Samurai Maiden Review

Home » Game Reviews » Samurai Maiden Review – A High Schooler in Feudal Japan

Our review of this game will contain no spoilers. I’ll cover a brief synopsis of the characters and plot presented in the first half hour of the game and any screenshots shown herein will be spoiler-free.

You play as a Japanese high school girl, Tsumugi, who is teleported to Japan during the Sengoku period (1500’s) during a time of war. Using her previous swordsmanship experience from working at her grandfather’s dojo, she becomes a samurai maiden and finds several close friends to rely on (Komimi, Hagane and Iyo). The game also features Oda Nobunaga as well as other pivotal figures during this wartime period, and even if you know the history of what actually happens in real life, maybe this game will have a few twists up its sleeve!

Samurai Maiden is a fun hack-and-slash game that plays somewhat like a “musou” or “warriors” game (the protagonist attacks many mobs of enemies at once) but the game has plenty of minibosses and bosses as well. It has a few missteps, but it’s a very fun and delightful game and the writing and romance is handled delightfully well.

This title features visual novel style cutscenes with breathing characters, kind of similar to what you’d see in Neptunia games, as well as fully illustrated CGs for important story scenes. The voice acting is done wholly in Japanese, but there are English subtitles for the cutscenes. The cutscenes in the games are typically lengthy and mostly focuses on characters talking with a very few important cutscenes showing a few action scenes.

samurai maiden review
The game features many beautifully drawn CGs as you meet new characters on your adventure.

The gameplay is very similar to what you’d find in the Senran Kagura series. The levels are split into small bite-sized stages. Some stages feature only main story boss fights, while others have a mixture of enemies and minibosses with terrain you need to platform across.

The typical time to complete a stage would vary, from maybe 2 minutes for beating a boss to even half an hour for a long stage that has many enemies and platforming sections. There are treasure chests in each stage that allow you to upgrade how many items you can use per stage, as well as contain concept artwork.

The stages each have three different difficulties and there are more treasure chests exclusive locked to the harder difficulty versions of stages, but you can only play on Normal difficulty until you beat the game. It took me 15 hours to complete the main story of the game and it took 2-3 hours to complete all of each friend’s optional storyline (so 9 hours to complete all 3 friends’ plotlines). There are 27 main story stages with three difficulties each, as well as 5 optional stages for each of Tsmugi’s 3 friends (15 optional stages).

You have three close friends that tag along with you during stages. You only directly control Tsumugi, the samurai maiden, and you have basic abilities such as light and heavy attacks, combos involving those, as well as parrying and evading attacks. You have an ally with you that you can change at anytime, and each of your three friends have their own abilities called Ninja Skills. Iyo, for example, allows you to use items, while Hagane lets you attach to grapple points on the map.

samurai maiden review
Hagane was a very unique ally who has a mechanical prosthetic arm.

You also have a bar that fills up for each ally, allowing you to unleash a powerful attack if it’s filled. Later on in the game after completing your allies’ optional stages you can unlock more bars, allowing you to use more powerful special attacks that use up 2 or 3 bars at once. One of my criticisms is that there aren’t many fun combos to do with your sword and most of the swords you unlock in the game feel similar to each other.

As you destroy more and more enemies with your selected ally you gain relationship points with them, allowing you to unlock more abilities for them and also for you as well as unlocking their optional friendship stages. You can also upgrade your protagonist’s weapon using currency (Inga) and you can find new weapons from completing story stages or from treasure chests.

Upgrading your weapon increases both your attack power and your defense (there is no equippable armor or accessories in this game). There are no purchasable consumable items either; you start each stage with a full inventory and to permanently increase how much of each item you can carry by finding them in treasure chests, similar to Dark Souls’s Estus Flasks.

Iyo has items that can heal you or damage enemies. This premise makes sense since you can use bombs and timed bombs which you aim at enemies to damage them. One thing I really disliked was that the game didn’t have a good healing system.

To heal you need to use Iyo’s Ninja Skill, so you need to select her and have her use the healing pot. Then she will appear and physically run and put the pot down, and after another second or two the healing mist comes out of the pot which lasts for maybe 10 seconds and then it gets used up and disappears. You need to stand right next to the pot for the healing to occur incrementally.

