Review – Samurai Bringer
There’s something about the massive tomes of Japanese history that can be both appealing and daunting in the same breath. On the one hand, there’s literally thousands of years where Japan existed and had a massive number of historical events long before some modern countries were even remotely formed. On the other hand, developers continue to only reference the Sengoku era, as that is, arguably, one of the most interesting points in history. It’s cool, but it also gets a little repetitive when you open a game and it has references to famous people that you’ve seen over and over in everything from musou combat to Pokémon strategy games. I get it, Nobunaga was a big deal. But the atmosphere, the style, the somewhat intangible aspect of that time period makes for a romantic, exciting, and just vague enough setting to allow for multiple interpretations. It’s using the mythology of Japan and the modest outline of one of the bloodiest periods of Nippon that ALPHAWING decided to set their roguelite action title, Samurai Bringer.
The setup is decent, and I think most players can get on board immediately. You play Susanoo, famed entity from Japanese creation myths, this time given a bit more of a human side in that he’s fallen for Kushinada, princess of the heavens. Kushinada is set to be sacrificed to Yamata-no-Orochi, eight-headed dragon god, and Susanoo wants to save her from this particular fate. However, Yamata-no-Orochi STOMPS Susanoo, and that could be the end of the story.
Thankfully, Amaterasu, sun goddess, intervenes and tells Susanoo he’s got to up his game in order to really face the dragon god and win back Kushinada. Across multiple days and dimensions, Susanoo will grind out better equipment, new techniques, and perfect what makes him awesome in order to be powerful enough to strike down the Japanese hydra. By the way, if you’re interested in the Japanese mythology aspect, a lot of the interpretations in this game are super loosey goosey, so don’t be offended about inconsistencies with things you’ve read elsewhere.
Once you’ve accepted the mythos of Samurai Bringer and finally get into the game itself, players are going to immediately gel with the concept and execution or instantly dislike it; there’s really no two ways about it. With Samurai Bringer, you’ve got a surprisingly high number of enemies on a relatively small screen, and the attacks come from all directions. The consistency of the damage is varied, as you might be fighting some foot soldiers, clan leaders (who all have names and, I believe, historical counterparts), Brave Generals or full fledged bosses, called Great Demons, who dominate the screen in terms of size and action.
While the onslaught isn’t exactly to the level of musou games, there is still a fantastic number of mobs and, more importantly, they actually appear to all be doing their own thing. This can result in either the game having incredibly slow pacing (wherein you can pick off enemies one at a time) or ridiculous overpopulation, where all the bad things in life are zeroing in on you at once and they are pissed. As a result, how you gel with the game and accept the approach and composition will deeply affect how much you enjoy the whole ordeal.
For example, the combat and combat customization of Samurai Bringer feels like it’s easy to understand, crucial to master, and feels wildly different from game to game. You can essentially design how you want your Susanoo build to function based off of attack, defense, magic, and movement scrolls that enemies drop. It’s important to note that these are some of the only things that carry over between runs. You can implement multiple versions of the same scroll to maximize effectiveness (your “slash” will be stronger if you have three instead of one) and you can chain three different scrolls together to create a sort of attack combo.
So, in theory, you could make it so pressing one button has you deliver an overhead bash, a spinning slice, and then end with a waveform projectile swing of the sword to clear out multiple targets. Sounds good, right? When things come together, it’s really more like: Susanoo can be a brutal machine of a samurai if you can get a good build going and also maintain.
The difficulty comes in implementing support and additional scrolls in order to improve Susanoo’s long game. Early on, you’ll end up with the “gun” scroll, which is all I ever wanted in a game where I’m dealing with a ton of imperial soldiers. However, you can’t actually use it until you either get an enemy to drop a gun for you to co-op as a weapon OR you defeat an elite who uses a gun, giving you the option to start your next run as the elite. The very cool element of Samurai Bringer, in which you can start each run with the equipment of a famous foe you defeated, also forces you to constantly shift your strategy.
On the one hand, this gives you extreme versatility in terms of how you want to approach the game. You can really drill down on one particular build that you like and continue to improve it, hopefully getting enough skill points so that you can make mincemeat out of those who stand between you and getting to the massive dragon at the end. You also have the freedom to really screw around and see all the different combinations that exist, either through trial and error or just from blind experimentation.
On the other hand, this approach leaves Samurai Bringer to ultimately feel very loose and kind of slipshod in terms of what it seeks to bring to the table. If you really want to invest in using ranged weapons and magic, it leaves you no room to successfully change careers when you find a better piece of equipment on the field, and, more importantly, it leaves you feeling frustrated. It has the same problems that The Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon suffer from, in which you only can enjoy the cards you are dealt for that run.
Samurai Bringer, however, amplifies this problem by asking you to hedge your bets as you go into a run as to what you think you’ll experience. Will you pick up enough rice balls and armor from different enemies to justify a melee build that needs to accept that you’ll be absorbing damage like a sponge? Or will you hazard that maybe ranged is the way to go, and you won’t end up seeing a beautiful spear or sword dropped from the right legendary figure? It’s the same roguelite problems as all, but it feels compounded because you’re being asked to predict what will be coming down the pipeline.
Which is a shame, because there is a ton to love about Samurai Bringer. It’s incredibly tight, with no problems for optimization on a pre-built PC rig, and can handle a bunch of characters on the screen at once with no discernible slowdown. The art styling, kind of a Minecraft meets Dynasty Warriors, works well for both identity and injecting some fun into what could be a very grim affair. I loved seeing the various word bubbles of battle cries, catch phrases, and dying laments from the figures who I was fighting. Plus the soundtrack actually scales back very far, giving me flashes of the NES soundchip and the games therein. It 100% gave me vibes from my Crystalis days, and I positively adored what they did in that realm. Additionally, there are rewards for getting through a certain number of levels that allow you to increase your HP and SP, giving you more staying power the longer you can play. A pretty nice balance, being rewarded for longevity with the tools for greater longevity.
When the game comes together, Samurai Bringer has a fantastic air of a well minded project that has a solid strategy of combat planning, on-the-fly adjustments for weapons and skills and a solid amount of planning and technique in order to go far. You have to understand the Gear Builder, the skills in tandem with each other, and the chance of how the RNG will treat you in order to even hope to see the dragon, much less fight him. You’ll get walloped really hard by several bosses before you’re in a position to know which approaches are most successful, and even then, you’ll just back pocket those ideas until you actually face them again.
Samurai Bringer is amazingly unforgiving while still being so accessible, and its frustration is matched only by its charm and variety. I would recommend this game for roguelite enthusiasts who want a bit more meat on the bones in terms of play and education. Definitely put aside some time to ferret out this game as a whole before making a decision, because there’s simply no quickly dipping in and out. You need to sink up to your eyeballs, nearly drown, and then drag yourself out again, coughing and retching, before diving back in to see how long you can last this time around. Good luck.
Sprites pop, backgrounds look lush, the pixel art was a good choice, but it can get muddy in strong combat zones.
Plenty of brilliant strategy that is hamstrung, ultimately, by too many randomized factors.
This is a Famicom banger, no doubt about it. I can hear who this is for, and it’s for ME.
Perseverance shouldn’t be a necessary aspect of enjoying a game.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Samurai Bringer is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Samurai Bringer was provided by the publisher.