Touken Ranbu Warriors
2022's Most Interesting Game From Premise Alone
Out of the many IPs that eventually received the "Musou/Warriors" treatment, it seemed as if the sky was the limit for each potential release. Hyrule Warriors and Fire Emblem Warriors were early Nintendo exclusives with Three Hopes around the corner. Non-Nintendo IPs including Persona also had the same treatment. Any IP that eventually had a "Musou" spin-off took characters and the world from their respective franchise and combine it with the hack-and-slash gameplay Omega Force is known for. This makes Touken Ranbu Warriors a unique case for two major reasons. The first reason is that it's based on a mobile game with a specific target audience in mind.
Touken Ranbu originated as a mobile game developed by DMM, released in Japan in 2015 and worldwide six years later in 2021. Players who may be familiar with the name Kantai Collection, another mobile game developed by the same developers, will notice similarities in the gameplay itself. Instead of a cast of girls based on boats, Touken Ranbu features an all-male cast based on antique swords. Touken Ranbu may not an otome in the traditional visual novel sense. Its premise, the choice of attractive men as a character design, and the overall aesthetic however made it popular among young women.
An Action Game For Women, By Women
While DMM and NitroPlus are the property holders to Touken Ranbu and Omega Force developed the gameplay for Touken Ranbu Warriors, there's one more party involved. Co-developed alongside Omega Force is Ruby Party, Koei Tecmo's own in-house otome development team. The influence of Ruby Party was to ensure that the likeliness of Touken Ranbu was captured and translated well for a console release. Certain things like voice direction, dialogue, and design choices can be seen as the player is slowly introduced to the game itself.
Character designs are rounder and boyish, with distinct tropes ranging from handsome to rugged and everything in between. Certain elements from the original Touken Ranbu including materials and passive grinding are also seen here as well. Players can even engage in "bonding scenes" between two of the fifteen playable characters, which can play out as they are out on the field together. It's just as much of a visual novel between allies as it is a combat game vs endless soldiers. There are many ideas that come together, but does any of them clash? Or is it a mix that no one expected to work, like bacon and cream cheese on a bagel?
The Core Gameplay Isn't Too Compromised
Touken Ranbu Warriors begins with the advisory talking fox, Konnosuke, "powering up" a group of individuals and briefing them on their mission. The "power-up" sequence does its fair share of explaining how each of the swords is able to perform actions that weren't possible in the original mobile game. Konnosuke is the guide throughout the tutorial and the game itself, much like his original role in the mobile game. Instead of helping the player directly, he instead helps out the characters, while still helping out the player. Combat is your typical Warriors-style experience as there are basic attacks and special attacks. Basic attacks can be chained, special attacks cannot. Special attacks are used as combo enders after a certain number of basic attacks are chained but players will need to unlock each character's special attack.
The tutorial is split across five levels, introducing other combat mechanics such as the Tag function which acts similar to Samurai Warriors 5. Players can enter a powered-up state similar to that of current Warriors games and Musou Attacks are renamed "Hissatsu" instead. Actual combat is more lenient than its main game counterparts as you're fighting alien enemies more often than not. It's amusing that the rare human enemies you fight are stronger than the alien-like creatures, however. Also if you take "enough damage" your clothes rip and your Musou gauge fills up faster. Yay fanservice.
More Wibbly Wobbly Timey Whimey Stuff...
After the tutorial, the main gameplay begins at the sortie. There are certain historical anomalies caused by an enemy group (the same aliens you fight in the tutorial) that are altering the course of history. Because the "butterfly effect" is very much real, Konnosuke enlists the aid of the Touken Danshi to revert history back to its original course. This is done by defeating the enemy captain before their influence can spread and re-write history. However, sometimes it's not as easy as "Get to the end of the level and beat the boss." Here is a clever twist to the whole "anomaly distortion" thing. Sometimes, Konnosuke won't know the win conditions for each level immediately.
One such example is that an enemy group is receiving an odd number of reinforcements despite being on the losing side of an important battle. There's no hint to discover what the cause is. The player will have to wait until Konnosuke identifies something peculiar in which you are to follow him. In this case, there's a portal spawning a set number of enemies with the boss revealing himself as the ringleader. Failure to discover this crucial piece of information will cause the mission to fail even if you defeat the final boss of the level. The game punishes you for moving too fast and not following directions. You're not trying to win a war, but you're trying to preserve history.
Take A Break And Build Connections
In between missions during a sortie, you're sent back to the Honmaru, the base of operations for the Touken Danshi. Players can dispatch other characters to do tasks while away, gaining experience and materials in the process. Minigames, events, and galleries are also accessible here. This passive leveling system ensures that the characters you don't use are still adequate enough to hold their own in combat. Materials are used to unlock skills, such as bonus special attacks, as well as give passive buffs. Completing missions and taking advantage of the Homura is the best way to gain materials, keeping the grinding aspect of Touken Ranbu alive.
As a whole, Touken Ranbu Warriors manages to create an action game to rope in a target audience that wouldn't be its first choice. Fans of Touken Ranbu can enjoy the classic Musou-style gameplay while also becoming invested in their favorite characters. I feel it's more than a "cash grab" as an entire development team dedicated to making games for women was a core part of this game's development. This actually gives hope for the future of gaming in that women-led developed titles can be at the forefront without compromise. While Touken Ranbu Warriors isn't quite at that level, it is an earnest effort that manages to do its best.
Touken Ranbu Warriors is available on the Nintendo Switch and Windows.