I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel pretty knowledgeable when it comes to Japanese history. I mean, I can just about hold a conversation when asked about the age of the samurai, anyway. But I can pretty much thank the long path of video games that have fused such history into their worlds for that. Without them, I’d probably be a little more out of my comfort zone, as would you, perhaps.
Ghost of Tsushima: Director’s Cut launched the other week, reigniting that love that once engulfed the wannabe samurai warrior within me. Since then, I’ve revisited the rich lineage and pulled out some of the most memorable encounters to ever grace the iconic era. And while there are mounds of games that pay respects to the age, only a select few have really been able to maintain solid ground since. But let’s run it from the top.
5. Samurai Warriors 4
Omega Force has been breathing new life into its Warriors series for quite a few years now, with Samurai Warriors being one of the many offsprings of the hack and slash kingpin. With a cluster of Empires, Xtreme and Chronicles spin-offs, the franchise as a whole has had more than enough content to keep it afloat. But if we had to pick a chapter that made the biggest splash overall — then it’d have to be Samurai Warriors 4.
Bringing all the familiar cogs that Omega Force has spent years greasing together like a well-oiled machine, Samurai Warriors 4 builds one of the most engaging contraptions known to the Warriors kingdom. With a combination of fluid gameplay, convincing story arcs and memorable stages — this one truly is a keeper, and perhaps one of the greatest samurai games of all time.
4. Total War: Shogun 2
If the hack and slash genre isn’t for you, and you’re edging more towards something strategy-based, then you’ll probably want to invest in Creative Assembly’s 2011 turn-based phenomenon, Total War: Shogun 2. And if the launch date has made you think twice about picking it up and testing the waters for yourself, then we can only urge you to strongly reconsider.
Total War: Shogun 2 sends you all over the Far East and European regions, in command of an entire fleet and barracks, ready to gain an upper hand against the other aspiring Shogun warlords dotted around Feudal Japan. However, with only one spot open on the throne, it’s up to you to prove yourself fit for the title by waging war and crumbling the enemy factions, piece by piece. Are you ready to make Total War?
Team Ninja secured their spot among the greatest samurai franchises ever developed through their acclaimed Nioh faction, which released back in 2017. With a fresh take on role-playing and a rougher approach to combat, Nioh quickly become the talk of the town, with some comparing the game to the likes of Dark Souls and other iconic FromSoftware works. Heck, one critic even said that Nioh made Dark Souls look like Animal Crossing.
Playing as one of the only Western samurai to ever raise arms in Japan, you’re goal is to embark on a death-defying quest in pursuit of a the self-declared sorcerer Edward Kelley. Between you and the alchemist, however, a whole island rests on the brink of destruction, with the Sengoku period edging closer and closer to its collapse. So, that basically means, in order to corner the foe — you’ll first have to knock heads with a few dozen armies. And unfortunately, it’s not exactly a walk in the park, either.
2. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
Ramping up the difficult by leaps and bounds is Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, everybody’s all-time favourite rage-inducing action game. And sure enough, it deserves a spot on this list — if only for the attention it has garnered since its 2019 debut. Like other works weaved together by FromSoftware, Shadows Die Twice wears its heart on its sleeve, with frustration and determination both being the two key roles in its brutal tale.
While combat and overpowered boss battles are the go-to counterparts, as per the FromSoftware routine — Shadows Die Twice also happens to bring a pretty solid story to the table, with almost every nook and cranny of the unforgiving world containing a few dozen secrets or so. With revenge and redemption being the two main motives for the feared shinobi, Shadows Die Twice weaves together a compelling tale in which front row seats for the readings are always guaranteed. But boy — it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted.
1. Ghost of Tsushima
Sucker Punch developed not only one of the best games of 2020, but also perhaps the best samurai flick ever brought to the gaming world. Ghost of Tsushima, firing straight out of the blue to an ocean of cautious fans, just so happened to be the tidal wave every samurai enthusiast could’ve ever wanted. Thanks to its cutting edge narrative, intriguing roster and open world chock-full of lore and island secrets, Ghost of Tsushima proved itself as an essential asset in the beloved era.
But let’s talk about the island of Tsushima itself, and how Sucker Punch was able to breathe barrels of life into it and turn the horrors of war into a symbol of pure beauty. It’s something no other developer has been able to capture, and it’s something we can’t help but think about even when stepping away from its war-torn hills and shrouded skyscapes. And that’s just the setting, which only amounts to about 30% of Ghost of Tsushima as a whole. But don’t even get me started on the story.