Review – Touken Ranbu Warriors

The musou genre has always been an avenue to get my aggression out. It allows me to expel all those frustrations healthily and safely. I also find the “1 vs 1000” moniker many adopt utterly appealing. Coming into Touken Ranbu Warriors, I knew next to nothing about the franchise. The only thing I knew, without a doubt, was there were plenty of handsome boys with jawlines that left me reliving body issues. Out of curiosity about the origins, I dug through the internet, discovering a live-action film, three anime adaptations, two separate long-running stage plays, and a free-to-play mobile game. I was impressed that it had slithered its way into various types of entertainment media. It’s shocking to think it’s been around since 2015 – only seven years. Upon booting it up, the apparent Japanese aesthetic slaps me across the face, but how’s the gameplay?

Touken Ranbu Warriors - Special technique execution

So graceful. So serene. Maybe I don’t need this cookie.

Touken Ranbu Warriors is the epitome of Bromance, with a cluster of them occurring during the adventure. As such, expect there to be a nifty bonding mechanic that brings everyone closer. I want to concentrate on the literary side of this feature, if I may, and what it means to level up all relationships. Once a particular pair reaches that next step, a personalized chat opens. Depending on the two parties involved, they can vary, from banter to serious and sometimes even silly. I especially enjoyed just how accurate and reflective these interactions were compared to those I’ve had with my male friends. There exists a friendly rivalry buried underneath all those pleasantries. That remains true here, and, surprisingly, I could pinpoint that, in spite of those brief exchanges. While they’re certainly not groundbreaking, they sure as hell are a quaint read.

My favourite aspect is, bar none, how imaginative the plotline is. The originality of it has me gushing out the seams with intrigue. I’m a fan of just how effortlessly it melds into the setting. Not going to lie; I was taken aback by how much it resonated with me. Despite my adoration for musou, several franchises fail to attract me from a narrative standpoint. For instance, Dynasty Warriors delves into the cut and dry historical events of Japanese culture. I might not be privy to accuracy, but there’s no mistaking it’s inadequate in grabbing me. Touken Ranbu Warriors is different, though, verbally constructing a fictional world. Imagine my unbridled excitement when I saw time travel was not only an intrinsic story best, but used effectively. The enemy is possessing key figureheads attempting to change their destinies. You must rectify that before being subject to a catastrophic outcome.

Touken Ranbu Warriors - The true timeline versus a parallel universe

All my English dorks rise up!

It’s an enthralling premise, made even more so due to the small blurbs before each area, showcasing both intended and alternate routes. Sure, there’s no arguing that’s inconsequential to those that aren’t, like me, a writing dweeb, but I’m smitten by the divergence of events. My sole qualm is during battles themselves; characters become chatterboxes. Sure, that’s not an issue normally, but because of the Japanese voices, it serves as a distraction. To read it, I have to split my attention, blindly striking while I’d glance over at the dialogue. Ignoring it isn’t possible as the objective tends to be shared this way. Thankfully, all things considered, it’s a minor hindrance. Besides, if important info is ever missed, there’s a log available for review. Still, looking breaks up the brisk gameplay these titles are known for, which can be slightly bothersome.  

Musou is a genre that tends to dishearten a person at the mere mention. It’s the rampant repetition and the constant button mashing that proves irksome. While there’s still that mindless smashing going on, Touken Ranbu Warriors manages never to reach the stage of monotony that many inevitably do. Simply put, I had immense fun slicing monsters and samurais alike in a bloodless rage. For those afraid to sink countless hours, most levels can be beaten in a mere minute or two. By proxy, there are rarely thousands in the body count. Instead, this title concentrates on mission completion and trying to correct the flow of time. I admit that once you boil these goals down, it turns out to be the tried and true formula of indiscriminately murdering enemies. Regardless, the short duration sets it apart and makes it user-friendly.

Touken Ranbu Warriors - Learning new abilities

You think Koei Tecmo would know the lotion he uses? Asking for a friend. 

