Long considered to be the coolest warriors in history, society has a fascination with samurai culture and folklore that has remained unabated for generations, and that’s great. Samurai are rad, end of story. Whether it’s in TV, movies or books, samurais have always been an endlessly compelling well to draw inspiration from, and video games are no exception. But what are the best samurai games you can buy?
For this list, we’re trying to limit the games to those that focus more on the experience of being a samurai. Games like Tenchu and Aragami, while set during periods where samurai were prominent and feature samurai as enemies and characters, are disqualified, largely due to the fact that you play as ninjas instead of samurai. With that being said, here’s our picks for the best samurai games ever made.
The Best Samurai Games
15. Yakuza Ishin
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): PS3, PS4
In an ideal world, we’d love to recommend both Yakuza Ishin with the same level of enthusiasm as the other games on this list, but considering the fact that neither Ishin or predecessor Kenzan saw any kind of release outside of Japan, it’s hard to do that. That’s why it’s at 15th.
As a game, Ishin copies the character models and actors that have featured in the Yakuza series and pastes them over a template of real Japanese folklore and legends. Ishin follows Sakamoto Ryoma and touches on the real life police force that was known as the Shinsengumi. With an ally of Ryoma murdered by a potiential member of the Shinsengumi, Ryoma seeks to infiltrate the force with a view of rooting out the killer once and for all.
Living life as a samurai would no doubt be hard work, but the Way of the Samurai series adds some excitement, intrigue and, most of all, choice to your time as a wandering swordsman. It’s not just about cutting down the bandits and rogues standing in your way, but the different factions you ally yourself with, or who you choose to kill and spare, that’ll ultimately decide your fate.
Way of the Samurai 4 pits you as an unnamed ronin making their way to the port town of Amihama during the 19th century. With the British introducing their culture to Japan, turning Amihama into a “little Britain”, three factions have now emerged. As all three are vying for control, you’ll prove to be the difference maker through your decisions.
Or, you could just waste everyone then leave. That’s also an option.
13. GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon
Developer: GuruGuru Publisher: Konami Platform(s): PC (Switch release coming)
GetsuFumaDen might be one of the oldest franchises going at the minute, with the original game from Konami launching in 1987. 35 years is certainly a long time to wait for a follow-up game, but Konami are in the process of delivering thanks to GuruGuru with GetsuFumaDen: Undying Moon, which is currently available in early access before launching this year on PC and Switch.
Undying Moon is a hack-and-slash with roguelike elements, as you control a distant descendant of the original game. As the leader of the Getsu Clan, you’ve charged headlong into hell to find out why the barrier between the living world and the dead world has weakened, and also to find your missing brother along the way.
With new martial arts moves to learn and weapons to craft, there’s a lot of depth here already, and it’s only going to get better by release.
12. For Honor
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One
Technically, For Honor isn’t the purest samurai game ever made. A multiplayer game to decide which historical combatant would totally trounce your favourite in a fight, For Honor originally included Vikings and Knights as well as Samurai, though the game has been updated since to include fighters like the Chinese-inspired Wu Lin faction, along with Roman Gladiators and Centurions for the Knights faction.
Still, don’t tell us you didn’t leap straight towards the Samurai faction the first time you booted up For Honor. The Samurai faction themselves covers all facets of the Japanese warriors playbook, so if you fancy being a dishonorable Shinobi, the choice is yours, though the big Shugoki lads are an option too.
Personally, we always liked the Nobushi, just because you could poke people with a big stick from long range. Endless fun.
Developer: Lo-Fi Games Publisher: Lo-Fi Games Platform(s): PC
A true quality of a samurai is to stay strong in the face of adversity. No matter what life may throw at you, you must stay completely resolute, and the world of Kenshi is nothing but adversity and challenge. There’s no room for the weak in Kenshi, as the world will swallow you up and spit you out if you lack the strength to stand up for yourself, making it an incredibly satisfying adventure.
While not strictly a samurai game, considering it takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting and allows for multiple options in how you live your life, a wandering warrior doling out justice with a katana is certainly one such option.
