If there's one thing that I hate about the gaming industry, it's the publishers' over-reliance on sequels and remakes of certain franchises instead of attempting new ideas and pushing out fresh IPs. This tendency to resort to the safe and normal has absolutely killed the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise, and I think that it has now done the same thing to the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors line of games as well. The latest title to come out of the series is Warriors Orochi 2, and it essentially proves that KOEI has given up on this franchise and is just coasting along.
The premise of Warriors Orochi 2 is about as dated and mundane as they come. At the end of the original game, the combined forces of the Japanese and Chinese warriors were enough to kill Orochi and end his evil plans. Of course, this is a video game, and that means death is never permanent. Now, Orochi's forces are attempting to resurrect the Serpent King, and it's up to the heroes to stand up once more and put a stop to this evil plan before the world falls into chaos.
Gameplay is the same as every other Warriors game, with players taking control of a severely overpowered commander and mowing through wave after wave of nondescript enemy foot soldiers in an attempt to track down the baddies' captain and introduce him to the pointy end of your sword. The term "mindless" is an overused cliché in game criticism, but it really applies to this game. You do nothing more but traverse the battlefield either on foot or on horseback, whaling on the attack buttons and wiping out enemy officers until the level's main general decides he's lost enough men and opens the gates to his garrison so you can charge in and slaughter him.
Combat is as simple as the gameplay, with characters being able to utilize quick and heavy attacks, as well as unleash a special ability once the proper meter is filled. Don't worry your pretty little head about strategy, as pretty much every normal enemy can be killed with a couple of taps of the Square button, and bringing down enemy officers merely means you have to add in the occasional press of the Triangle or Circle button. If it weren't for the fact that you actually have to track down the specific enemy officer you need to kill to end the level, then you could probably play this game blindfolded.
Warriors Orochi 2 tries to hide its obvious shortcomings with a big pile of characters and switching mechanic that's meant to keep things interesting. All told, there are 96 different warriors to choose from, and one of the few things the game actually does right is giving you a steady trickle of new unlocks so you are offered a constantly evolving lineup. Of these 96, players can choose three to take into battle, and the characters can be swapped in and out on the fly. Rotating characters is actually a key mechanic, as the two resting warriors will see their life and special attack gauges refill so long as they are on the sidelines. Even though the missions are repetitive and boring, at least you have three different faces to look at while wading through the sea of enemy soldiers.
Unfortunately, all 96 characters fall into one of three battle styles (power, speed and technique), and the difference between characters within each style is so miniscule that there's really no reason to ever swap out your starting team. Every speed character plays like every other speed character, right down to the special attack. Sure, their regular attacks might be slightly different, but it's really only a matter of animation, as they all do essentially the same damage and bust out similar combos. Thus, the only people who are going to truly care about the big roster of unlockable characters are fervent series fans (if such people even exist); everyone else will find little reason to favor any specific character over another.
The game also features a fairly robust RPG-style leveling and weapons fusion system, though its practical use is decidedly less apparent. Weapons and treasures found on the battlefield can be combined to increase their power, but the effects seem pretty negligible. Experience points can also be used to level up characters, but the process is so slow and cumbersome that there's really no reason to spend any points on characters outside of your main team.
Warriors Orochi 2 features a fair number of modes, but unfortunately, almost none of them are worth your time. Story mode lets you run through the game's narrative with one of five factions, including the followers of Orochi. While each story is unique to a degree, the game relies heavily on your knowledge of who these characters are, so anyone who hasn't been following the plot since the very first Warriors game will probably end up lost pretty quickly. Free mode and Dream mode play the same as the story missions but basically remove the context and either let you pick your own team or place pre-determined teams in specific situations. Versus mode turns the entire experience into a straight-up fighting game (and fails miserably), while the less said about the multiplayer the better (just stay away from it; you'll be happier for it). Of all the available modes, only the story is even a bit entertaining, and that's not saying much.
Warriors Orochi 2 isn't just a boring, tedious game, but an ugly one at that. The graphics were clearly ported directly from the PS2 version that launched last year, and they really show their age. The environments are bland, while characters lack detail and attacks fail to deliver any visual sizzle. The few rendered cut scenes are decent, but most of the story is told through character portraits and speech bubbles, so there's never really any moment when players feel drawn into the world.
Ultimately, Warriors Orochi 2 takes an already tarnished franchise and further beats it into the ground. While the massive battles and overpowered attacks may have been fun way back when the franchise launched, we've all moved on now. Button-mashing has very little appeal in today's market, and rather than attempt to reinvent the franchise with something new and fresh, KOEI opts to continue pumping out the same old recycled garbage, refusing to drag their franchises into the 21st century. This game does what all the others in the franchise have done, and that's about it. If that's enough to make you want to buy it, then go ahead, but if you want a slight bit more out of your games, then look elsewhere.
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