Samurai Maiden is the latest visual novel Hack and Slash JRPG from D3 publisher. It has several elements to satisfy any Japanophile and weeb. While some of these elements are fun and engaging, several others sadly hold the game back significantly.
Samurai Maiden implements an odd but not-so-unique storyline that follows our heroine Tsumugi Tamaori, a high school girl who is one day spirited away to the Sengoku period. She meets Oda Nobunaga, his ninja attendant Iyo, alongside other visitors from parallel worlds, Hagane and Komimi. She’s then informed that she is there due to her family origins, and that she is the “Priestess of Harmony.” Her quest is to take down the demon lord and bring peace to Japan’s Sengoku era. Upon contemplation and a lot of convincing, Tsumugi reluctantly decides to take on her duty in order to return home with the help of Iyo, Hagane, and Komimi, who have their own reasons for taking down the demon lord.
Those who are well acquainted with anime and JRPGs know that Samurai Maiden’s premise is incredibly derivative, and after playing through the whole game, I have to say it’s also frankly lackluster. There isn’t much else to the story, as what you see is what you get from start to finish, with very little nuance and additional plot points appearing. Thankfully, the characters do the heavy lifting for the narrative, as each girl has an interesting personality and endearing characteristics that make playing through the story worth it. Although It’s worth noting that all the characters also fit into a specific tropey archetype, like the tiny tsundere, the older sister, the hyper girl, and the friendly but plain heroine. However, the dialogue between them is always entertaining, especially when they’re discussing Japanese history and several fables. Each of them is voiced excellently, thanks to the superb Japanese voice cast.
Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the strange translation in some of these conversations, like how the game translates the highly specific word “JK” or “JoshiKousei,” which basically means a “highschool girl,” to the generalized term “Gen Z” throughout. This was very jarring to watch, as it’s obvious many of the conversations were significantly changed to make the translation make sense.
Outside the story, players will play several missions via linear chapters that start with short visual novel dialogue and end with a stage to clear that has a boss to defeat. Unfortunately, combat wasn’t as smooth or fast-paced as I expected. Attacks are too weighty and slow, especially when trying to chain combos. Dodges feel quite sluggish, especially against swift attacks mainly used by bosses. What makes this even worse is that the game has a massive and jarring difficulty spike half way through the story that makes it ridiculously tough. Enemies become faster, stronger, and tankier, making the experience twice as frustrating and half as fun.
However, players will also receive help from the other girls in combat with the push of their respective dedicated buttons once their bars have been filled by fighting via one-off elemental attacks. Iyo is filled with fire, Hagane with electricity, and Komimi with ice. While these attacks are undoubtedly helpful against mobs and bosses, it is a shame that we aren’t allowed to control each character individually, or even use more skills, as it would have helped flesh out the simplistic combat. It also doesn’t help that these attacks can easily be interrupted once you’re swarmed by enemies, making it harder to use them, especially later on in the game. Thankfully players will unlock a new powerful move for Tsumugi which lets her share the abilities of the three girls, dealing devastating damage to the opponent. It’s just a shame it isn’t introduced until very near the end of the game.
Each character’s weapon can be leveled up with enough of the game’s currency, which is acquired in combat, and doing so also levels up the character’s health alongside their attack power. Tsumugi’s skills, on the other hand, can be expanded by spending time with her party members via short visual novel sections that simulate training sessions. Then there are the “Bubble Pocket” missions, which are also unlocked similarly. These missions succeed in providing a bit more variety to the gameplay by implementing simple yet engaging puzzle and platforming sections into your usual combat-only missions. When not fighting hordes of enemies, players can go treasure hunting for collectibles called Memory Fragments, which unlock extra goodies like Illustrations and concept designs.
In terms of visuals, Samurai Maiden is unfortunately a mixed bag. While the game sports visually appealing, well-designed models, fantastic character designs, impeccable background illustrations, and an overall great aesthetic, the levels are unfortunately repetitive and borderline barren. The game reuses several assets throughout, including enemies, bosses, animations, backgrounds, and most levels. While I understand this is most likely a result of a limited budget, it is worth noting regardless, as it is very noticeable. Performance-wise, the game runs smoothly on the PS4, except when a lot of enemies are on screen at a time. In which case, the frame rate will drop to what feels like 2 FPS until you somehow defeat them all.
Overall, while Samurai Maiden is a very fun game at its core, it is riddled with several problems. As a result, I wouldn’t advise purchasing the game at its current $60 asking price. However, if you’re a big Japonohile and anime lover, you will find some enjoyment in Samurai Maiden if you can look past its flaws and wait for some critical balance updates. Maybe a sale, too.
Samurai Maiden would have been a fun and satisfying RPG if its several stark issues didn't hinder the experience so significantly.