When you aim the pot it may miss slightly if enemies target Iyo and in the worse case the pot may fall down a pit and it’s gone with no healing. But the main problem is that even if you aim the healing pot next to you it still takes time for her to run and put the pot down and also more time for it to begin emitting healing mist.

Even if it’s just in terms of seconds, everything changes quickly in an action game. So if I get unlucky and get hit and knocked back by an enemy just after dropping the pot then the pot is used up and I didn’t get healed.

It is an intentional design choice and I can see that the developers intended for me to make sure I dodge an enemy attack, then place the pot to quickly heal, kind of like how in Dark Souls you should dodge an attack and then drink an estus flask. But the problem which I’ll explain in further detail soon is that many boss and miniboss fights have many enemies attacking you at once. Although you can find treasure to permanently have more items of each type, for most of the game I only had access to 2-3 healing pots (in contrast to, say, 4 bombs and 9 timed bombs which I didn’t need so much of), so if you miss your chance to heal you’re really out of luck because of how sparingly you have them.

Your stock of items will be replenished each stage, but it does not get replenished during checkpoints, which heal your health completely but not your inventory. This makes certain stages that spam minibosses and enemies at you very challenging, even on normal difficulty. I would’ve preferred if healing was easier such as Iyo just throwing a healing item at you to quickly heal instead.

You know how in Dark Souls how you drink an estus flask within maybe 2-3 seconds, and during that time you risk getting attacked? Imagine instead if you had to spend 10+ seconds for Iyo to get out a healing pot, drop it, wait for the healing mist to come out and having to stand next to the healing mist while getting attacked by several minibosses and dozens of generic enemies.

The worst part is when I dodged an enemy attack and put the healing pot down. The healing pot requires you to stand next to it for another 5-10 seconds to get healed slowly, so if the enemies make another attack at you you’ll be forced to dodge and when you dodge now you’re away from the healing pot and cannot be healed and now the healing pot is used up.

Due to this it was easier for me to be a glass cannon, by purposely doing as much damage to the enemy and relying solely on checkpoints to heal me and purposely putting more damaging items in my inventory instead of healing items.

Even on Normal difficulty (the only difficulty available on your first run), the game is surprisingly hard and you have to do the optional friendship stages to unlock more abilities and options. One of Iyo’s first friendship bonuses adds more attacks to the ending of your combo.

Komimi’s friendship bonus also gave me the ability to get back up after certain knockdown attacks. This was especially invaluable because I found myself being stun-locked to death. The later stages of this game get really hard because the game spawns many enemy mobs while also making you fight multiple minibosses at once. The worst part is I fully upgraded my weapon pretty early on and I couldn’t find any other better weapons in the treasure chests or optional stages and I fully upgraded my friendships to get more bonuses, but I still found myself unintentionally getting comboed to death. Although I upgraded my sword which included upgrading my defense stat, some bosses were able to take a quarter or more of my health away from one combo of 3 claw swipes.

To give an example of what happens in later stages, there are ogre mini-bosses that swipe their claws at you, there are tengu (Japanese folklore creatures that are birds resembling humans) mini-bosses that spawn explosive skulls you need to attack or else they explode and they track your position extremely well, and there are generic enemies that leap at you. Often what would happen is I would miss evading the ogre’s attacks, and that’s fine on its own, I get damaged, but then my character was stunned and couldn’t get back up. Then the skulls spawned from the tengu would track me and explode and knock me back again, and while getting back up again the leaping generic enemies would get me. By this time the ogre is doing another claw attack at me and you see how it can be frustrating.

And this was after upgrading my weapon and getting friendship bonuses. Komimi’s bonus lets you get back up if you’re fast, but even with that bonus I was still getting stunlocked. Add in very cramped environments and even environmental hazards such as there being a pit of lava around you or sawblades and I was having a terrible time because just getting one attack from an enemy would knock me back to a blade or lava. The difficulty really ramps up in the last few story stages and made my enjoyment of the game go down and there were no other options for me since there was only one difficulty and I already upgraded my equipment and friends fully.

