Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: March 25, 2008
I have always found something immensely satisfying about the Dynasty Warriors series. Something is remarkably relaxing about roaming around a map that's chock-full of enemy soldiers in a semi-invincible manner while a kill count keeps track of the mayhem. The series has pushed the envelope less than a disgruntled mailman since the first iteration in 1997, or in any of the 22 subsequent releases, but it still works, right? Warriors Orochi for the PSP doesn't take the envelope any further, but it still manages to entertain. Is this iteration, which is priced as a new release, worth a purchase when every title in the series is essentially the same?
The story in Warriors Orochi is the standard stream of implausible fantasy. The serpent king, Orochi, transports the greatest heroes of feudal China and Japan to another dimension, because … well this isn't really explained much. It seems his motivation is just to be as evil as possible, which doesn't make for a terrific narrative. You, as one of the abducted warriors, have to defeat this evil tyrant, and even though Orochi has the power to transport entire castles through dimensions, this is presented as an entirely achievable task. Each house of warriors has its own motives for siding with — or attacking — Orochi, and this is really where some of the interesting plot developments occur. Even though the characters are supported by some truly awful voice acing and one-liners, their motives are much more interesting and deep than Orochi's.
The gameplay feels copied and pasted from just about every prior game in the Dynasty Warriors series, in that if you have played one, you've played them all. You hammer down on the Square button until you develop acute arthritis and occasionally splice in the Triangle button to activate a character-specific combo, which is guaranteed to send hordes of soldiers flying. As always, you're equipped with the awesomely overpowered Musou techniques, which are specific to your character and can turn the tide of a losing battle in seconds.
Unfortunately, the developers have changed the tried-and-true gameplay system to fit with one of the title's new features. You now fight with two backup warriors, and you can switch between the three characters at any time during the campaign, although only the one you're controlling is present. This makes for some interesting twists in the gameplay, but ultimately makes the superhero-like warriors nearly invincible. If you take damage, which is only really possible on the harder difficulty settings, you can switch back to one of your other characters and continue the skirmish. Furthermore, the Musou gauge can only be filled when your character is sitting on the sidelines, which removes the fun of beating up endless streams of enemies in order to pump up your character.
I have nothing against the farfetched nature of slaughtering entire armies on your own, but the lack of variation in gameplay in Warriors Orochi is troubling, regardless of whether you've played any other titles in the series. Despite the ludicrous number of them, even the characters from which you can choose all seem the same; they're split into three classes — power, speed and technique — and between members of the same category, the difference in gameplay seems purely cosmetic. Initially, the weaponry may appear varied, but there is a lot of crossover, and the limited number of armaments for equipping the 77 playable characters is most apparent when you find that some mighty warriors are armed with fans. In any fight against swords, axes and spears, I'm fairly certain where my money would be (not on fans!). All the variation in characters and weapons in the world could not save this title from the fundamental quagmire of the static button-mashing gameplay. It seems the developers have at least tried to do something about this with the characters, level designs and special moves, but Warriors Orochi is repetitive at its very core, and unless significant work is done, the series is never going to progress.
Complain as I may, some people may actually like the reliable and repetitive nature of Warriors Orochi. I find something deeply satisfying about the mass slaughter in Dynasty Warriors titles, but depth and gameplay have never really appeared in the series, and Warriors Orochi is no exception. It even reduces the pick-up-and play aspect of the gameplay through one utterly demented aspect, which is so glaringly bad I'm actually beginning to wonder if my copy of the game in particular was developed by Satan. When I tried to start a campaign on hard mode (because I'd just finished climbing Everest and completed a monster truck rally), I got three steps into my first group of enemies when my character instantly died. Three more attempts and three more instant deaths later, I started to see a pattern emerging. After swallowing my pride and checking the manual and several game forums, I could find no mention of this phenomenon, but I know that I can't be the only victim of this.
Multiplayer modes make a welcome return in Warriors Orochi, with the cooperative mode adding hours to the title's replayability. It was always a joy to build up a character's statistics and weapons and then combine efforts with a friend. Although there is only one multiplayer mode and it may lack variety, it's incredibly enjoyable, and the joy of seeing two simultaneous Musou moves activate and decimate countless enemies is enough to reinvigorate an otherwise mediocre title.
On a much more positive note, the graphics are very well rendered and the enemies are numerous, so you can easily be surrounded and send hundreds flying. The fog of war returns, which drastically reduces your view distance, thereby saving the PSP processor from melting and making it appear that you've developed cataracts. This can be overlooked, however, since the character animation, moves, techniques, and colorful and devastating Musou attacks are so well produced that you could forget you're playing Warriors Orochi on a handheld console. The levels are the same feudal Japanese stock from the previous games, and while it suits the overall aesthetic, most of your focus is going to be on the approaching armies and blinding special moves, so it won't distract you much. The developers seem to have prioritized well here; the power of the PSP is not squandered on unessential aspects of gameplay, so the title flows surprisingly well, with very little slowdown.
The audio presents a mixed bag of techno rave beats and cheesy congratulatory voice acting. The music will definitely get your adrenaline going, which is a good addition to the stark banality of the gameplay, and as cheesy and contrived as the voice-overs sound, you'll feel a pang of achievement when you're praised for killing 300 soldiers. There is no depth in the audio or presentation of the game, but this would almost feel silly due to the shallow gameplay features. Koei seems to have reached the realization that they're going to produce yet another predictable hack-'n'-slash title and decided to make it as exciting and action-packed as possible. The occasional wails of guitar and heroic power ballads are actually quite absorbing, and after completing a mission and defeating an army, this can make you feel like a bit of a rock star.
The Dynasty Warriors franchise is probably one of the best pick-up-and play button-mashers on the market today. It does not labor under the delusions of being a deep narrative or an innovative concept; it's simply another notch on the Dynasty Warriors belt, which is both the charm and the greatest weakness of the series. The developers have gotten this design down, but a complete lack of innovation and some poorly implemented features cripples Warriors Orochi. If you've never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, then this is a good a place as any to start, but if you're already familiar with the series, there is nothing new to gain from Warriors Orochi for the PSP.
More articles about Warriors Orochi