Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: September 18, 2007
The Warriors franchise is one of the most prolific to come from the last era. With over 15 different incarnations ranging from battles in feudal Japan to wars between the giant robots called Gundams, it has become one of the fastest-growing series in video game history. The problem is that, with the exception of the upcoming Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, most of these games were simply updated retellings of the exact same stories. A few new characters and gameplay mechanics were introduced into each title, but for most of us, it was a case of "You've played one, you've played them all." Luckily, Warriors Orochi has arrived to inject new life into the franchise.
The concept behind Warriors Orochi is fairly simple. Orochi, a massive demon snake, wanted to test his formidable powers, so he used them to bend space and time and bring the greatest heroes in history to his own special world — a collective which, naturally, includes all of the heroes from both Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. Once they reach Orochi's world, alliances are quickly made, with some characters siding with the demon and others forming a rebellion in order to defeat him and return home. The interesting element here is seeing how characters react to situations far different than what they've encountered in their homeworlds. It gives players a chance to see their favorite heroes team up and battle one another in fun and often interesting ways, a very welcome change from completing the Yellow Turban Rebellion for the hundredth time. Naturally, the plot still is rather silly, as per usual for the Warriors franchise, but being given free reign over their characters has allowed Koei to make the plot a bit more coherent than usual.
Instead of picking a single champion, the player selects a cast of three different heroes from the Samurai and Dynasty Warriors games. In battle, the player takes control of one of the characters, while the other two wait in the wings. At the press of a button, you can switch from one hero to the next, allowing you a wider variety of options for combat. You can use Nobunaga Oda's powerful area of effect attacks to start smashing through an enemy line, then switch to Mitsuhide Akechi to continue the combo against a single enemy with blazing speed. Even the series' custom Musou attacks can be chained directly into another hero's attack to unleash a new and more powerful Chain Musou attack, which hits a lot harder and gains an element bonus, depending on which characters are involved in the combo.
Of course, these powerful new abilities come at a cost. The heroes themselves are a lot more fragile than they were in the other Warriors games, so until you reach particularly high levels, a single good combo can bring them down to zero health. Your primary character no longer gains Musou energy as he fights, limiting his special moves. In fact, other than by using items, the only way to regain Musou energy is to switch your character for one of the other team members, since any fighter who isn't on the battlefield slowly regains health and Musou energy. Intelligently switching between characters will ensure that your heroes are healthy and ready to kick some rear. It may seem like a small change, but this tag system adds a much-needed element of strategy to the Warriors franchise. While you'll still be pounding the attack button like there's no tomorrow, it's no longer the primary key to victory.
Warriors Orochi's cast is made up of the all-stars of the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors franchises. If you ever wanted to see Nobunaga Oda and Cao Cao team up, this is the game for you. However, not all of the characters play identically to their counterparts in the other games, and generally speaking, the characters' combo strings have been significantly simplified.
Each character is divided into one of three types — power, speed or technique — and the primary difference between characters is based on their combat type. Power characters are strong and difficult to knock down, and each one has access to a special technique (activated with the right bumper) that does amazing damage in exchange for a portion of the Musou Bar. Speed characters are, unsurprisingly, rather swift; they can double jump and use special moves with the right bumper that allow them to perform rapid, if rather weak, attacks. Technique characters are the most interesting of the bunch. For them, the right bumper becomes another attack button, and using it during an attack string unleashes a new and stronger version of the original attack. The charged attacks also tend to have special elements: Hattori Hanzo creates shadow clones to help him fight the enemy, Zhou Yu creates a giant flame and Nobunaga's retainer Hidoyoshi can boost the speed of his entire party. The key to winning Warriors Orochi's battles comes in creating a three-person team that complements each other, rather than simply learning the simplistic combos required in the other titles in the franchise.
In the older Warriors games, characters would receive new abilities in a number of ways. Dynasty Warriors would have characters find equippable items, which could provide everything from unique powerful abilities to customized horses. Samurai Warriors offered a slightly different method; as characters gained levels, they'd learn new abilities that could be equipped, including special custom abilities for each character. The problem with these methods is that they ended up focusing more on tedious grinding and luck more than anything else, and by the time you got the abilities, most of them weren't very useful anymore.
Warriors Orochi offers an interesting new alternative that rewards skilled players with a chance to buff up their characters faster. Not unlike Samurai Warriors, each warrior has a specific set of skills he or she can learn, but rather than learning these abilities via level, the warriors earn them through completing specific tasks — sort of like how the Xbox 360 Achievement System works. When a hero finishes a specific objective, such as "Kill eight officers in 12 minutes" or "Defeat 60 enemies," he'll learn a new ability. Abilities go into a giant pool and are not character-specific, so the more characters that learn a specific ability, such as Karma, the more powerful it gets. These abilities can then be equipped on your three-man team to grant them impressive boosts in power and skill.
Another interesting element that Warriors Orochi brings in is the Weapon Fusion system. On the battlefield, your warriors will end up discovering a large amount of lost weapons scattered here and there; after the battle, these weapons can be fused together to create new and more powerful weapons. Fusing a Katana with the Flame and Slay with a more powerful sword will allow you to transfer those attributes, improve the number of attribute slots on the blade, or even increase its attack power. However, fusing weapons requires you to spend Growth Points, which are basically Warriors Orochi's money. Points are earned by performing well during stages, and the more successful you are in combat, the more GP you'll receive at the end of a fight. They can be spent to fuse weapons or traded for experience points to increase the levels of weaker characters. Since your three-person teams are so important, the Growth System is a very welcome addition to the franchise. Rather than having to tediously grind through stages to bring a weak character up to par, you can spend your points and have them fighting fit in no time.
Warriors Orochi is the Warriors game. Bringing together the Japanese and Chinese warriors alone would be something to sell to die-hard Dynasty Warriors fans, but the fact that Koei is actually going out of its way to revamp and fix many of the problems in the earlier titles of the franchise makes this a must-have for anyone calling him or herself a Dynasty Warriors fan. Even those gamers who have found themselves bored and tired of the seemingly endless sequels that the Warriors franchise spawns may want to consider giving this one a shot. With a unique new storyline, an improved combat system and a surprisingly addictive weapon crafting mechanic, Warriors Orochi is shaping up to the best title in the Warriors franchise yet.
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