The bonding system in Touken Ranbu Warriors, as previously mentioned, does serve another purpose. Both partner counterattacks and follow-up assaults masquerade as extra incentives to boost camaraderie. The impact of each is pretty self-explanatory, though the likelihood of either initiating is relatively minute. That’s where a gripe waltz in because during my session, I seldom saw them play out. Perhaps RNG wasn’t on my side, but even if that’s the case, it’s asinine to have a mechanic that’s unnoticed, mainly due to infrequent activation. On a positive note, the difficulty spike is, well, nonexistent. Even without allies jumping in, battles were leisurely romps. Hell, the only game overs I ever suffered were due to me misunderstanding what needed to be done. Basically, all this is to say that missing out on a tiny feature isn’t detrimental to progression. 

Now, weaknesses don’t have any role here, minimizing the need to strategize. I comprehend this absence of challenge may deter a handful of folks. Battles are a breeze to conquer, and any proposed threats turn out to be a cakewalk. What if I told you that as a musou, that’s precisely why it thrives?

Much like farming simulators, there’s a sense of relaxation in Touken Ranbu Warriors. What’s more, it’s designed to emulate a power trip and a feeling of superiority perfectly. The number of endorphins that release after a murder spree is invigorating. I could shut off my brain or listen to a Podcast after a hard day and appease my trivial fascination for growing numbers. As my strength was fluctuating and death befell those that I’d confront, my amusement was steadily mounting – it’s an unquestionably chill experience.

Touken Ranbu Warriors - konosuke briefs the twins.

An ancient dog that uses a computer? Mine struggles to walk. Jealous.

Grinding is typically the most criticized facet within the musou circle. The key proponent to that is having to raise every individual level separately. It quickly devolves into a time sink because you need to bring up each warrior. It’s especially egregious when there is a moderately sized roster. Well, while what’s here comfortably reaches into the twenties, a few features help it forward. See, there’s a smattering of excellent quality of life adjustments that alleviates the entire process. The principal one is a building called “The Honmaru”. When someone is placed inside a room, they earn points after every fight. It’s generous, too, keeping everyone on par. It’s a consistent stream of levelling up. I understand a shared system like this is controversial since it’s perceived as hand-holding. To an adult with minimal free leisure for hobbies, it’s a damn Godsend. 

Crafting has seen a resurgence. I like to think it’s due to the Atelier series. It plays a major part in Touken Ranbu Warriors, too, but won’t exactly function as you may assume. Instead of assembling armour and weapons, it contributes to teaching the boys brand new abilities and bolstering their stats. To do so, a set number has to be collected and, honestly, it’s not brutally tedious. It’s the complete opposite, and that’s because of the speed to which areas are beaten. Then, of course, you consider the continued generosity of, at this point, the retrieval of ingredients, and it dodges any hellfire and critiques. Condensing missions down into bite-sized affairs was the most significant decision that, in the end, proved incredibly beneficial. If it weren’t for that, the lion’s share of gameplay would be a chore, and learning skills an utter slog.

Touken Ranbu Warriors - Getting blown away

Did someone blow me!? Wind can blow with a button press. That’s all.

Now, while we’re touching on the subject of abilities, it’s severely dumbed down. There’s next to no unique flare to any of the characters. Everyone can learn the same techniques, meaning that shuffling through the available boy choices is, for fear of repeating myself, a redundancy. The only reason I can think of that one would switch is purely for eye candy; this is what I mean when I say any semblance of planning is out the window. Whereas other games have a variety to their rosters, Touken Ranbu Warriors is stuck with tunnel vision. That said, I’m deadly convinced that this is an Otome in musou clothing. While the fast action of the genre stands firm, the streamlining of the mechanics makes it approachable for newcomers. They won’t be intimidated diving into the world of carnage.

