Reviewer’s note: A post launch update has removed the “Gen-Z” lines and replaced them with the more accurate “High School Girl” translation. This is not enough to change my overall score, but I felt it should be noted.
|November 8th, 2022
|PC, Switch, PlayStation 4|5
I’ve always been a fan of D3Publisher games. I’ve loved everything from Bullet Girls to Earth Defense Force, so when I got a chance to check out their latest release, Samurai Maiden, I jumped on it. This one has been all over the place leading up to its launch, with some folks having issues with the localization seen in the trailers, to some showing censorship while others didn’t. I’ve spent over 20 hours with this game and now it’s time to see how all of this turned out in the end.
The story begins as a young girl named Tsumugi Tamaori awakens to find herself in a strange place. It’s a burning temple, and she soon realizes this is Honnō-ji during the Sengoku period. Suddenly she is approached by none other than the great Nobunaga Oda! There is a prophecy that a Priestess of Harmony would come from another world that would defeat the Demon Lord, and this turns out to be Tsumugi. She will not have to do this alone; she will have help from three friends. Iyo is a ninja servant of Nobunaga and is very skilled. She is a very hard working girl who really wants to do her best for both Nobunaga and Tsumugi. Hagane is a sexy assassin from another time where getting body parts replaced with mechanical parts is common place. She is much more mature and refined than her other two allies. Lastly, we have a descendant from the great Tamamo no Mae! She is very over confident in her skill and very much a tsundere, but she will grow very close to Tsumugi before this journey is over.
Overall, the story here is pretty decent. The interactions between Tsumugi and the other girls are very endearing and cute most of the time. You will need to unlock all of these by using the girls in battle and gaining affection throughout the game. Doing this will grant you new moves, weapons and helpful buffs you will need to slay the army of monsters that block your path. I think the localization for the most part was decent, but as some pointed out, the whole Gen-Z girl conversation in the game just doesn’t really fit in. I get they were trying to explain age groups to folks that have no idea how this is done in modern times, but there had to be a less cringe way to do this. This was really the worst thing I saw during the entire game, and I don’t think this would be enough to detour me from picking this one up.
Graphically, Samurai Maiden looks pretty good. Character models and enemies have a good amount of detail and most of the animation is pretty smooth as well. I think it is a shame that D3Publisher didn’t include any unlockable costumes outside a couple recolors. I get they wanted to do some DLC costumes, but they are charging a full $60 for the base game here. I don’t think it would’ve killed them to throw in a couple different designs at the very least. Then again, they skipped on the enemy variety as well. There are about six different types of enemies you will see this entire game, and you will fight the same bosses over and over again as well. They do mix this up pretty well among all the different chapters, but variety is the spice of life and this portion of the game is really bland. The other oddity I found in the graphics department, is there are no options to change anything on PC outside of the resolution. I don’t really know if you need to do this since the game looks fine and runs at a smooth 60FPS, but it’s just really odd there are none present here.
In the sound department, Samurai Maiden does an excellent job. While there aren’t a ton of different tracks, the ones here are top quality and fit the tone of the story very well. The chapter music is very upbeat and gets you ready for combat, while there are some more somber tunes for serious story segments. I liked how the different track versions represent each of the characters; it’s a different way of doing an OST but it works here. The voice actors do an amazing job bringing these girls to life. You may recognize some some of the voices from other roles in anime and games you’ve loved. For example, Miyu Tomita who voices Tomimi here also provided work for Gabriel from Gabriel DropOut and Riko from Made in Abyss. This fantastic voice work is topped off by opening and ending themes that are both fantastic as well.
The gameplay here is where things get a little bit dicey. The game is divided up into story chapters. There are 27 of these in total and they take various times to complete. You will be faced with hordes of enemies of course, but there are some platforming challenges to overcome as well. Sometimes you will have to use Iyo’s ninja tools, such as bombs, to hit a switch to move forward. There are no brain busting puzzles here, but the aforementioned platforming can be a bit of a pain depending on how crazy they have the platforms moving and enemy placement. The game does give you some checkpoints during each chapter that will fill up your health as well, but note you will only be able to restart at them one time. If you die in an area twice without reaching the next checkpoint, you will have to start the entire chapter over again.
The heart of the combat in Samurai Maiden, is that of a third person hack-n-slash action game. Like most of these games, you have a light and heavy attack that can be chained together to form combos. Other moves can be learned through the album as you gain affection with your three partners. All three of your companions have some special ninja skills they can execute as their special gauge fills. These attacks will be very helpful in dispatching the many foes you will face, and they will learn a more powerful attack when your affection grows to a certain level. This is all pretty standard affair, but the problem with this mostly comes in with the control scheme. They put the enemy lock on at R3, which a lot of games do this, but the problem is when you move that stick when locked on it changes your target. Meaning that the camera cannot be moved if you are locked on to an enemy, and let me tell you it doesn’t always give you the best angle during this. They used the top triggers for partner and skill shortcuts, and while the skills I can understand, there was no need to hold one of them to swap partners when you only have three and they can be changed with up and down on the D-pad.
The last thing I want to talk about here is the Devoted Heart Skill. This will unlock when you progress the game to a certain point, and these skills can be upgraded as you unlock more of each girl’s album through gaining affection. This ultra powerful skill will have Tsumugi and her partner get very close for a short cutscene – these will change too depending no your affection level – which will grant you a huge boost in power. Iyo’s skill gives you a huge strength boost and will not allow you to be knocked back; Hagane’s skill will grant you lightning speed for greater evasion; and lastly, Komimi’s skill will allow you to regain some health for a short amount of time. Using these allows each girl’s ninja skill meter to build faster as well, so you can pull off that move more times than normal while the Devoted Heart is still in play. It takes a while to build up a meter to pull these off, but they will certainly get you out of jam. This is especially true in the latter stages where the boss battles become just completely crazy even on normal difficulty.
At the end of the day, Samurai Maiden is a mediocre game that could’ve been better with just a few tweaks. There should’ve been some unlockable costumes, more enemy variety and a few tweaks could’ve been done to combat to make it feel less cheap. In the latter stages where the bigger enemies get a ton of minions, you will see just how cheap this can all be when you’re getting hacked on and juggled by things you cannot see. That being said, this is still a decent action game that has a great soundtrack, some good looking graphics and an amazing voice cast. I feel like the price tag is a bit much, but if you picked this one up on sale I think most folks would be satisfied with it. I know I really loved seeing Tsumugi and these girls grow closer on this grand adventure, even if it certainly wasn’t a perfect one.
Game was provided by the publisher.