The final boss (no spoilers here) was genuinely horrible, you have to focus on a giant boss slamming its fist and swiping a giant sword at you, all while both 2 mini-bosses and a bunch of generic enemies spawned in on you,. After going through all that they kept respawning more and more for each quarter I took off of the final boss’s health bar and my resources such as bombs and healing items were running out quickly. And you can’t properly multitask because the enemy boss is giant, you have to position your camera to see it while focusing on angry ogres and a dozen slimes leaping at you. In contrast, most of the early and mid-game were really fun while maintaining a fair balance of difficulty. I’m not sure why the later enemies and minibosses got so aggressive in the final 5 stages and it’s really my only criticism of the game.

On the plus side, however, the game does have plenty of checkpoints for longer stages. I don’t want to even think about doing the stages on harder difficulties, but at the same time there are more treasure chests to unlock which may have better unlockable equipment and more item inventory.

The story of the game was genuinely lighthearted and fun to watch play out. The Japanese voice actors did a terrific job conveying their emotions. Yuki Yomichi in particular did a phenomenal job of voice acting Tsumugi, and I can really feel through her voice acting the stress of a high school student being forced to became a swordfighter in the Sengoku era. If you’re used to Neptunia or Senran Kagura’s style of visual novel cutscenes with characters talking on the screen you’ll like these cutscenes. There are many plot twists along the way, even if you know what happens in Japanese history.

samurai maiden review
Komimi was my favorite of Tsumugi’s friends. Her design is based off of Tamamo no Mae, which is Japanese folklore involving a fox spirit. She has fox ears you can pet but be certain not to touch her tail without permission!

The optional character episodes also have a lot of great writing, which show Tsumugi’s interaction with Iyo, Hagane and Komimi (with one-on-one interaction between Tsumugi and a character of choice) where the character reveals what they’re struggling with or their backstory not necessarily covered in the main plot of the game. These scenes may also have romance as well if you go far enough. I found it easy to max out my friends’ relationship points and it was never a grind, you’ll do it naturally as you play through the stages of the game.

The characters each have a lot of nuance; for instance, Hagane struggles with her mechanical prosthetic arm and feels insecure about herself. It was really interesting seeing the concept art for the characters which show a lot of detail put into creating the characters.

The graphics are not cutting-edge but the game does feature great art direction. You explore feudal Japan through mountainsides, rivers and even going into castles. The stages are sometimes small and sometimes the game recycles the stages, but some stages do have cleverly hidden treasure chests. Most chests are not excessively difficult to find or anything either, most are very reasonable to find. Another criticism is that you don’t see NPCs or even shops, it’s just going through the stages and fighting the enemies/bosses and finding the treasures, similar to Senran Kagura.

The optional friendship stages are interesting in the sense that they feature more platforming and less enemies compared to the main story stages, but I believe that’s because Tsumugi and her friend of choice are alone together so you don’t have a proper combat team (no Iyo for example means no items, which means no healing too) compared to the main story where most of the time you have 3 of Tsumugi’s friends. The platforming in these sections are never hard at all and was actually very fun.

Other than my few difficulty criticisms of the game it’s really a fun game to go through and I really appreciated the atmosphere of Sengoku Japan. It’s similar in atmosphere to anime such as Demon Slayer and One Piece’s Wano arc, as well as games such as Devil Summoner: Raidou, Nioh 1 and 2, and The Great Ace Attorney, so if you’re looking for a game with an intriguing feudal Japan setting this title is definitely up your alley. I really enjoying the writing and character development as well. Although the game stars mostly Tsumugi and her three friends she encounters in feudal Japan, they’re a very tight-knit cast and the main team of protagonists never felt bloated.

Samurai Maiden

Our Score: Great

Pros

  • Takes place in Sengoku Japan, and it’s interesting to see a high schooler transported to this time period.
  • The combat is simple, but it is addicting to just slash your enemies.
  • Although there are only three characters, there is no character bloat and they get a lot of development during the optional missions.
  • The CGs and illustrations are beautifully drawn.
Cons

  • The combat can feel a bit clunky at time.
  • Although the artstyle is pleasing, the graphics look older and on the low budget side.

Brandon Harris
Reviewed on PC

Brandon is a passionate gamer and reviewer who respects the artistic and technical prowess that goes into creating interactive experiences. He enjoys playing the guitar, volunteering, and traveling to experience different cultures.


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1 thought on “Samurai Maiden Review – A High Schooler in Feudal Japan”

  1. This is by far the most in depth review I’ve read for Samurai Maiden. The gameplay mechanics for Samurai Maiden have far surprised my expectations and this review details every aspect perfectly.

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