Bold and Interesting Journey to Decide Your Fate.
I really applaud developers who try to deliver unique experiences, which Fate/Samurai Remnant certainly is. However, the game stumbles through a few self-inflicted wounds that could have elevated a good game to a truly great one.
Fate/Samurai Remnant is a story based around the main protagonist Miyamoto Iori, who is the adopted son of the great sword lord Miyamoto Musashi. However, Miyamoto Musashi died before he could empower his adopted son with his teachings, so Iori learns Kendo and tries to live out his life as peacefully as possible. However, he mysteriously becomes embroiled in the “Waxing Moon Ritual” that involves seven masters, with seven servants, battling to the death to secure the Waxing Moon Vessel. This Vessel will bestow the holder one wish.
Although the story’s premise is quite interesting, the lead character, Iori, is hugely forgettable because of the very ordinary narrative he is given to work with. This is exacerbated all the more by how interesting all the other secondary characters he meets along the way are.
His servant (sidekick) is outwardly looking at least, a young girl named Saber. It soon becomes apparent through conversations that Saber is, in fact, a very strong hero from another time, brought to this period in the form of a young girl. The mystery of exactly who she is, dare I say, a little more engaging than Iori’s story.
Fate/Samurai Remnant is an action RPG with some fantastic combat. Omega Force is normally associated with making Musou-style games. Musou, if you are unfamiliar with the term, are games that a lot of people describe as “button mashers”, where the player slays hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies all at once. Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors are two of the more famous proponents of this style of game.
However, Fate/Samurai Remnant is a little more nuanced and more of a cross between a traditional hack-and-slash game with Musou elements. Yes, you can take on tens of enemies all at once in a long button-mashing combo, but there is a much better sense of tactical battlefield gameplay that you would find in a Devil May Cry or God of War type way.
This is because mixed in with the easy to fell grunts are much harder mini-bosses. These require more thought than just mashing buttons to defeat them. You have to watch their move set and wait for opportunities to strike or use one of the many tools at your disposal to land more powerful blows.
The amount of combat tools available is actually quite staggering, and although that may sound overwhelming, they have been implemented extremely well. Whoever designed these systems could have gotten it very wrong, but they nailed it.
Iori himself not only has the normal light/heavy set of attack combos, but also, as per normal Musou games, a special attack to launch once he has filled a meter up. This is just the start, however, as he has different stances as well. The Water Stance is best for crowd control, and the Earth Stance is best for single enemies (like bosses). More stances arrive as you get further into the game.
On top of this, Iroi is a budding mage too, so he has a limited number of spells to cast. All of the above are simple to click between with quick use of the shoulder buttons. Iori can also command Saber to launch some of the spells she has at her disposal. The spells Saber has are charged up with a meter, but the spells Iroi uses come from a limited number of crystals he can get from defeating certain monsters.
That’s not all. You can also play (for limited amounts of time) as Saber and some of the other servants the game has. Again, with simple controls to switch over but with the same control system, you notice when playing as Saber how much more powerful her attacks are compared to Iroi’s. Using Saber (or one of the other servants) at the right time is key.
For example, some of the enemies you encounter have shields that need to be worn down before their health is affected. Iroi’s attacks, in the wrong stance, don’t even touch this gauge. The other does but merely chips away at the shield and builds up meters to launch other attacks. However, Saber’s attacks do crunch through the enemy shields very quickly, so timing when you use this resource is key.
Finally, there are special attacks such as dodging at the last moment that will give a prompt to riposte to cause extra damage; dual, where you mash buttons in a quick time event to see who wins; or a duel attack with Saber that deals the most devastating attacks in the game.
The thing that elevates the combat here in Fate/Samurai Remnant to its brilliance is that, as well as being a visual feast for the eyes with lots of over-the-top energy and excitement, is the ability to dance around the battlefield as it has some of the best tight and responsive controls to express yourself. Despite the number of controls and things at your disposal looking complex on paper, in reality, when you get to use them, they are quick, intuitive, and fantastic fun.
As the Waxing Moon Ritual has seven masters with seven servants battling it out, you soon come across the other masters who are trying to take Iori out of the equation. However, some of these masters, although enemies, can team up with you to try and take out a single target. This means that occasionally you also get to play with different characters on your team, which adds further variety to an already rich system.
For as good as the combat is, the systems and the rest of the game let the experience down a little. The game is mainly set in and around the city of Edo in the 1600s. You travel to various parts of the town, each with a different look and feel, to explore and carry on the main mission.
Although there are things to do in each location, and they all have quite a lot to explore, there wasn’t really anything that exciting to do within them to distract me. Side quests were nothing more than talking to NPCs, finding items, or encountering small battles. Maybe I was expecting too much, but I was hoping for the kind of distractions around town I would find in a Yakuza game, but sadly, it was not to be.
