Touken Ranbu Warriors is an odd sort of Musou game. It’s a completely single-player experience, for one. Its cast is small, which is surprising given there are over 200 characters in Touken Ranbu proper. While it focuses on historical battles, it chops things up to focus on parts of a whole. It’s a very niche entry in a series that itself is on the edge of the mainstream. Not to mention it is one that simplifies the situation. Perhaps even excessively! The result is a game that is fine, but designed for a very specific audience that might not exist outside Japan.
In Japan, there are certain series that involve anthropomorphic versions of famous items. For example, Azur Lane involves ship girls, which are human women based on ships. Touken Ranbu involves guys based on swords. Sword boys, if you would. In 2205, the Government of Time has Saniwa, individuals who can act as masters to these Touken Danshi, to maintain the timeline. Except in one Honmaru hub, there are 15 whose home was attacked. History Revisionist forces stormed the place. Their Saniwa disappeared in the process. The History Retrograde Army (HRA) returned to attack again, and this time a mysterious fox from the government named Konnosuke showed up. Konnosuke applied seals to the warriors to strengthen them and divided them into five teams. They are now tasked with investigating five incidents in the past being altered by the HRA. If they can stop history from being changed, they might find answers about what happened and their Saniwa.
It’s a lot! Especially if you aren’t familiar with Touken Ranbu. Which is very possible! While Touken Ranbu Online is available in English via Johren, it isn’t a well-known property. The concept is an interesting one! An alternate history is starting to creep in, due to unknown forces. When you’re even heading out for a Sortie, you can see the new “false” history and what the “true” history should look like. Since the general idea is fighting to preserve the timeline, it’s okay if you’re unaware of the details outside of that. A general awareness of Sengoku era conflicts helps.
What might not be as okay is being unaware of the characters in Touken Ranbu Warriors. This is because, well, it is a fanservice game. I mean, if they take a bit of damage, their clothes get ripped off! Not to mention there’s a focus on seeing the conversations between folks as their bonds increase. It expects you to know who these people are. Like why does Mikazuki Munechika refer to himself as an old man? (Because he’s a Tenka-Goken and the actual Mikazuki is a Japanese national treasure.) Why does Yamanbagiri Chougi call Yamanbagiri Kunihiro “Fake-kun?” (Because the real “Kunihiro” is a replica of the actual Yamanbagiri sword.) Why does Sengo Muramasa joke about getting naked? (It’s a callback to his depictions in musicals and other shows based on the game.)
The fact that most of characters in Touken Ranbu Warriors are based on swords means that some of them can feel a lot alike in the game. For example, your first few battles are spent with Yamanbagiri Kunihiro and Yamanbagiri Chougi. Both are uchigatana swords. Other characters who are that same “type” of weapon in-game are Heshikiri Hasebe, Kasen Kanesada, Okurikara, and Sengo Muramasa. We have four tachi types, which are Ichigo Hitofuri, Mikazuki Munechika, Shokudaikiri Mitsutada, and Tsurumaru Kuninaga. The outliers are Hyuga Masamune (a tanto), Namazuo Toushirou (a wakizashi), Tonbokiri (a polearm), Tomoegata Naginata (a naginata), and Yagen Toushiro (a tanto).
There’s a little variety here and some folks can feel different. For example, a uchigatana will feel different than a tachi or a tanto. Tomoegata Naginata and Tonbokiri especially can feel like a change of pace. Still, there are an overwhelming number of swords! Not to mention some Special Attacks you unlock can behave similarly for different characters. One of the earliest examples you’ll see is the comparison between Kunihiro and Chougi’s Straight Attack Special Attacks. Still, it isn’t like other Musou games with smaller casts, like Fire Emblem Warriors or Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, where you get a lot of diversity even with smaller numbers. Which also can make it difficult to distinguish between folks, especially if you aren’t familiar with the series.
While we’re limited in terms of characters in Touken Ranbu Warriors, the missions can vary quite a lot! Foiling the HRA plots get involved. For example, early missions can involve exploring every nook of a map to find HRA “generals,” destroying all obvious and hidden supplies to stop enemies with withstanding a siege, protecting walls from enemy attacks, finding a way to an enemy commander, getting to a location within three minutes, or helping an army hold out and not lose 100 soldiers within a five minute period. You can even fail an areas with an investigation gauge if you reach the “finish” before hitting 100% and achieving every “goal.” I never felt like I was playing strategically. However, I did feel like I needed to do more than cut through hordes of enemies.
The thing is, all of these stages feel rather easy and short. Maps are mostly uncomplicated and straightforward in Touken Ranbu Warriors. The “secrets” you need to uncover are fairly obvious. Especially since Konnosuke will lead you where you need to go and provide hints. Timed missions tend to be around or under five minutes. Sometimes a mission that seems “untimed” will suddenly develop a timer and count down if you spend too much time finding the right path. Of course, it feels geared toward ease of use in general. When you start the game, you can pick between an easy mode that would essentially let you automatically chain together combos, use Special attacks, and dodge all by continually tapping Y.
When not on assignments, you’ll be in the Honmaru hub. This is a space where you can go to new story missions or replay old ones, shop for equipment, upgrade characters’ abilities and stats, see memoirs, and set characters in the Honmaru’s areas to help them gain levels, get items, or forge relationships. The upgrading is an important element, as there are six “tiers” to advance through. These can unlock new special attacks, improve stats, and increase the normal attack combo length. While the equipment is rather expensive and limited, the upgrades are affordable and can feel rather necessary.
The only downside to this section is that its minigames aren’t very entertaining. Some have barely anything to them, like when you try to guess when a certain amount of seconds passed when pouring tea or rotate analog sticks at the same time to form onigiri. Harvesting glittering items in the garden isn’t exactly fun, though its rewards are helpful. They only take a few seconds, so it tends to be worth the endeavor if it is an activity you know you’re good at. (Say, making mochi.) But if you aren’t getting anything out of it, it feels fine to skip.
Touken Ranbu Warriors is made for a very specific audience. It feels meant for people unaccustomed to Musou games, what with its easy control option, small levels, and focused tasks. The grinding elements even seem to be less taxing, with simple minigames and Honmaru area placement to garner experience and such while you’re doing other things. (Just like in the Touken Ranbu Online browser game!) Touken Ranbu Warriors also very much focuses on its characters, showing them interact with one another and pointing out characteristics showcased in the original game, anime, and other spin-offs. This means that while Touken Ranbu Warriors is a Musou game with the trappings we know, it might not be the best choice for someone looking for a new entry to play.