Samurai Maiden Review (Switch eShop)
Samurai Maiden’s characters look great. Awesome. While they may not be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, they’re still a striking cast of multicolored, glassy femme fatales that shine from every angle. As is much the case with most productions that fall into anime ecchi categories, they aren’t particularly deep or interesting characters, with surface-level personalities ripped, well, straight from a cartoon. But that’s not why you’re here, is it? Hell no, you’re in it for the pantsu, and that’s one area Samurai Maiden delivers with conviction.
Before we get assaulted in the comments for ragging on people who like this kind of media, let it be known that we actually like Samurai Maiden quite a bit. It may have all the hallmarks of the ecchi genre, including a plot written on the back of a train ticket, but as a game it does very well.
The story follows high school girl Tsugumi, appropriately dressed in chokers and lingerie stockings, who is suddenly contacted by an ‘angelic voice’ that says she is going to meet a demon lord. She is mostly unhappy about this and is immediately transported to the Sengoku period, where she is about to escape a burning building only to be attacked by hordes of undead samurai. The game is all voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, which is preferable, and everything looks absolutely fantastic. The textures and environments do not push boundaries, but they are stylistically balanced for form rather than graphic excess. The presentation is top-notch and it’s smooth as hell, with an unwavering frame rate in both docked and handheld modes, even with tons of enemies on screen and flaming effects going off everywhere.
Samurai Maiden is a basic 3D hack-and-slash affair cut from Dynasty Warriors cloth, but with some nice angles (and we’re not just talking about the outer edges). Tsurugi, the player character, is aided by three other maidens of varying skill. After the first training stage, you unlock the other maidens sequentially by working through missions. These helpers follow you around the screen and can unleash special attacks when a gauge is filled with a press of the ‘A’ button — these aren’t precision perfect and tend to follow your line of sight, but are powerful enough to stun bosses , buy you a few seconds to enter them.
The stages are bland early and quite short, but soon begin to expand. There are some platforming sections to utilize your double jump skills, but it’s mostly rinse-and-repeat combat in a way that’s far less varied than something like Bayonetta. By stage five things start to diversify and evolve, and by the sixth you’ll have acquired three maiden helpers, offering many more variables in combat and strategy. When you unlock Hagane, her anchor shooting skills allow you to swing across chasms and drag treasure chests from various precipices.
Soon, switching between your assistant trio on the run becomes essential for certain situations and battles, as only some have healing powers and abilities to get you to out-of-reach places. The neat structure is simple but effective, and it takes ten minutes to get used to, but a good while longer to master. Boss encounters escalate quite quickly and give you fewer opportunities to get out of the blast zone as you progress through the game, meaning you’ll need to optimize your teamwork to survive.
Combat is nicely implemented because it’s enjoyable without being overbearing. The controls are where you’d expect them to be for the genre, with light and hard slashes, dodge rolls, double jumps, automatic combos and easily initiated specials performed by your minions. It’s fast, furious and visually enticing, featuring flourishes of pyrotechnics of flames, lightning and explosions. There’s just enough mechanical and strategic scope to keep it interesting too, requiring you to find scarce moments in the midst of the fray to deploy timed mines, healing urns and all-important special attacks.
Overall, it flows well, looks dazzling and sounds very good, with excellent music to accompany the action. The soundtrack is a mix of traditional Japanese elements with catchy, ambient dance beats. If there’s any real issue with the game’s composition, it’s that the trailing helper occasionally obscures Tsurugi in the camera’s foreground, requiring a quick adjustment with the analog stick.
Between missions, you sit in your camp, where you can switch between unlocked gear, improving both the weapons and skills of your three allies, and increasing your HP and attack power. You can also switch between any outfit you’ve unlocked, some of which are expected to be risky. And if the available clothing options don’t do it for you and you absolutely must have the Victory Swimsuit, you can cough up some extra loot for the DLC.
With the evolution of your acquired weapon and its various properties, as well as the upgrading of your accompanying companions, Samurai Maiden has a progressive nature. While the game itself isn’t overly challenging, you can unlock increased mission difficulties – and there are plenty of them to work your way through. It’s not that easy to earn good ratings at the end of the stage, making this a goal in itself for those who want to discover everything on offer. Replaying missions is an optional part of the process, and once you’re more powerful, you can go back with newfound abilities to shoot for higher ranks and unlocks.
It plays well, is aesthetically pleasing, and is quite fun in a simple, action-oriented, arcade-like way. But it wouldn’t be ecchi without a good dose of fanservice. In addition to floating breasts and panty flashes galore, Tsurugi’s clothes get dirty and torn up during each stage’s battles, which is a nice effect. The press release says “forge eternal bonds with your ninja friends!”, which translates to “participate in a place of highly fetishized lesbianism among girls of questionable ages”. This works by increasing the overall “affection” of your group of cohorts, earning more points at the end of the stage, based on performance and usage factors. Finally, “love” manifests itself in ways that will have heterosexual men as squinty-eyed as the girls themselves.
Usually we spend time playing around with this, but since it’s not our first rodeo with Japanese anime erotica, we’ll instead declare that on this particular occasion, the quality of the game overshadows its grosser excesses. Samurai Maiden isn’t a title with a lot of depth, and for hack-and-slash diehards it’s worth noting that much of its appeal is secured in the overt sexualization of the cast. A good test is whether you want to play the game regardless of these themes, and although this is not the case for many in the genre, Samurai Maiden stands as a rare exception to the rule.
Samurai Maiden is mostly hack, slash, dodge and hack some more. But while it’s inherently repetitive, it’s not much different in that respect from many traditional arcade games. What it does do well is expand the combat options in fun but never confusing ways; by giving your minions different skill functions in attack and healing, and in navigation stages. It’s a simple but nicely layered adventure that will encourage grinders to unlock the galleries, weaponry, and digital trinkets while appreciating what is an attractive look and well-optimized gameplay. Increased challenge is there if you need it, and aside from the banal elements of the dialogue and story, the character models are exceptionally good, mesmerizing to say the least, and do a good job of selling the product.