A true sandbox adventure, Kenshi’s story is about the choices you make throughout your adventure, as who you ally with or kill can determine which towns and factions rise and fall.
Literally translated as “decisive battle” in Japanese, Kessen is yet more proof of how much Koei love big armies smashing into each other. While other games in the series might have opted for more magical elements, or even abandoned the samurai completely for more Romance of the Three Kingdoms content, the original Kessen was a historically accurate, albeit slightly romanticised retelling of feudal Japan. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best samurai games ever made, even if it’s over 20 years old.
Set near the end of the Warring States period in Japanese history, Kessen depicts the clash between the eastern Tokugawa Clan and the western Toyotomi Clan.
Players begin the game as Ieyasu Tokugawa of the east, free to play through the campaign accruing wins and losses all the way until the final battle, at which point the perspective switches to Ishida Mitsunari of the west. After that, players can pick their leader and build a full picture of the battle history for themselves with each subsequent scenario.
Who said learning isn’t fun?
9. Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time
Developer: Soleil Publisher: Adult Swim Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch
Licensed samurai games can be just as amazing as regular samurai games, and the most recent Samurai Jack title, Battle Through Time, lives up to the animated series’ stellar reputation.
Fans of Jack’s adventures in the nightmarish future have been waiting forever for a game to accurately capture the action of the series, but Soleil’s character action game has pulled it off.
Battle Through Time is, as the name would imply, a brief jaunt through some of Samurai Jack’s greatest hits. During the climactic battle between Jack and the demonic Aku, the villain throws Jack into a timeless void, filled with recreations of the biggest fights in Jack’s history. It’s a retelling of sorts, while also introducing new aspects to keep things interesting.
For fans of the franchise, this is a can’t miss game.
8. Samurai Shodown
Developer: SNK Publisher: SNK, Athlon Games, Deep Silver Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Stadia
For a game called Samurai Shodown, there’s certainly a lot of characters featured in the series who aren’t actually samurai. Between pirates, knights, bandits, noblewomen and assassins, there’s plenty of vibrant characters to contend with in SNK’s classic fighting game series, but the real stars of the show are the samurai.
And Darli Dagger. She’s great too.
Samurai Shodown’s depiction of samurai properly conveys the knife-edge on which all duels sit. While games like Soulcalibur offer flashy combos, Samurai Shodown is all about high damage and punishing missed attacks. One wrong move could lead to death in just a few strikes, which makes every fight a tense, exciting affair.
Koei essentially wrote the book on historic combatants taking to the field of battle and just smacking seven shades out of each other. While Dynasty Warriors might be the more popular or at least recognisable game of their “one vs all” formula, let’s share a little bit of love towards Samurai Warriors 5, which makes a bold case for being one of Koei’s best Musou games. Yes, that even includes Persona 5 Strikers.
A re-imagining of the series, of sorts, Samurai Warriors 5 comes complete with a fresh coat of paint that looks more reminiscent of a Japanese painting, giving the battlefield some much needed vibrancy when it inevitably turns into hundreds of dudes being slapped about the place.
With a revamped roster of characters and gameplay that’s always satisfying, Samurai Warriors 5 is well worth checking out, as it’s definitely one of the best samurai games out there.
A legendary samurai fight is one that can end in a singular strike. None of this lightsaber fight malarky, just two warriors swinging for the fences to see who can cut down the other. While Bushido Blade 2 might not have been around in the gaming space as much as it should have been, its legacy as one of the best samurai games ever is undeniable. Just two controllers and a copy of Bushido Blade 2 is all you need for endless fun.
After players pick their characters and respective weapon, they’re placed into one of several large, open arenas, with the fight only ending when one of the fighters is dead and buried. Victory can occur at any moment, with one strike being enough to end it, but attacks on limbs can also injure your opponent to give you an advantage.
Do you win with a death by a thousand cuts, or do you risk it all for one decisive strike? The choice is yours.