Otome Visual Novels are a niche subset of games with a feverishly loyal fan base. Koei Tecmo has a few in the chamber, although they’ve never had localization. Ruby Party are the masterminds behind them all, and their involvement in Touken Ranbu Warriors is why the cast is composed of pretty boys. They each have a distinct appearance, though a few of the designs aren’t that original. It’s almost like a few followed a general template because you can find identical or near-identical 3D models in other titles. I know I can’t expect, out of the hundreds of games, to always see unique ideas. It’s just that, in the case of muscle-laden men, they look like generic henchmen dressed in Japanese kimonos. All the others are rather well-crafted, vibrant and lively, with a high degree of detail, but regrettably, they also suffer from jagged edges.

Touken Ranbu Warriors - preparing for battle

Just like in life, you wanna pick the partner that offers you the most.

During my session, I was pleasantly surprised by the performance. Despite my inability to discern the disparity between 30 and 25 frames, my movements were peanut butter smooth. I was slicing through the air like a hot knife through butter – stuttering wasn’t a problem. Without any exaggeration, Touken Ranbu Warriors is one of the best examples that embody a flawless musou experience. Sure, it would have been better if it were 60, but then again, after many in the genre fail to maintain a sturdy 30, even in the AAA realm, I have to applaud the achievement. The special techniques, particularly, as flashy and extravagant as they are, don’t have an iota of struggle. Of course, not having a high foe density on screen also helps, but it does mean tiny lawls in action. I think that’s a worthy sacrifice for a fluent ride, though.

As I’ve already touched on, there’s no English dub, which would usually be disappointing. Touken Ranbu Warriors, however, blossoms as a Japanese-only title. Everything about it drips in the culture, with cherry blossoms blowing in the wind or attire worn by the playable characters. The music remains beautiful, with delightful flutes and strings peacefully strumming. It bleeds heritage, wearing it proudly on its sleeve. The voices are lovely, but there are a few mishaps with lip-syncing. Luckily, I wasn’t ever distracted by that, mainly because body language and reactions do tend to adhere perfectly to what’s being said. Perhaps the next point isn’t intentional, or it’s a product of the Ruby Party involvement; whatever it is, I just can’t ignore the telenovela atmosphere. The dialogue has a slathering of cheesy delivery, and you know what, there’s a charm to that.

Touken Ranbu Warriors - Getting the teams together

Oh…it’s that kind of party. Alright then.

Touken Ranbu Warriors may not be the hardcore love letter fans crave. What it is, however, is an impeccable entry point for anyone looking to dive into the world of 1 vs 1000. It’s remarkably simplistic compared to others, birthing quite a non-intimidating playground of hack-and-slash porn. It’s not perfect, with features floundering. In fact, there are mini-games available to enjoy, and while one or two are decently fun, all the others are bland. To make matters worse, the rewards are easily surpassed tenfold by a single mission. Sure, they may help tighten bonds between the boys, but again, combat proves more fruitful. It’s also engaging, and you work towards levelling up and gathering materials, thus driving a proverbial nail in its coffin. One thing is for sure; the creativity has me interested in what Ruby Party can do with Otome Visual Novels

Graphics: 7.5

While a few of characters are generic, fitting nicely into the archetypes seen in other games, there’s also some distinctivenes. Environments aren’t terrible, with noticeable details, though it could stand to be much better.  

Gameplay: 8.0

Touken Ranbu Warriors is the very definition of simplistic. I can’t say that it does anything innovative. Sure, there’s lots to unlock and the combat is quick, but it never tries to go the extra mile, playing it safe. That said, what it does do, it does exceptionally.

Sound: 8.5

I’m in love with the music. It has a potent Japanese tinge to it that marries into the setting perfectly. The voice acting is loud and crisp, reminding me of a telenovela with the performances.

Fun Factor: 8.0

As someone with a keen addiction to watching numbers raise as I level up, I ate this game up. The painless combat and ability to shut my brain off was welcomed after a hard day. 

Final Verdict: 8.0

Touken Ranbu Warriors is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Touken Ranbu Warriors was provided by the publisher.