Protect history itself by slicing and dicing your way through time. Sound fun? Touken Ranbu Warriors has you embody the spirits of 15 swords and cut down those who try to change history.
Touken Ranbu Warriors is an unexpected combination. It’s a Warriors game, following in the wake of titles like Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. But it’s based on the Touken Ranbu series, which is primarily aimed toward women and is mostly known for its browser game and anime series. It sounds like a bit of a mismatch, but it works.
Most of the Warriors titles are based on history or historical fiction and Touken Ranbu Warriors is no exception here. It explores alternate ways that famous events in Sengoku-era Japan could have gone. It‘s great about explaining this through cutscenes and dialogue too, so fans of historical fiction should be pleased.
Handsome anime guys that sometimes get their clothes torn off isn’t what most Warriors fans go for and many of the more vocal fans that enjoy them may have wanted to see some of Ruby Party’s otome titles localized first. Even so, Touken Ranbu Warriors has adapted the Warriors formula well to be welcoming to newcomers. This title could be a great way to expand the fanbase.
Much like the other games in the franchise, Touken Ranbu Warriors has you running around battlefields and clearing out hordes of mooks with the occasional stronger enemy. You’ll mostly find yourself hacking away at them with your sword, with a variety of special attacks and the occasional dodge mixed in. It is a bit simpler than some other titles in the general combat controls. Dodging isn’t often needed, jumping back up isn’t included, and keeping enemies airborne for damage doesn’t seem to be common.
For those less familiar with Warriors games or the Touken Ranbu fans who just want to see the story, there’s an easy controls mode. It essentially lets you play mostly by button-mashing. This mode automatically selects special attacks as appropriate. On top of this, there’s an easy difficulty mode – though I feel that even the normal difficulty is incredibly easy. I’d suggest experienced players bump it up to hard mode from the start.
While some areas feel simple compared to other Warriors games, Touken Ranbu Warriors does have a surprising amount of features.
Most levels allow you to bring a partner. You can control one character and call in your partner to do some extra damage occasionally. This also includes a special gauge for a combo attack and there are mechanics around a bond system. This lets you level up the bond between partners and unlock skills such as your partner countering attacks. It also gives you some unlockable character development between the men. While a bond system isn’t new, having a partner does take a strong focus here both in the gameplay and cutscenes.
One aspect I really liked was the simple management system. You have a ‘honmaru’ – essentially a base. It’s possible to level up various aspects and earn money, materials, bond level, and more by assigning your characters to different positions. The upgrading is simple too – it’s just paying earned currencies and materials to upgrade and unlock skills, unlike some complex systems that are a lot more randomized and require luck and knowledge for the best results.
Another notable difference is that Touken Ranbu Warriors really does feel like a portable title, even if it’s on PC as well as Nintendo Switch. It skips the 1 vs 1000 gameplay, instead setting you against fewer enemies on very small battlefields. While there are plenty of levels, each one usually takes 2-5 minutes to complete. This is great for that pick-up and play gameplay.
Touken Ranbu Warriors isn’t a typical Warriors game, but it feels like it aims at a new audience. One that would be more interested in characters and story, but would enjoy a casual gameplay experience. And even for hardcore musou fans, sometimes casual is fun.
Investigate the Timeline
While most of the gameplay is just your standard kill everything that moves, Touken Ranbu Warriors does do a few things to differentiate itself.
Some levels require you to search the area. This is often really simple. Just exploring the area is often enough to trigger something to move forward. There are times where it works really well though. One early example is where it keeps resetting a completion percentage until figuring out a trick that only appears briefly.
Win and Fail conditions aren’t anything too new, but I find they’re used well here. One example had me fail because I didn’t find all of the assassins on a map. They killed my ally at the end of the level.
Conditions other than just killing everyone do seem to appear more often here than in some other Warriors games which I certainly appreciated. Though admittedly one of them involved a stealth mechanic, which was fairly terrible. Even standing next to the enemy didn’t get me spotted. Fortunately, stealth is a rarity.
For the Fans
While it’s certainly possible to enjoy without, I do feel that you do need to be a Touken Ranbu fan to fully appreciate what’s going on when it comes to the story.
The premise is fairly simple, essentially boiling down to a group called Touken Danshi time-traveling and protecting the timeline from a group trying to change it. Along the way, various challenges appear and there are some surprising developments.
That said, when it comes to the character dynamics, it does seem to expect some pre-existing knowledge. As an early example, one character is frequently referred to as ‘Fake-kun’ from the very start. It never explicitly says that this is because the sword he embodies is a replica of the sword that the person who calls him that embodies. It does have some character development around this, but the initial idea has to be picked up through context or previous knowledge.
Even if not a fan of the Touken Ranbu franchise, I feel like the character scenes are the real reward here, rather than the story itself. Though I do really like the parts on each level where we see what has been changed and the effects it has had on the timeline.
There’s also a clothes ripping mechanic if you’re into that. Fanservice counts as a feature, right?
Graphics, Sound, and Technical
I’m always a bit concerned when it comes to Warriors games on the Nintendo Switch after Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. While I can’t comment on the PC performance, I’m glad to say that it’s more than acceptable in the Switch version of Touken Ranbu Warriors. I expect that the very reduced size of the battlefield and enemy numbers help, but I never noticed any slowdown or frame dips. Occasional pop-in is an issue but didn’t bother me.
In terms of appearance, I felt that it looks great both on the battlefield and in cutscenes. The slightly jagged edges on character outlines are noticeable and the textures aren’t always amazing, but they don’t stand out. There’s even a photo mode with a good number of frames, filters, and stamps to use so you can show off to others.
In terms of sound, I didn’t find that the soundtrack stood out but it was certainly fine. The voice acting is only in Japanese and worked well to portray the characters and their personalities.
Loading time wasn’t an issue here. I imagine that again the small levels help to speed things up.
Touken Ranbu Warriors might be a surprising entry to the Warriors franchise, but it’s a welcome addition. I’m not sure that it’ll be a hit due to its niche appeal and unusual targeting, but there’s plenty of fun to be had here.
TOUKEN RANBU WARRIORS IS RECOMMENDED
If you enjoy Hack’N’Slash games, then perhaps you’d like our review of Samurai Warriors 5 or Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate. Or if you’re here because this is a Ruby Party title, check out our Otome reviews.
Many thanks go to Koei Tecmo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.