We know D3 Publisher makes and publishes budget games. It’s done so since way back in the early 2000s with all of the Simple 1500 Series titles. There’s a place for them! They can even be fun. Samurai Maiden feels like it belongs in that sort of line. The problem is, it is essentially a “budget” game with a premium $59.99 price. Given how uneven and unsatisfying it is, it just isn’t right. The more I played, the greater the grudge I came to bear against this bland, boring, and relatively barebones beat’em up.
Normally, I like to start reviews by talking about the game’s story. You know, set the stage for why someone should care about the characters and want to go on this new adventure. Samurai Maiden baffled me by just… starting things with Tsumugi immediately being teleported to the Sengoku period. There’s no introduction or exposition! We suddenly see her mid-conversation with an invisible voice, and then she’s in front of Nobunaga Oda! After a bit of blathering, we find out she is a prophesied Priestess of Harmony. Three shinobi from different worlds gathered to meet her so they can fight a Demon Lord together, hugging, kissing, and taking selfies along the way. I mean, eventually you do get the proper introduction you deserve… when the second chapter begins. It’s an awkward and off-putting design.
The script is atrocious. There is no redeemable dialogue here. I wonder if the writers ever engaged in any ordinary conversations with fellow humans. Why would Tsumugi introduce herself as a member of Gen Z? Especially to a Sengoku warrior who both doesn’t know what the term means? More importantly, he probably doesn’t even care! Also, at one point Tsumugi actually says, “We’re girls, so it’s no big deal” after Iyo exclaims, “Your cheeks are touching! Your friend’s hugging you from behind in this one!” It’s one of many terrible lines in this disappointment of a game. I suspect Nobunaga takes his leave so swiftly because he knows this is a hot mess and wants none of it.
As for the fanservice, it is about what people can expect. You do eventually unlock hugging and kissing scenes, but it isn’t as blatant as games like Omega Labyrinth Z. It takes quite a while to even unlock more “romantic” sorts of moments in the gallery. There’s no explanation or justification for the sudden instantaneous attraction between the warriors and Tsumugi. I guess being the Priestess of Harmony is quite the aphrodisiac? I’ve played games that leverage same-sex relationships and sexual tension as selling points before, and Samurai Maiden‘s dialogue isn’t realistic or enjoyable, not to mention it can feel a bit tame compared to other titles.
Fanservice aside, probably the main reason someone should be turning to Samurai Maiden is its beat’em up action. Well, don’t come into it expecting Senran Kagura or Omega Force Musou-quality action. These blades are pretty dull! Tsumugi doesn’t really move fluidly across the battlefield, and it very quickly delves into button-mashing. Combos are basic, though sometimes the skills she’ll learn by getting closer to her warrior “friends” helps. It’s incredibly repetitive action against enemies that tend to all look the same and aren’t very smart. Not to mention it tends to feel very clunky. But hey, at least the lesser enemiess often just stand around waiting for you to attack!
The only real challenge comes when you face bosses or larger foes, as they’ll summon minions over-and-over again to hit from behind when you’re distracted with the “important” target. Why worry about actually making foes tactical geniuses when you can toss a ton at someone at once to make it impossible to dodge every mediocre attack? Especially if there are mines on the battlefield that deal damage to you if an enemy nearby steps on one. It isn’t too terrible to cut through them. However, when I did kick things up to a Hard difficulty in some chapters, the enemies didn’t get any brighter! They just got healthier! Which meant they could summon more allies! Whittling away at their HP was frustrating.
It is disappointing to see how Tsumugi’s ally is handled too. You’d think given the focus on relationships, the ability to have the active love interest running alongside Tsumugi, and the fact these other three women are all ninjas, they’d help out in a fight? Nope! Unless you direct them to use a special action, they just trail along like a lovesick puppy. I know you have a weapon, Iyo! There’s a horde of enemies around us! Use it! But no, instead they will just hold it in a defensive position, poised to strike, without acting at all. Not to mention when you do use their special attack in a fight, you need to be positioned just so to ensure you hit your targets.
Also, if a game is going to add platformer elements, try and make the characters competent? As you go through the very linear stages, occasionally you need to jump or use your allies’ skills to proceed. Tsumugi isn’t good at jumping! It’s stiff and awkward. The double jump doesn’t go as far as you would expect, which took some getting used to. I wondered if the team knew combat wasn’t very excited, so added these segments while traveling between fights to give players something more to do. These segments aren’t well executed, which irritated me. Likewise, the occasional puzzles are too easy to feel worthwhile.
While Samurai Maiden’s characters may be cute, the gameplay is completely unsatisfying. At its best, it is a bland beat’em up sending you slashing through skeletal specters. At its worst, it is infuriating. Samurai Maiden isn’t like Ed-0: Zombie Uprising, which is in early access and only costs $19.99. This would be a far different review it was. It is a disappointing game in a sorry state, and there are far better fanservice-filled beat’em ups out there.
Samurai Maiden is available for the Switch, PS4, PS5, and PC.