The works of Koei, now Tecmo-Koei, are a rather love it or hate it affair. Koei is best known for its two Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors set in the Three Kingdoms Era of ancient China and Samurai Warriors set in the Sengoku Jidai of feudal Japan.
They both follow the same basic hack’n’slash structure, you choose a character and beat up on folk through a recreation of a historical battle. In Japan they’re well received, but in the West they’ve never really caught on thanks in part to critics deriding the entire series as repetitive regardless of what changes were actually made between iterations.
Warriors Orochi is a subseries which unites the casts of Dynasty and Samurai Warriors into one game. Why? Because it’s freakin’ awesome, that’s why. With WO3 some of the greatest warriors, strategists and leaders of Asian history are united to wage war against demons. See what I meant when I said it was an awesome premise?
Those of you who have played a Warriors game before will find the basic combat mechanics incredibly familiar, as this is essentially more of that. For those of you who haven’t, each character has a one note personality, a ridiculous weapon and can string together a variety of combos from their “Normal”, “Charge” and “Musou” attacks to slaughter waves of footsoliders and the occasional enemy officer.
So, the excuse to have Oda Nobunaga facing off against Guan Yu this time is that several years after the events of WO2, the demon army returns with a giant 8-headed Hydra at the…head of it. Unfortunately, the war against the Hydra goes south and we start the game with only three of the game’s impressive 132 playable characters still alive. And so just when it seems that Sima Zhao, Ma Chao and Takenaka Hanbie are about to fall, the Mystic Kaguya rescues them and takes them back in time to find a way to destroy the Hydra.
From here the game’s story consists of the various characters using their knowledge of the past and future to revisit important battles in order to turn the war around. This makes for a surprisingly interesting tale, where one character can lament the loss of a close friend, only to travel back in time and save them.
I appreciate and admire Koei’s attempt to craft more engaging and mature stories for their Warriors games over the years, but WO3 won’t knock your socks off in the story department. While it’s perfectly competent in what it tries to achieve, with such a huge cast it can’t ever focus on the development of the major characters that would be necessary for a truly engrossing story.
Attempts have been made to invigorate the combat with a few extra tweaks that keep things flowing faster. For example, you can now combo straight off of a rush attack and switching a character mid combo will make them come out swinging, allowing you to extend your combo with all the tricks your two allies can bring to the table. All these changes work and give you a lot of new options to experiment with.
Unfortunately, most of the characters who lost their unique fighting styles in Dynasty Warriors 7 don’t regain them here, though there has been some effort to shake things up. As a tradeoff for this though, each character is stuck with one weapon style instead of being able to chop and change between two on the fly.
The shared movesets aren’t as annoying here as they were in DW7 because A) you have dozens more characters to play with and B) the focus on the more obscure characters means that you won’t have to put up with the damned Spear and Sword movesets all the time.
Tecmo-Koei have come up with a rather elegant solution to the problem of managing the huge cast. Each mission has a set of “Recommended” characters, who often tie in to the particular story thread at hand. Thanks to the “Growth Points” system, you won’t have to keep on carting a load of level one characters into battle. Growth Points are basically EXP that gets put into a bank from which you can assign them to any character you like.
Though you can get a good few days out of the Story Mode, once it’s done you can’t restart it without making a fresh save. You still get the pre and post mission briefing, but not the connecting cutscenes and such. If you’re not the sort of person who can keep replaying old battles without a sense context, this might give you problems.
Another potential problem is that each battle is very much intended to fill a role within the story, and as such are highly based around completing certain objectives and not big pitched battles. Sure, you can ignore these objectives, but this will often lead to the odds becoming highly stacked against you.
Unfortunately there’s no “Legendary Battles” for each character like some of the other games, or versions of famous battles like Sekigahara or Chi Bi to play. That a few of the maps get recycled isn’t as much of a problem, however, as they’re not that common and each time it does happen, the allied and enemy armies tend to be laid out in completely different patterns.
There are a few other things I should mention. the most important is the lack of English voice acting in this game. Though everything has subtitles, some people may be put off by this (especially as it has that problem where the text is tiny if you’re not using an HD TV).
There’s nothing wrong with the Japanese VAs, though I found myself thrown by how wildly differently some of the characters sounded between versions. The biggest of these was the contrast between Guo Huai’s deep raspy death rattle in the English version and his high-pitched Japanese version.
The other thing to mention is that this game includes a number of guest character from various Tecmo franchises. Included are Ayane from Dead Or Alive, Ryu Hyabusa from Ninja Gaiden, Joan of Arc from Bladestorm: Hundred Year War, Achilles from Warriors: Legends of Troy and Nemea from Trinity: Souls Of Zill O’Ill. Which is pretty cool.
It’s pretty fair to say that you’ll get out of Warriors Orochi 3 what you get out of any Warriors game. If you’ve never played one, this game is an acquired taste but if it grooves with you there’s a lot to be got out of it.
The various team mechanics and overall polish can make for a lot of crazy combo options, combined with the numerous difficulty settings means there’s a lot here for players who like to master a game to find. If you’re after something casual then playing a few battles on Easy Mode every now and again is a fun way to pass the time, especially with a friend.
But if you’re after a great story then this isn’t the game for you. As nicely as it’s presented, this game is about the mechanics first and foremost.
Warriors Orochi 3 is available on XBOX 360 and PS3, although it is exclusively a digital download for the PS3.