One of the best things about the wide net Koei Tecmo casts with licensed Warriors games is seeing the clever ways the Musou formula can be twisted. From Zelda-style items and puzzle bosses in Hyrule Warriors, to Dragon Quest Heroes and Persona 5 Strikers being a full-fledged JRPGs, the influence of source material makes every Warriors spinoff unique, even in the common ground of the series’ defining one-vs-1000 action. Touken Ranbu Warriors is no exception.
Touken Ranbu may not be a household name in the west, but it’s huge, especially in Japan, and has a dedicated fanbase—thanks largely to the appeal of its characters. Famous Japanese swords given the form of beautiful anime boys (“Touken Danshi”) is a recipe for success, to the point that what started as a humble browser-based simulation / character collection game with light RPG touches has spawned a couple of anime series, a live-action film, and a series of stage plays and musicals. But of more note than the cross-media spinoffs is the resulting cultural fascination with the real history surrounding the swords featured, especially among a largely female fanbase. The “touken joshi” (girls with a passion for swords) trend has seen fans visiting museums by the tens of thousands, museums holding special exhibitions for prized blades, and for many, sparked a genuine interest in history that goes far beyond looking at pictures of handsome men.
It’s that sense of history that Touken Ranbu Warriors taps into—unsurprisingly, given Koei Tecmo’s usual MO. Like Touken Ranbu ONLINE before it, Warriors sees personified swords being sent back in time from the year 2205 to correct historical anomalies and ensure history stays on the correct course, despite the best efforts of the mysterious History Retrograde Army (HRA) to disrupt the past in an effort to control the future. But where the original game keeps its plot light, other than a few interactions between characters, Touken Ranbu Warriors jumps at the chance for fresh perspective on historical battles and the tales surrounding them.
Okehazama, The Honnoji Incident, the Siege of Odawara, Sekigahara, and the Siege of Osaka are just a few of the battles featured, as the game traces the closing days of the Sengoku era. This time, though, the goal isn’t simply to fight those battles as history remembers them—as in Samurai Warriors—but to stop the HRA’s meddling and set things back in course. Each battle is broken down into a handful of smaller, individual missions focused on resolving specific anomalies, be that something as seemingly inconsequential as Toyotomi Hidetsugu being assassinated rather than forced to commit seppuku or as significant as Oda Nobunaga surviving Honnoji.
It’s a fascinating angle for bringing a new angle to a period of history that’s been heavily traversed. The mission details, objectives, and mid-level chatter all work together to draw a contrast between history as it happened and whatever alternate vision the HRA is trying to concoct in that moment. It’s easy to imagine how different things might be had Nobunaga not been killed when he was, and Touken Ranbu Warriors absolutely leans into those dramatic what-ifs, but it’s the examples like Hidetsugu that are far more interesting (and prevalent, overall). In either case, he winds up dead, so the “revised” history should be a minor ripple in the fabric of time, at most. But tiny ripples have far-reaching consequences—in this case, being a deciding factor in whether Toyotomi Hideyoshi would stay true to his ambitions of unifying Japan or abandon them.
In keeping with that theme, and in contrast to the big, sprawling battles typical of Musou games, Touken Ranbu Warriors has battles broken down into smaller, bite-sized missions that each focus on resolving a specific historical anomaly. Objectives vary from simply finding and defeating a boss character, to taking control of bosses a la classic Warriors, to searching the map in search of vital information—a nod to Touken Ranbu ONLINE’s pre-battle surveys—ensuring a decent variety of goals.
It’s rare for a single mission to last more than 10 minutes or so, and that brevity means some of the unique character of the battlefields themselves is lost—there isn’t the same sense of scale and back-and-forth that you’d usually find in a Warriors game. Aside from a few missions, there isn’t a whole lot of the usual strategic element, either, which can make the action feel a little simplistic, especially in the more combat-focused missions. This is likely intentional, given the crossover with a franchise that’s far from action-heavy, but from a Musou background, it feels a little stripped back.
But in exchange, these short, punchy missions are great for quick bursts of play, and they more closely replicate the ebb and flow of the original Touken Ranbu, with battles broken down into quick, mobile-friendly encounters and a roughly equal balance between party preparation and the missions themselves. The narrower focus of these bite-sized missions also fits the story structure well, allowing each mission to explore the impacts of a particular anomaly with both concision and depth, without too much peripheral narrative clutter.
The Touken Danshi add another, more personal layer to the stories Touken Ranbu Musou tells. Each chapter focuses on a different team of swords that have a close connection to the battles they’re involved in—for instance, the second chapter focuses on Date Masumune, with a team made up of swords that were owned by the Date clan at some point or another. The vibrant personalities of the Touken Danshi bring drama and personal stakes to stories that might otherwise seem quite academic, while also offering a little more insight into the history that surrounds them.
The trade-off is that Touken Ranbu Warriors doesn’t have a huge roster of Touken Danshi—16, compared to the 130-odd in Touken Ranbu ONLINE—and has none of the collection element that is, arguably, the biggest appeal of the original game. A secret character aside, every Touken Danshi is available from the start, and there’s none of the thrill of throwing a semi-random assortment of materials into the forge and seeing what sword you pull out, or even just the gradually growing roster seen in other Warriors games.
Likewise, the laser focus on the Sengoku era feels like a missed opportunity, given how much of a wider net Touken Ranbu ONLINE casts. The original game has battles, swords, and characters from as early as the Kamakura period to the Meiji Restoration, leaving so much untapped potential for different scenarios in favour of yet another Sengoku game. In some respects, it feels like a Samurai Warriors lite—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in and of itself, but it’s a shame that Touken Ranbu Warriors doesn’t step out of its big brother’s shadow a little more.
But even so, Touken Ranbu Warriors manages to find its little niche. There’s abundant appeal in Touken Ranbu’s premise of swords turned into beautiful men, and that translates well into a 3D action game, despite the lack of any sword-collecting aspect. Somewhat simplified musou action is balanced out by the variety of missions and a quicker pace of play. But most of all, it’s the fascination with history that both Warriors and Touken Ranbu share, and the latter’s unique premise of protecting the past from those who would try to alter it, that lends this game a fresh perspective on a well-trod slice of history.