The ONLY side activity that got my interest was the option to pet dogs and cats! The rewards for doing all the things around town, granted, did give me decent rewards for doing so, but they soon became tedious as each location basically had the same side activities as the last.
The other things to do in each location were to stock up on items, sell items, or when you were back at your home, upgrade weapons, workshops, and your skill tree. All these systems are standard RPG fair, but what made these things interesting was that all the different types of upgrades felt significant and worthy of chasing.
For example, some skills in the skill tree not only required skill points to unlock, but they also require the completion of certain moves in battle. So, when you identified the skill you were after, this forced you to use different tactics in battle to meet the next skill tree requirement. When you get these, it not only gave you a decent buff but also expanded your experimentation in how to use the combat ability. A win-win situation!
The last aspect of exploration was by far the most confusing and, again, let the game down a little by maybe trying to put too much into it. This was the magical Leyline system. On occasion, in order to get to the next area, you would, for example, have to defuse a magical barrier. To do so, you tap into the underground magical Leyline system. This is nothing more than a lot of hubs with connecting lines.
With only a certain number of moves to get to your objective and enemies on your way to battle, you had to meet certain requirements to get to your objective. If an enemy hit a Leyline that was cutting you off, you would lose power, and encircling an area would unlock the one node inside; these are speed bumps in the way of what could have been a much simpler system.
The game (thankfully) would hint at where was best for you to go by simply clicking R3, but the entire game, if I’m honest, could have done without this whole mechanic and not missed a beat. It felt like a little needless padding.
The graphics were a little all over the place but, for the most part, still absolutely gorgeous. There was nothing really “next-gen” in the detail on screen, but it is most certainly one of the best-looking JRPGs I’ve ever played (except for Tales of Arise). The landscapes, character movements, effects, cutscenes, and menus were all excellent and very clear.
What was disappointing though was that not only were there no performance mode or fidelity modes to try, but what you were locked with made the game chug badly sometimes, even when just walking around town. Thankfully, everything was smooth and gorgeous during combat where it mattered the most, but we are now entering the third year of the lifecycle of the PS5; for a game that graphically isn’t pushing any boundaries, surely a 60fps mode is possible?
As games by Omega Force go, this is still one of their better-looking ones as the artwork is excellent. There is a lot of detail and rendering effort put into the world to make it look believable and interesting, but the engine lets it down, and it feels like the game was made for last gen tech, not current. This feeling is increased even more due to the fact that none of the haptic features of the PS5 controller were utilized in any meaningful way, other than a rumble here or there.
The audio of the game makes up for this. I, being a bit of a JRPG nerd, actually have a Samurai Warriors audio CD of their tunes that I listen to. This game uses the same style of music as you would expect. Traditional Japanese wooden, wind, and string instruments give a really authentic feel to the time period of the game.
I also really enjoyed the combat effect noises and the wooden clicks of completing tasks, but I especially liked the effects in the cutscenes. It sounds weird to type this, but I swear there is no better “foot scrunch on dry dirt” noise than what you’ll find here in a cutscene than in this game!
But….and it’s a big but that frankly does my head in as a Westerner playing a Japanese-voiced game only. I can deal with subtitles, but why oh why, Omega Force, do you insist on important conversations happening during the middle of combat that I don’t have time to avert my eyes to read because I’m fighting for my on-screen life! Please, Koei, can you start to include other languages in your games? For slower-paced games, this isn’t an issue, but here in a fast action, hack-and-slash Musou one, it most certainly is.
Finally, one other aspect irked me more than anything, with that being the pacing of the story. After around seven hours, I was actually becoming a little bored. Iori is dull at best, and the game was taking me on a fairly tedious tour of areas I’d already been to just to ask someone something.
However, an hour or so later, everything kicked off towards the end of the chapter, with so much exposition, new characters both to see and play as, alongside new and confusing mechanics (a more detailed rundown of those complicated Leylines) that it felt too much was crammed into too little. What happened in this hour and a half was most certainly breathless and exciting, but it put to shame the five hours before it. The game could have done with its pacing being evened out considerably, but it does make it worth the time to get to these moments.
Fate/Samurai Remnant is a very up-and-down experience but, on the whole, a mostly positive one. Terrible story pacing, overly confusing magical Leyline mechanics, and a pretty dull lead character are all self-infected design choices that could have so easily been changed. However, the fantastically fast-paced, accurate, and interesting combat, alongside great audio, interesting graphics, artwork, and superb RPG elements make up for this. The story, overall is a good one, but mostly because the side characters make it interesting, not the lead.
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 28th September 2023