×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Samurai Maiden Review: Kiss Kiss Hack Hack

EDITORS' RATING : 6 / 10
Pros
  • Enjoyable platforming sections
  • Hack-and-slash combat can be intense
  • Relationship-building serves a purpose
Cons
  • Occasional choppy controls and camera
  • Story and dialogue can be long winded and clichéd at times
  • While boss fights are fun, would love to see more enemy varieties

After a little over an hour into "Samurai Maiden," having gone through the game's opening tutorial and long-winded dialogue sequences, and you finally get to sit back and watch the game's opening title sequence — as is a typical experience for JRPGs. The cinematic, accompanied by a catchy, octane-fueled J-Pop track, is filled with fast-paced action scenes featuring the four main female protagonists. All of a sudden, the tone shifts from sword-based combat against the undead to the four characters becoming increasingly chummy with one another as they embrace and look longingly into the eyes of the main player-controlled character. Eventually, this leads to a passionate kiss... before jumping right back into some combat scenes.

"Oh!," you might say, sitting back wide-eyed and attempting to wrap your head around the overtly romantic element of the game. To be honest, though, this might be something you should have seen coming. It's an interesting contrast to the combat that instantly sets the tone for what is sure to be another JRPG that ultimately focuses on relationship-building and an emotional narrative while tossing in some hack-and-slash gameplay. Despite some clunkiness in its controls and camera, along with a surface-level narrative, "Samurai Maiden" knows exactly what it is and what it's trying to do.

I'm going back to Sengoku, Sengoku, Sengoku

"Samurai Maiden" throws you right into the action. You take on the role of high school student Tsumugi Tamaori, who is summoned in her sleep to the historic Sengoku period. She arrives at Honnō-ji Temple where she meets Nobunaga Oda and a trio of ninja friends. Together, they race through the underworld fighting undead enemies with swordsmanship and mystical abilities.

Gameplay-wise, "Samurai Maiden” is an action RPG that focuses on hack-and-slash combat and has some light puzzle-solving elements. The combat itself – rooted in combo attacks – is fairly simple, with Tsumugi engaging in sword fights while her three comrades provide support with ranged and area-of-effect attacks. You can only have one teammate on the battlefield with you at once, but it's easy to summon them on the fly — whether you're needing to utilize Iyo's sword combos, Hagane's aerial and grapple attacks, or Komimi's defensive abilities.

Hagane seemed to be the most effective teammate when it came to my play style. Of course, that "play style" was really more of a button-mashing affair than any sort of strategic approach. And don't expect your teammates to take it upon themselves to doll out any damage unless you command them to.

Hack 'n slash with a side of platforming

Taking on enemy mobs, which lack much variety over the course of the game, is straightforward enough, but they can become overwhelming if you're not properly kiting them around the room. This is especially true while battling any of the game's bosses. It doesn't help that the controls and camera are a bit clunky — especially in smaller rooms and arenas. There's a lot going on at once, but if you're using your resources and teammates' skills to your advantage — like setting traps using Hagane's ability to grab bombs from afar — you should be able to lay waste to the undead enemies after a death or two.

Death in "Samurai Maiden" can be a bit taxing, as you more or less have to start from the beginning of the level again. Some levels have checkpoints, but often, you're still having to re-fight the same mobs en route to the boss.

Thankfully, the game's platforming is enjoyable enough to keep you immersed. Whether you're jumping from one floating platform to another or using Hagane's grapple to swing across wide open ravines, the platforming design is surprisingly fun for this type of game. There are also several secret areas and items to collect, so there's plenty of incentive for those who like to explore the game's levels in full.

Well beyond item and resource management, though, "Samurai Maiden" is all about relationship management and using the team dynamic to Tsumugi's advantage.

Love is a battlefield

If you're a fan of visual novels and taking in a whole lot of exposition, "Samurai Maiden" has a lot to offer. Between battles, you'll be treated to fully-voiced dialogue scenes where you learn about what exactly is going on, why Tsumugi was summoned to the historical world, and what role her three teammates play in the greater scheme. It's your typical fare of laughing, bickering, and growing closer as a group.

"Growing closer" is probably the most understated statement in this review. Despite the fast-paced and action-packed gameplay, "Samurai Maiden" is all about Tsumugi's relationships — both romantic and platonic. As Tsumugi gets to know her teammates, she'll become closer with them and eventually, their relationships blossom into something more than just friends. There are moments of intimacy between characters that make it clear that there is much more going on than just sword fights and puzzle-solving.

These moments help to drive the narrative forward, as well as Tsumugi's abilities, and it is clear that the game wants you to care about these characters and foster the relationships. There are even conversations that seem like an attempt at social commentary aligning with the LGBTQIA+ community with statements like, "Be who you are." And while that's all well and good, these sentiments come across as pretty surface-level.

After all, though, this is a game that features risqué outfits (because who doesn't love fighting the undead while wearing a swimsuit?) and well-endowed character designs. There's no denying that, ultimately, "Samurai Maiden" is a yuri game through and through that provides plenty of fanservice. That said, there's an elevated charm in this particular D3 publication that makes it a lot more enjoyable than most other games in the genre, even at its most eyeroll-inducing moments.

Sultry slaying (for the right crowd)

"Samurai Maiden" caters to a very particular niche audience — so much so that "Samurai Maiden" might not do as well as it probably could on release day due to its relatively high price tag. However, for those that groove to this niche genre, there is some fun to be had.

The game's story and characters can be a bit of a slog and cliché at times, and it definitely has its share of flaws in terms of gameplay and choppy controls. But between the chaotic hack-and-slash combat, enjoyable platforming, and all-but-subtle romantic themes, "Samurai Maiden" offers enough entertainment to make it worth checking out... if that's what you're into.

A PS5 review code was provided to SVG for this review. "Samurai Maiden" is available now on for PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam.