Samurai Warriors 4 was a great entry into the core vein of the series. Samurai Warriors 4-II took things a step further with some slight modifications to the experience both in terms of gameplay and narrative approach as it focused more on the people than the Dynasties that they fought for. Building further on the ideas presented in 4-II, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada finds a balance of both while also improving upon the gameplay for possibly the best Samurai Warriors entry yet.
Spirit of Sanada focuses on the Sanada clan as they find their place under the Takeda banner and prove their worth strategically and combatively. Taking the role of Masayuki before his sons Yukimura and Nobuyuki are even born, he’ll be taking to the field both as a combative participant as well as an explorer to gain a better understanding of the land surrounding the Sanada’s stronghold as it grows throughout the seasons. This “hub” area creates enough of a distraction from the main events and is worth poking and prodding what is available both inside and outside of its walls.
While inside the hub, your main character (who won’t always be Masayuki) can visit various locations such as the Merchant, the Blacksmith, a Jizo Statue, the library, a Dojo and a small plot of land in a farmer’s field in order to plant stuff if you tire of fishing along the riverbed. Plowing a small portion of the farmer’s field for example will grant a greater yield depending on how well you plowed the ground and your rewards can be used at the local merchant in order to make items that can give you an edge in battle. That or keep you alive.
Making basic healing items for example need apples while basic attack boosters need crabs that can be fished out from the local fishing spot. Fishing isn’t something overly complicated but it’s worth sitting down and pulling creatures from the river. If you need other types of materials that you may not have even seen yet, it’s possible to leave an offering at the Jizo statue that will grant you one of three random choices that you have to play a quick game of “follow the cup that it’s under”.
Other facilities around the town are the Blacksmith and the Dojo. The Blacksmith will be able to upgrade a character’s equipment for a small cost alongside the resources required to make the upgrade. Here is one of the first major changes as characters don’t shuffle between different weapons and instead become more familiar with their own. Eventually the ability to clone your weapons and experiment with different builds comes into play but this isn’t until much later.
The more familiar that they become with it, the more it can be upgraded. Basic levels offer the weapon itself, the first upgrade offers two slots for increased attack, attack speed, range and projectile which affects the distance of certain moves in a combat set. The second level opens up more slots while the third does the same and then introduces more abilities to be added such as elemental damage. Each of these requires different materials and these are shared by anyone that can take to the field alongside Masayuki.
Another big change is that characters don’t simply learn new attack patterns by leveling up in battle. As they level up and become more powerful they unlock the “ability” to go train at the dojo in order to unlock these new potentials. New attack patterns, extra musou gauges, extra rage reservoir and leveling up characters with stored experience points from major battles. Short of the last one, each of these requires a small monetary compensation while the last can be done as long as there’s experience left in the bank. It was a little odd to go about the skills and the musou gauges this way but it works as your character levels are generally fairly in line with the missions that you’ll be going on making it that you don’t exactly break the game early on by super grinding experience.
Even with these changes, and others, combat is still extremely smooth. Default attacks are done with Square, combo finishers can be done with pressing Triangle after xth amount of Square. Rush attacks to zip across the fields are still just as awesome as ever. Musou attacks, Raging, finishing Rage with a Musou attack. It’s all back and while it hasn’t changed everything surrounding it has.
Around the Sanada stronghold are locations that can be explored in order to gain resources. These explorable locations come up in the storyline but mostly exist to collect ingredients and materials without having to spend the gold. You are rewarded for everything you do here. There are core objectives such as collecting all the resources and uncovering all the areas just as there are special objectives that may not always show up and will require multiple, voluntary, visits. I say voluntary as there are several moments in which you are there for story purposes and your time as well as your course, are in the hands of another.
Exploring the surrounding territory is only one of two reasons to leave the Sanada’s stronghold. The other is an amazing addition to the series through the form of multi-stage battles that can affect one another with the choices made in regards to the objectives that you are provided with. Some of them are nuts. Most of them are reasonable. All of them are worth doing.
When you take your character(s) to the field you will be given a set of core objectives, bonus objectives and what are known as feats. Not all of these will always be completable your first time out as you may not quite know how to handle the entire situation or you completed the core objectives before some of the bonus ones had a chance to appear. Completing bonus objectives and feats will open up options in the next battle down the line in order to give your forces a better edge from the information that they now have. This comes in the form of blocking the enemy’s escape, distracting them while you’re sneaking about, building a bridge to better cross a battlefield or simply reduce the enemy’s health. All of these are useful but they can only be pulled off through the form of Stratagems in which you have to earn before you can use.
Stratagems are all the above options and more that can be used in battle as long as you’ve filled up a gauge in the form of the Six Coins of the Sanada. Filling up the gauge can be done by performing well in battle as well as completing bonus objectives and feats. It all comes together as you’ll be wanting to perform all this extra work anyways in order to make the next battle easier as it opens more Stratagem options. Sometimes you’ll want to let particular options go as you don’t have enough coins for the amount of Stratagems but if you play your cards just right you should always have just enough to pull everything off. If you don’t? You can always go back and attempt a previous battle in order to complete the missing objectives and feats.
Surprisingly, “not everything is about the Sanada” as side missions are available from time to time showcasing battles that happened elsewhere but were historically important. These battles offer up other characters as their forces clash against one another such as Nobunaga Oda and his brother-in-law as the later attempted to give the Takeda time to make it to the capital to stop Nobunaga’s reign. These offer another good distraction and remind you of the bigger picture.
Now something that I thought was interesting for the overall experience is that with Yukimura is not a playable character until six or more hours in depending on if you replayed certain scenarios or went exploring enough times. In my case it was a good eight or so hours because some missions were a bit harder in order to complete all of the objectives to unlock Stratagems. Even when you first able to use him (which is much before that eight hour point) he’s still a kid aspiring to one day serve his father properly. It isn’t until the later chapters that he’s a full grown man that we’ve come to know in the series where he takes to the field as a fully playable character. This is no way a complaint as it fits the experience and he’s not super powerful making you need to carefully plot your moves. Leading up to that point was an enjoyable experience as it takes its time instead of simply rushing to Yukimura being a man and taking to the field.