What exactly is Touken Ranbu?
Originally released in 2015, Touken Ranbu is a free-to-play browser game where players take up the role of a Saniwa who has the power to turn historical, mythical, and even a few imaginary swords into pretty boy warriors known as “Touken Danshi”. The Danshi are mankind’s greatest weapon against the History Retrograde Army, a group of absurd-looking skeletal bugs that are traveling backward in time to change the course of history. As the Saniwa, it is up to you to protect the historical timeline by sending your Danshi back through previous eras of Japanese history to defeat them, even if it means restoring unquestionably cruel moments from the past.
The game was given an international release just last year, which is when I first became acquainted with it. But before you start downloading it to your iPhone, know that it is very much a free-to-play game from 2015. The gameplay is largely made up of clicking through menus. As for the many battles you’ll undertake, these have a minimalist presentation with little to no input from the player. It’s about as hands-off as you can be without being considered a clicker game, which actually makes it a pretty perfect candidate for a Warriors crossover.
Touken Ranbu Warriors (PC, Switch [reviewed])
Developer: Omega Force, Ruby Party
Publisher: Koei Tecmo America
Released: May 24, 2022
Think about it: players of Touken Ranbu have to use their imagination when it comes to the game’s combat. And if you have to use your imagination, those battles can really look like anything, including a 1-versus-100 hack ’n’ slash RPG. That’s pretty much what Omega Force and Ruby Party, (Koei Tecmo’s female-oriented development team best known for its never-localized Angelique series), have done with Touken Ranbu Warriors. They’ve taken the core of the Touken Ranbu experience, which is leveling up humanized swords for battle, and replaced the non-interactive combat with that classic Warriors gameplay.
Turns out, it’s a pretty good combination, as long as you’re not expecting this to be as extensive as a traditional Warriors game. There are no large maps you need to conquer here, no massive shifts in the tide of battle as new heroes and enemies arrive. Touken Ranbu Warriors simplifies the experience with short missions known as Sorties where you’ll pick from a predetermined selection of Touken Danshi to thwart the History Retrograde Army’s evil machinations. Each Sortie is divided into three or more “investigations” that mostly task you with eliminating specific creatures or historical figures or a certain number of enemies. Some are a bit more elaborate with additional details that you’ll have to uncover.
Like with a traditional Warriors game, you’re free to kill every foe standing between you and the end goal, but you’re intended to aim for those key enemies highlighted on the map with an exclamation mark. The game does like to throw in a few curveballs with escort and stealth missions. While these missions do help keep things lively, they’re few and far between and never all that difficult or time-consuming. Most investigations last only a couple of minutes due to the small nature of the maps.
But how does it play?
In combat, Touken Ranbu Warriors plays similar to every other Warriors game that’s come before it. You have weak attacks you can chain together with special attacks, a powerful Hissatsu solo attack that is tied to a meter, and team attacks you can perform with an AI partner that are also reliant on meters. Before each investigation, you’ll choose from the few characters made available during that chapter to pick your team lead and a partner. The more investigations the characters do together, the stronger their bond will grow. Characters with strong bonds will earn access to new perks. While battling is the best way to build bonds between your sword boys, they can also grow close when housed at the Honmaru.
The Honmaru is your base of operations. Normally, the Saniwa is the master of the Honmaru, but in Touken Ranbu Warriors, there is no Saniwa to be seen. Instead, Konnosuke, a colorful Kudagitsune, is giving orders and assisting with investigating these disturbances in the past.
For Danshi not out on a Sortie, the Honmaru is a place to sit or stand very still as they gain XP. If you place two characters in the same location around the Honmaru, they’ll grow a little bit closer after each investigation. They’ll also give players the chance to earn more consumables, money, or XP with a few simple mini-games. You can take photos of your Danshi here, as well as on the battlefield, but the feature restricts camera movement far more than it should, and its options for poses, filters, and frames are woefully limited.
Expect to spend a lot of time at the Honmaru. Part of the appeal of Touken Ranbu is admiring the porcelain-skinned sword fellows as they glisten against dainty backgrounds. An attempt was made to recreate that sort of appeal in Touken Ranbu Warriors, but with graphics and character models straight out of the early PlayStation 3 era, the game’s not as attractive as it probably should be. Most of the characters look like low rent Kotobukiya figures, while a few, like Hyuga Masamune, are downright homely. Out on the battlefield, the world is plenty colorful with some decent lighting and designs, but there’s nothing all that noteworthy about fighting through a series of different castles, towns, and wooded areas.
Musou Oops! All Swords
Whether or not you’ll get anything out of Touken Ranbu Warriors is pretty dependent on which angle you’re approaching this game from. If you’re coming from the position of a long-time fan of Koei Tecmo’s hack ’n’ slash franchise, you probably won’t find much here that’ll keep you satisfied. Maps are small, missions are short, the game is easy even when playing on hard, you can’t skip any of the elaborate attack animations, and, because all of the characters are sword users, there’s isn’t much variety between their playstyles. If all of that sounds like a nonstarter for you, it’s probably best to wait for whatever Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes turns out to be.
But, if you’re looking at this game through the lens of a Touken Ranbu fan, then I think it’s actually a good fit. There is a lot of game here with an extensive story mode, a cache of unlockable voice clips and side conversations, and plenty of ways to upgrade and enhance the Danshi. It also runs well whether you’re playing in handheld mode or hooked up to a television. And, if you’re completely unfamiliar with the Warriors‘ gameplay, there’s an “easy mode” control scheme that’ll simplify everything for you. Plus, you never have to waste time waiting for your Danshi to repair.
In short, Touken Ranbu Warriors isn’t a game for traditional Musou/Warriors fans. This one’s aimed directly at the crowd that didn’t have to Google the term “Saniwa” when reading this review.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]