou mode, there is also Citadel mode. Citadel mode features tower defense-like gameplay, where players choose a main character and an AI partner. It is worth noting that local and online are both options for cooperative play to protect the Oda clan's castles from various onslaughts.

Fluid gameplay, weapon classes, and leveling

Samurai Warriors 5 Enemy Ragdoll Screenshot

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Samurai Warriors 5's hack and slash gameplay is surprisingly fluid. There are many enemies to encounter, allowing players to rack up combos reaching the tens of thousands and kill counters to match. It's incredibly cathartic to chain together a successful combination of rapid and heavy attacks while peppering in character-specific ultimate Musou moves.

One of the changes from previous iterations of Samurai Warriors is that characters in Samurai Warriors 5 can now use weapons from all classes. However, characters will have specific preferred classes; when using a weapon from their preferred class, characters have special move sets that complement their playstyle.

Samurai Warriors 5 Skill Tree

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

All playable characters draw from the same collective pool of skill points and experience earned by the player, resulting in a blessing and a curse scenario. You may overpower one character who may not even be playable for most of the campaign. Thankfully, if this happens, you're likely to have enough points to quickly throw some upgrades at the available roster and carry on without issue.

It is important to keep the stats of the additional characters at least somewhat on par as your preferred mains. The AI used for missions is plenty competent at surviving the hordes of enemies during the intense fight sequences, provided they're properly equipped with suitable weapons and skills.

Samurai Warriors 5: What's not good

Samurai Warriors 5 End Of Battle Dialogue

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While I was drawn into the drama unfolding in Samurai Warriors 5's narrative, some elements felt predictable and frustrating. There is quite a bit of repetition with some of the themes and character behaviors that ultimately will just have you throwing your hands in the air and questioning the sanity of our reckless Samurai. Nobunaga's intentions to unite Japan are good on the surface, but his choices on and off the battlefield can leave a lot to be desired.

The process of getting to experience the entire story is also one of Samurai Warrior 5's weaker points. Despite a linear narrative broken down into battles and chapters for Mosou mode, Citadel mode is a series of seemingly disjointed tower defense experiences. To be powerful enough to succeed in Musou mode's battles, players will need to step out of the narrative and grind necessary upgrade materials from Citadel mode to progress.

Samurai Warriors 5 Building Upgrade

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The progression and skill systems in Samurai Warriors 5 are all locked behind a series of progression gates for no discernable reasons. You must upgrade your dojo to train beyond a certain level cap, but you can't upgrade your dojo without enough materials. Even if you have enough materials, you may not be far enough in the story for the particular upgrade you want to be available. It's a stifling way of slowing the player down that does more to hinder the flow of progression in a game that is ultimately about being an overpowered Samurai chopping your way across Japan.

Samurai Warriors 5's revamped weapons system means players have more freedom to pick and choose which weapons they want to use with which characters. That's a nice touch, but the overall system for upgrades, training, weapons, and skill management is a bit convoluted. The game could certainly benefit from a more streamlined system.

Samurai Warriors 5 Training Screen

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The process of having to upgrade your character's level with XP, then upgrade their weapon class with separate XP, then match it with a suitable weapon that they're eligible for after upgrading the corresponding building left me feeling like a lot of these things could've just been interconnected. It would have been nicer to see a single system where XP and weapon-grade are linked, upgrading seamlessly together. If, for example, when a player hits level 10, they have access to C-grade weapons. That could be a smoother means of progressing that didn't feel so locked down.

There are options to just dump as much XP into a character of your choosing as you possibly can. However, it would be nice if there was a similar option to auto equip them with their preferred weapon without taking a 30-minute break between each mission to sort through all of it.

Performace issues, hectic subtitles, and disconnect

Samurai Warriors 5 Distorted Enemies

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The later battles in both modes see players being overwhelmed with thousands and thousands of enemies, which leads to the aforementioned cathartically high combo numbers and causes some performance issues, even on the Xbox Series X. Large swaths of enemies ragdolling around in ridiculous ways is certainly funny, but the game did suffer from stuttering and frame rate drops. It wasn't unusual to have large groups of enemies that would pop into view. Additionally, enemies that were moving in the background were often blurry and distorted looking.

Samurai Warriors 5 is fully voice-acted in Japanese and depending on how much understanding you have of the language, you may be wondering why I'm bringing that up in the "What's not good" section of this review. The Japanese voice acting is fantastic; do not get me wrong. However, the lack of voice acting dubbed over in other languages means players must rely on subtitles to get exposition and other important battle information.

Samurai Warriors 5 Mission Rating

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

During hectic action sequences and boss battles, catching all of the information you need to strategize your attacks can be difficult. Battle clocks continue to tick down, taking away your mission rank with them, even when you're in menus looking for clues for what you need to do next. The time it takes to complete a mission determines, in part, your final rank and the rewards that you earn for completing it. So getting lost because you missed a context clue in the subtitles can have consequences.

Samurai Warriors 5: Should you play it?

Samurai Warriors 5 Nobunaga And No Cutscene

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Apart from the performance issues, many of my dislikes for Samurai Warriors 5 boil down to things that could be seen as quality of life improvements. Even still, none of them was game-breaking or frustrating in any capacity that they kept me from actually enjoying the game.

I found myself legitimately invested in the stories being told, picking characters that I was more attached to than others, and wanting to see how this wild effort to reunite Japan under one clan was going to play out. Theoretically, the performance issues could be patched in the future, although it's safe to say that the convoluted upgrade system is probably here to stay.

Cole Martin

Cole is the resident Call of Duty know-it-all and indie game enthusiast for Windows Central. She's a lifelong artist with two decades of experience in digital painting, and she will happily talk your ear off about budget pen displays.