At first glance Koei Tecmos Touken Ranbu warrior seems something like a “My First Dynasty warriors‘, or a ‘diet’ Musu. It’s based on DMM’s free-to-play browser-based trading card game (popular in Japan), which is aimed at Japanese women – specifically a subculture of otaku known as “katana women” – ladies who like to pose with historical Japanese swords. Ironically, this trend more or less started with Capcom’s obviously superior Dynasty Warriors clone, Sengoku Basara, which enjoyed great popularity and spread to all sorts of media, became something of a cultural phenomenon on their home turf. Now, Koei Tecmo has created its own niche via developer Omega Force and co-developer Ruby Party. So what is the end result?
For a game more or less based on a formula established over 20 years ago, Touken Ranbu Warriors is nothing new – in terms of basic gameplay – to Musou veterans. However, it is an almost overly loose variant of the template, with the actual “Easy Mode” offering almost no resistance at all. It feels less like wading into a battlefield teeming with bloodthirsty enemies and more like sweeping an endless succession of garbage-strewn floors. If you leave your character – from a variety of 15 playable characters – standing around on the battlefield, it’s very rare for an enemy to step up to push you before quickly returning to their original position. If it wasn’t for the weird time limit, there would be almost no competitive pressure.
But it’s still worth a peek. At the very least, the fresh cast of characters and Japan-based setting offers a break from the usual burping of Yellow Turban Rebellion that the mainline Dynasty Warriors franchise relies on. Touken Ranbu Warriors also works to deliver loads of fantasy-based lore and character development to justify the game’s ridiculous premise.
The game’s time-traveling conceits find Touken Ranbu’s heroes, appointed by the “government of time” to protect history from the game’s antagonists, the “History Retrograde Army”, whose mission is to… well, the story to alter, which is an ironic plot device given Japan’s own tendencies to reconstruct its history books to fit a preferred narrative. Aside from the hypocrisy of government in the real world, this government of time awakens the game’s heroes, the Touken Danshi, to hold back this absurdly named army and prevent it from changing the course of history.
The Touken Danshi are organized into five teams. The first team features three characters, the second four, the third and fourth teams both feature three characters, and the fifth team features two. Each team leader is the personification of a historical Japanese katana (sword) drawn from various points in Japanese history. This time-travelling, fantasy-based framework gives Omega Force/Ruby Party more leeway to play with the Musou formula than a regular Dynasty Warriors game could, but sadly, this blank canvas gets little creative use.
While we’ve all seen the Musou template ruthlessly applied to franchises as diverse and occasionally incongruous as gundam, Fist of the North Star, berserk, Warrior Orochi, The Legend of Zelda, One piece, fire sign, dragon quest and persona, Touken Ranbu Warriors closely follows standard Warriors gameplay. While Dynasty Warriors controls are different – particularly in Easy mode, which reduces gameplay to a simple button press – the game strips away things like ranged attacks in favor of normal, strong, and evasive moves.
This is clearly designed to make things easier for casual players who are here to continue their experience from the browser-based CCG, but it also makes Touken Ranbu Warriors a milder entry point for younger players. The real problem here is that the rest of us will find little meaningful value in a game whose characters we’re unfamiliar with (the success of the various licensed Dynasty Warriors clones depends on each individual IP’s built-in fanbase) and its more time-travelling Conceit brings little engagement on the battlefield.
At least the enemies in the Dynasty Warriors series benefit from being historically relevant and offering real heroes, different points of view and perspectives to delve into. But Touken Ranbu’s enemies are far less distinct than any Yellow Turban army. Here, you’ll face endless waves of mundane, hovering, insect-like invaders, often accompanied by grumpy, green humanoid enemies. They start off human-sized and periodically increase in size until you face larger, bulkier variants (still green).
There’s rarely much dialogue, leaving you with a fairly empty experience. The best games have unforgettable antagonists with strong personalities. Touken Ranbu Warriors sends the player onto the field to do battle with faceless avatars of minor importance – hardly the greatest motivation to see the game through to the finish line.
At a time when vastly superior third-person action games of various flavors like elden ring, God of War, Devil May Cryand breath of the wild Despite the current generation’s advances in physics, animation and control methods, Touken Ranbu Warriors still feels like a PlayStation 2 game in every aspect of its presentation. In the game loop, players mow down hundreds of generic enemies that occasionally display stronger attacks with a glowing red rectangle showing the enemy’s attack range.
These can easily be dodged or interrupted. Bosses are treated almost the same as regular foot soldiers, except that they have larger health bars. The most challenging opponent in the game are the timed stages, but even those are particularly forgiving. For casual gamers, this may be quite enough, but for those of us with higher expectations and experience of Warriors games, this is less than convincing. Minor inconveniences, like enemies occasionally binding you in a web, add a bit of variety but do little to disrupt the flow of the game.
Visually, this is a solid looking title. It won’t win awards for innovative graphics, but the tried and true Musou engine is put to good use here, with plenty of sakura flowers on display and the game sporting a predominantly bright and colorful style. The game’s most unique visual element is each character’s destructible attire. If you take enough damage, you’ll be shown a short cinematic of your character moving in slow motion while their clothes get shredded. This may appeal to the thirstiest of players, but otherwise has little impact on the game.
To its credit, Touken Ranbu Warriors offers a significant amount of content for those interested in the lore. There’s little to differentiate the time-travelling aspects of the game, though, as you’re mostly stuck on ancient Japanese battlefields, with only loading screens between levels showing when you’re in the future.
Touken Ranbu Warriors is a game best suited for players who have little experience with the Dynasty Warriors series in general. If this is aimed primarily at appealing to fans of the free-to-play games – with far lower expectations of action games – than a large piece of Touken Danshi fanservice, this will make a great addition to their collection. For players less versed in the world of Touken Ranbu, this is a much tougher sell, as it offers a routine, repetitive gameplay loop that does little to quench your thirst for a more meaningful, evolving gameplay experience. This criticism could arguably apply to all Warriors games, but where the larger license-based games add to the formula, Touken Ranbu Warriors feels like a distillation. In many ways, and for certain audiences, that’s perfectly fine. At this point, the Dynasty Warriors machine is a well-oiled, refined, and suave product; the video game equivalent of a Honda Civic. But even with such a reliable and popular product, there comes a point when it’s just time to move with the times.
https://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/nintendo-switch/touken-ranbu-warriors Touken Ranbu Warrior’s Rating (Switch)