The devs behind the questionable Kandagawa Jet Girls are back, this time with their own take on something like Senran Kagura or OneeChanbara. I have played way too many of those for my own good, so of course I had to give this one a look.
Alright, starting with the gameplay. It’s your typical hack and slash fare similar to those games I mentioned previously, but not quite as “clean” and far too slow and clunky for its own good. Right off the bat, you have to get used to the fact that you cannot really change directions upon attacking. Once you swing, you are locked into that direction and it makes the overall combat come off as stiff.
This is where the camera lock-on feature comes in. It exists, but a lot of the time you’re simply better off ignoring it. Whether it’s randomly jumping between enemies when it gets super chaotic, forcing your camera angle into weird positions, or straight up giving up on you out of nowhere, I couldn’t quite figure out what the deal was there. I just wanted a camera that stayed to one target – the largest one in the room – for the entire fight, but I guess that may have been asking too much.
And on the topic of those enemies – the variety there is severely lacking. You will be fighting the same basic mobs over and over throughout the entire game and oftentimes the new enemy introductions are those same mobs but with different colors and maybe a new hat or something. This applies to the bosses too unfortunately, of which there are a handful that just get reskinned and reused throughout, oftentimes as mid bosses in later levels too.
Difficulty-wise, don’t go in expecting too much. You are locked to normal difficulty until you clear THE ENTIRE GAME. Wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the normal difficulty was at least a bit challenging, but I hardly ever struggled here. The basic mobs have extremely telegraphed and slow attacks and the boss mobs repeat the same basic attack patterns throughout, so it just becomes a test of your patience at that point and honestly, I probably took more damage due to my impatience with their slow moves and me just wanting to get them done with even if I get hurt a bit.
The difficulty only ever becomes a problem when you’re up against a boss with fifty or so minions that constantly respawn. The final boss in particular took me like ten attempts for this very reason. Otherwise, it is very straightforward and shouldn’t be much of a problem if you have really any experience with such action games. I would say that just unlocking the harder difficulties would solve this, but the normal difficulty already has a problem with damage sponging on some of the bosses, so I imagine that would only make for a worse experience.
Really, it’s just a combination of these things that make the combat such a bore. You only get to play your one main character – the rest are used as simple supports that each have their own special move. New moves are earned too slowly and have to be unlocked by playing extra missions and going through a tedious gallery mode. Bosses can be staggered far too easily with simple repetitions of your attack string followed by support abilities, making the difficulty even more meaningless.
It lacks that fast and satisfying movement of Senran Kagura, that sense of impact and weight of games like Nioh or even some of the recent Musou games, and, as much as I dislike that recent Oneechanbara game, at least the combat was visually satisfying. Even the UI in this game is slow, which is especially annoying given that you have to navigate it after every mission to upgrade your weapon and go through the gallery mode to unlock new moves.
But that’s just the gameplay. Everything I have talked about up to this point is actually only about 20% of the game – the rest of the experience is visual novel content. This is yet another one of those Japanese releases that advertises the action stuff in all of its marketing, but in actuality is just a visual novel with some action scenes thrown in. Not that I’m complaining – I personally love visual novels – but the VN stuff here is lazy. There are no CGs, backgrounds are limited, and it is usually just two characters on-screen talking back and forth to one another with hardly any other effects going on. Due to the marketing, I Imagine many are going to go into the game with the wrong expectations when in reality you get maybe 5 minutes of gameplay for every 25 or so minutes of these dialogue cutscenes.
The main story took me 12 hours to clear, but it probably would have taken just 3 if I had skipped all the dialogue. And honestly, with how boring that story was, I would have been better off doing that. I won’t even make the case that the writing was outright terrible, it was just painfully average. It’s your typical alternate history take on the Sengoku period – specifically the Honnoji Incident – but with cute anime girls thrown into the mix. You play as one such anime girl, transported from her present day classroom back to this time period and suddenly she has powers and knows how to use a sword and all that. The usual, nothing too special about the plot here.
It develops as you would expect. A couple other girls get introduced, join the crew, and embark on the journey with the protagonist to take on legions of undead and other enemies. There’s a mix of character slice of life fluff, but a good bit of drama too. Not to say that the drama is interesting – again, it is entirely predictable – but I did at least appreciate that it wasn’t just straight slice of life filler like a lot of these games tend to be.
That said, the pacing felt a bit too slow and the story kinda dragged on towards the last third or so. There were a few moments towards that point where it felt like it was going to end, but nope, it just kept going and some new random development would happen to extend the story a little bit. Maybe it’s because I was practically done with the game at that point and just wanted it to end, but I feel like they could have cut maybe 5 or so chapters from the 27 total, especially since a good chunk of those are fights against the same two characters, just with slightly more training or a new powerup.
And I won’t go into details on the ending, but let’s just say it does not do any help in redeeming the rest of the story. If anything, I imagine those that DID like the story would be upset by how disappointing the ending turns out to be. It’s all a bit of a mess. I love alternate history stories, and SAMURAI MAIDEN at least started with a decent base, but it doesn’t utilize that base effectively and what you are left with is a waste of time.
Performance-wise, the game is a bit iffy. On one hand, I was able to play at 4k max settings at around 100 fps, which is decent, but when you consider that the game looks like its from a couple generations ago and that the fps sometimes dips below 60 when doing simple things like walking through a waterfall, it becomes a bit more apparent that this might not be the most optimized experience around.
In its defense, those fps dips didn’t happen TOO frequently, but enough to be worth noting and again, I’m probably in the minority playing at 4k anyways – especially given that several assets are obviously not at that resolution, such as the main menu. That said, the only graphical settings you DO get are resolution and window options in a launcher outside of the game – so not much to change there to begin with.
Controls on a controller are fine, but keyboard and mouse is another story entirely, as is usually the case with these Japanese releases. I will give it some credit – there is at least mouse support in the menus – but in-game, the sensitivity is wild on mouse even at the lowest sensitivity. DPI can be adjusted to compensate for this, but you still have to deal with the default keyboard bindings which, admittedly, I gave up on early on due to how unintuitive they felt. They are at least rebindable, although this isn’t really the type of game I would recommend that control method for.
And I guess given the comparisons to Senran Kagura, people are going to want to know about the ecchi stuff, but this isn’t really that type of game. There is some yuri – which is always nice to have – and underwear is sometimes visible when moving, but honestly, I hardly noticed or cared, you’d have to be looking specifically for that stuff, which again, isn’t what this game is going for to begin with. It actually wasn’t until after I completed the game and was testing the photo mode that I noticed the game places a black blur over the character’s underpants when viewed at certain angles.
SAMURAI MAIDEN is neither a fun hack and slash game nor a fun visual novel – which most of the experience ends up as despite the marketing indicating otherwise. The combat is far too slow and clunky, the story is poorly paced and predictable, and the balance between these two just doesn’t make for a fun game, which is especially disappointing given the AAA pricing. Honestly, just go play Senran Kagura instead. That series may have its fair share of bad games, but at least the combat can be fun.
Quote: SAMURAI MAIDEN is neither a fun hack and slash game nor a fun visual novel. The combat is far too slow and clunky, the story is poorly paced and predictable, and the two just don’t mesh well together.
SAMURAI MAIDEN retails for $60 USD on Steam. It is also available on PS4, PS5, and Switch.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.