5. Total War: Shogun 2
Developer: Creative Assembly, Feral Interactive Publisher: SEGA Platform(s): PC
Most samurai games are a bit of a power fantasy, as you inhabit the armour of a lone hero rising against evil and injustice. However, the samurai period wasn’t just a cabal of lone wanderers laying waste to ne’er-do-wells here, there and everywhere. Samurai often represented larger clans who would often use their huge armies to try and establish their rule across Japan, and no game captures this better than Total War: Shogun 2.
Set in 16th Century feudal Japan, you control one of up to 9 different samurai clans, or 12 if you pick up the DLC, each with their own local warlords and plans for Japan. Every clan has their own play styles and specialities, and rising to the top of Japan requires both diplomacy and sheer strength, meaning one person’s campaign would be completely different from someone else’s.
4. Katana Zero
Developer: Askiisoft Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform(s): PC, Xbox One, Switch
Being a samurai isn’t just limited to feudal Japan. In fact, some of the best samurais are found in sci-fi, and Katana Zero is a beautiful example of that.
A neo-noir action adventure, players will take on the role of Zero, a mysterious assassin who’s given contracts to murder various players in an ongoing conspiracy. It’s a weighty plot, but you might not have time to notice it given how fast the gameplay can be.
Katana Zero follows the one-hit-death formula that was popularised by games like Hotline Miami, creating a satisfying gameplay loop as you try to overcome an almost insurmountable level of opposition. Still, you have some tools in your arsenal to turn the tides, like the ability to reflect bullets with your sick katana, or slow down time in order to better avoid all the projectiles coming your way.
For some samurai media, there’s a certain appeal in showcasing the iconic warrior out of their own time. Onimusha 3 is perhaps the most notable gaming example, as Capcom’s resident samurai sword swinger Samanosuke is transported to modern day Paris. He’s still got hordes of demons to contend with, but now he’s doing it in front of the Eiffel Tower instead of in historic Japan.
Meanwhile, in Onimusha 3’s weird, time-bending storyline, Jacques Blanc (played by Jean Reno, which still boggles the mind two decades later) is transported to Japan, given an Oni gauntlet and told to slaughter plenty of demons of his own.
As samurai games go, Onimusha 3 is certainly a bit out there, but for many PS2 lovers, these are some fond memories. No wonder it’s a huge feature in anyone’s list of best samurai games.
Developer: Team Ninja Publisher: Koei Tecmo, Sony Interactive Entertainment Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS5
It was only a matter of time before samurai culture was fused with the Soulslike genre, and Team Ninja’s Nioh series has done an astounding job of adapting the challenging gameplay of the genre into a samurai adventure.
Of course, the demonic monsters that plague the world of Nioh help set the tone of a Soulslike game. Nothing like a 20ft tall goliath to truly let you know you’re worthless and terrible at video games.
While the series hasn’t been around for too long, especially in comparison to other games on this list, Nioh 2 has established itself as the best yet. Players create their own characters and explore a fantasised version of Japan’s Sengoku period, utilising a new Yokai Shift ability to transform into various powerful forms. That doesn’t mean the regular, evil Yokai are going to go down without a fight though.
1. Ghost of Tsushima
Developer: Sucker Punch Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment Platform(s): PS4, PS5
Look, Ghost of Tsushima is a fine line to walk, we’ll grant you. Jin Sakai sits on the precipice between samurai and ninja, straying from one side to the other as the events of the game progress, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the best samurai adventures that gaming has ever seen. Exploring the beautiful island of Tsushima is brilliant in its own right, but the game’s incredible sword fighting is the icing on the cake.
As Jin Sakai, the last surviving member of the Sakai clan and one of only a few surviving samurai after the Mongol invasion of Tsushima, you’re faced with impossible odds and are forced to make an impossible decision: abandon the samurai code of honor in favour of a dangerous, more ignoble way of fighting.
The old ways won’t survive such savagery, but what do you lose in the pursuit of victory at any cost? That question propels Ghost of Tsushima towards becoming the best samurai game on the market.
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