What do you get when Koei's all-action worlds of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors collide in a singular videogame release? The wrong answer would be: "A gameplay explosion of landmark proportions that obliterates every other title released this year." The correct answer would be something more akin to: "More characters, more action, and more of the same."
Depending on your particular videogame taste (or lack thereof), news of Warriors Orochi's arrival on the Xbox 360 either left you shuddering in feverishly inexplicable anticipation, or left you utterly numb with a complete lack of interest. Indeed, when it comes to Koei's trademark hack-and-slash extravaganzas in war-torn China, there's generally little space for a 'middle ground' attitude; you either love or loathe the frantic button mashing and wildly melodramatic narrative presentation.
On paper, the melding of Koei's hugely popular 'Warriors' action franchises in order to produce the sprawling Warriors Orochi should at least provide masses of action-packed attraction for fans of both the Dynasty and Samurai derivations. And, on the plus side, the pre-requisite near-relentless battle action and Musou-powered special moves integral to the series are certainly in full attendance here. They are also bolstered by no less than 77 "legendary" playable characters, which are progressively unlocked throughout the game's four character-led single-player story campaigns.
Furthermore, while the player remains alone as a one (wo)man army against massively one-sided odds, Koei has moved to widen the appeal of 'Warriors' by allowing players to take not one, but three characters into battle. Helpfully, either of the two characters not currently in use by the player can be swapped into play at the touch of a button whenever the currently selected hero/heroine is approaching the realms of defeat. While this mechanic allows the merciless onslaught of on-screen action to continue, usually uninterrupted throughout the course of an entire mission, it also grants the swapped out characters time to automatically recuperate before being thrown back into the ceaseless fray.
In terms of selection and evolution connected to the wealth of Warriors Orochi's available characters, weaponry, and special abilities, progression through the single-player aspects leads steadily to more of each. Characters are unlocked and levelled-up both in-game and between missions via performance points allocation; weapons are picked up in battle and swapped out and enhanced via the new 'Weapon Fusion System' between missions, and the same applies to the gathering and nurturing of physical character abilities.
Naturally, considering the singular ass-kicking ethos of the rolling gameplay, all of the above elements combine to increase battle effectiveness as opposing forces grow exponentially in terms of strength and population. One interesting piece of gameplay tweaking brought to the table by Koei is the ability to chain character-specific Musou attacks, the deadly charged special moves that inflict huge amounts of damage. Once a Musou attack gauge is full and ready for release, the player can unleash it on surrounding foes - quickly swapping out that spent character as the Musou attack ends - before then instantly releasing the incoming character's Musou attack, and so on for a trio of seriously prolonged assaults that literally nothing can stand against.
Although the frantic action of Warriors Orochi remains largely faithful to Koei's established blueprint and the game engine copes well with the sometimes overwhelming amount of on-screen carnage, it's difficult to maintain interest in the overall experience beyond the first few missions, which arrives as a tedious gameplay failing magnified by gratingly poor narrative.
The game may offer various character-led storylines for the player to follow, but the acting performances provided by the voice cast are so immediately laughable that they make daytime soap opera seem like Merchant Ivory period pieces. What's more, while the intermittent rendered sequences manage to perk flagging enthusiasm with some rather attractive aesthetics, they're so badly constructed that, when tied to the horrendous vocal accompaniment, it's often difficult to know what the hell is going on.
Sadly, the impressively rendered visuals offered by Warriors Orochi are not carried into the game proper, with very little on show that warrants the words 'next' and 'gen'. The central character models are certainly believable, offering unique detailed design and largely flowing battle animation, but enemies are all-too quickly generic and lack the same animated attention granted the playable cast. Sadly, that ineffectual development oversight also spills over into the game's level design and environmental presentation, which continues the 'Warriors' trend of taking a distinctly backseat approach that's unimpressive, uninteresting, and uninspiring when peeled away from the vividly energetic on-screen action.
Other attributes that count against Warriors Orochi include typically stupid A.I. opposition which, when you think about it, is an uncomfortable necessity for a hack-and-slash game. Specifically, in the case of onrushing waves of generic foot soldiers, they arrive at the battle wielding plenty of weaponry and obvious malice only to then patiently await the player's attention at a modest distance before willingly allowing themselves to be diced into fittingly surprised human cubes. Conversely, enemy officers and assigned mission bosses are maddened bulls in the crowd, charging and swinging with no real sense of strategy or tactical nuance.
While it's fairly obvious that Warriors Orochi is not an especially good game, which means it fits beautifully into Koei's expansive hack-and-slash portfolio, for those who like this kind of soulless and mindless gameplay it ticks all the appropriate boxes. Its action is powerfully delivered, its character choice is vast, and its story modes are varied. Yet its presentation is poor, its gameplay is mind and finger numbing, and its longevity is virtually non-existent beyond 2-player co-op and arcade free play.
However, what's more maddening for this particular reviewer is that Japanese gamers seem to think the Western market is saturated with little more than banal first-person shooters, but then they flock in droves to the likes of Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, lovingly embracing perhaps the most unrewarding and unchallenging gameplay mechanic ever created. Further to that, while the Western market is indeed overpopulated by FPS releases, at least some of those titles can boast compelling narrative, fabulous characterisation, staggering visuals, and inventive originality, all of which combine to carve a clear victory when it comes to which genre is most deserving of a gamer's time and money. BioShock, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Resistance: Fall of Man... or Warriors Orochi? You choose, and then decide which regional market needs to climb down from its tarnished rinse and repeat pedestal.
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