Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: September 18, 2007
Due to the sheer number of releases and relatively high popularity, the Dynasty Warriors series, and to a lesser extent its offshoot, Samurai Warriors, doesn't need much introduction or explanation. It's big enough in Japan that there will be a special-edition PlayStation 3 console bundle that includes the Dynasty Warriors 6 game (but which will, ironically, have no backward compatibility to play the PS2 version of Warriors Orochi). Each release truly is an incremental upgrade in the same vein as, say, the Madden series. DW4 and DW5 don't differ much, even when taking into account the Extreme Legends and Empires expansions. This series is either one you love or one you hate, and if you looked forward to Dynasty Warriors Gundam for the first two words more than the third, chances are that you're in the former group. The devs decided to mix things up with some moderate innovation by combining almost every DW release so far (except Gundam) with some new mechanics and a new story to match, and Warriors Orochi is the result.
You really can't cross the Warring States period of Japan with the far elder era of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms directly without poking a millennium-sized hole in the course of history. Luckily, there are a couple of original characters to balance out things. Orochi is a somewhat snakelike super-warrior who wants to test his strength, so he does the logical thing and selects choice elements (people, castles, battlefields, etc.) from two of the more warlike periods in Asia, completely ignoring Europe and the Americas because apparently, King Leonidas and Alexander just aren't bad-ass enough for Orochi. He takes these two groups, conveniently erases the language barrier and quickly starts kicking everyone's butt, forcing some to serve him while others put up a somewhat noble resistance. This plot sounds cut-and-dried enough, but with four plotlines (one for each of the Three Kingdoms, and an "SW" plot starring Nobunaga Oda), things get mighty complex mighty fast. Past loyalties are tried or broken, and new ones are forged.
Ultimately, of course, the plot simply falls back into sets of mission objectives, and which of your 79 playable officers can become the primary force in kicking your enemies' collective rears to win the battle. Yes, I said officers, as in plural; the devs have introduced a new mechanic where players don't control one officer, but a team of three. Once you get on the battlefield, you can switch between them with a trigger pull, and the inactive officers slowly recover life and Musou energy, so regularly switching between characters is your primary means of survival.
Character types — Speed, Power and Technique — are predictably mapped to particular play styles, but each type also has an exclusive set of special moves, which are controlled with the right bumper. Note, however, that these special moves use Musou, as do actual Musou techniques. The result is basically the same shirt, only with new wrinkles and a dye job; most people will quickly adjust to the new tactics and rules. Unfortunately, these special moves come at a cost. Gone are the days of players choosing their own officers; instead, player two's team consists of color swaps of player one's team. It's an understandable graphical power limitation on the PS2 release, but this feature could have been updated for the Xbox 360, which has plenty of power to spare.
Omega Force apparently decided that this alone wasn't enough to enhance things, so they revamped the weapon system and replaced items with abilities. With the new weapon system, you can select any two weapons for a character and combine them with the fusion system. Warriors Orochi strongly encourages that you do so, since this is the easiest way to power up your weapons. By "slotting" weapons, you can also add a variety of useful properties (stunning, freezing, increased critical hit, improved guard breaking, etc.) to the blades so that facing down enemies becomes a significantly easier task.
Abilities generally serve similar roles to the old items, but they're not gained by picking items off the ground. Instead, each of your characters will have to fulfill a special objective to gain an ability, such as "defeat 60 enemies" or "defeat three officers." Most of the other objectives are variations of these themes, sometimes including time or life bar limitations. Pass the objective, and you'll gain or level up one of 18 abilities, of which you can equip seven at a time. These abilities are basically one-to-one replacements for items; for example, Cavalier replaces the several different harnesses to have you start a battle mounted. These changes to weapons and items require more thought in figuring out how to attain the bonus objectives during play, and more menu manipulations before and during a battle.
The models in Warriors Orochi compare to those of Samurai Warriors 2 for 360; they don't impress and aren't precisely terrible, but they're smooth as silk. The voice acting's just as spotty as usual (Nobunaga sounds awesome with his alliterative alliance of advising terms, Xu Zhu sounds dim and has a sever food obsession, etc.), the music is mostly recycled from various points in the series and the fighting's about the same once you adjust to the minor changes. Even the 60 levels are often copied or modified from the two series, but the sheer number is a good match for the rather staggering collection of just about every character from every Dynasty Warrior release up to the Empires expansion for DW5, and every character from Samurai Warriors to date — including Ishikawa Goemon and his trusty cannon. Even the Yellow Turban leader, Zhang Jiao, shows up in different campaigns as a playable character and an enemy.
Warriors Orochi does one thing, and does it well — possibly too well for Sony's comfort, ironically, since the PS2 version will likely further delay a certain group of people from switching to the PS3. This game is like a historical Super Robot Wars, and with the number of characters and stages, manages to put itself very neatly in "buy it" territory for any fan of the two component series. It's easily the best and freshest Warriors game in a long time, despite the utter lack of a new officer mode or, well, anything except the storylines and free play. Orochi and Gundam ought to keep fans of the series quite happy for quite some time.
On the other hand, the Warriors series isn't innovative, it isn't top-tier eye candy and it isn't going to be liked by everyone. Nothing in Warriors Orochi is going to change that, as all of the series' flaws are present here: the AI is not very bright, things entirely unrelated to you can and will result in a loss and the difficulty has been turned up to a nigh-murderous level. Even on Normal, you stand a very good chance of dying horribly after learning the play mechanics. Leveling up will give you the strength to defeat Orochi on the higher difficulty levels, but needing to do so artificially quadruples the title's play length.
Koei has the start of a new series with Warriors Orochi, and hopefully, the sequel will add characters from Samurai Warriors 3 and Dynasty Warriors 6. Throw in some of the options that were removed from this release, such as new officer and duel modes, and they'll have plenty enough to land another $60 from the fans.
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