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Arslan: The Warriors of Legend

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release Date: Feb. 9, 2016 (US), Feb. 12, 2016 (EU)

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Arslan: The Warriors of Legend'

by Brian Dumlao on March 17, 2016 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is a tactical action title based on the epic novel, manga, and anime IP The Heroic Legend of Arslan.

Buy Arslan: The Warriors of Legend

As far as licensed material goes, Musou games have had the same trajectory as the main titles and their respective spin-offs. The Dynasty Warriors: Gundam trilogy gave core fans a universe to play in, but the affair felt rather limited. While Fist of the North Star didn't make good use of the engine and mechanics, the three One Piece: Pirate Warriors games felt just right. Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes adapted the Musou gameplay signatures quite well. Of all of the licenses that developer Omega Force has taken on, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend seems best suited to its signature style, and there are enough changes here to make it one of their most exciting yet.

Arslan is based on the 2015 anime, "The Heroic Legend of Arslan," which is an adaptation of the Japanese fantasy series that began in 1986. As such, the game follows the story of the anime quite closely, and while it isn't a substitute for watching the series, you get a good plot synopsis.

The game starts with a young Arslan as the prince of Pars, a nation that is ruled by a ruthless shah whose power is known throughout the various kingdoms. An incident with an escaped slave gives him a better view of the world outside of the castle, and his encounter on the battlefield three years later shapes him further. Due to an act of betrayal, his kingdom's army falls apart, and he's separated from everyone else. After he's saved by a knight who has sworn fealty to him, the duo tries to return to Pars to reclaim the throne, and they collect other allies along the way.

Like any good anime, the characters help drive the tale. Arslan's compassion for people contrasts greatly with his father, who views them as disposable in battle. Narsus' brilliant mind for tactics is slightly marred by his penchant for terrible paintings. The tropes are out in full force on this one, but their absence in a Musou title makes them feel fresh in the eyes of series fans and adds an element that's usually glossed over in most of Omega Force's works.

The second season of the anime is scheduled to air this year, which means the game is only based on the first season of the show. Since the game follows the anime's story rather closely, it ends at around the same spot. It isn't a true cliffhanger of an ending, but it leaves the player with so many things unfulfilled that it's disappointing when the credits roll — unless they've already watched the anime and know what to expect.

The core experience remains faithful to what Musou fans have come to expect. With your given character, you march onto the battlefield or ride on horseback to mow down enemies. While you have allies on the field with you, it is essentially a one-versus-all affair, as your allies and foes rarely lift a finger to harm one another. The exception is the bosses, who put up a good fight on their own. This time, they're buoyed by a regenerative shield that helps them last longer in fights. Though you only have two main attack buttons to use, they can be chained to produce some great combos. A full meter means you can unleash a massive combo that severely damages foes or clears the screen of enemies.

There are a great number of changes to the formula that make Arslan feel wildly different from the core series. The most obvious is that the game places a greater emphasis on story. Loads of cut scenes appear between battles. The game uses those scenes to disguise the load times, and the result is the seamless transition between cut scene and gameplay, with a camera pan being the only clue that you're about to begin a fight. Interestingly, there are no breaks between stages and scenes, so you're not going to get statistical recaps of how you did in each level.  You get the feeling that you're playing one long chapter until the end of the game.

On the battlefield, you now have the ability to dodge incoming attacks instead of just blocking them. You can gain weapons on the field and switch between two at any time. Gaining those weapons also opens up a move where you can unleash a combo that uses both weapons. Aside from their range, the weapons are important because of the elemental damage they can create. Things like fire and miasma are now part of your arsenal and add variety to your attacks. While you gain experience and level up characters to give them more strength and health, you can augment them with cards picked up from the field. They affect the expected traits, like defense and speed, and giving characters specific cards provide bonus abilities. Since you get lots of cards in a short amount of time, you can also craft up to 10 of them to get a better card.

Another mechanic that will feel completely new to players is the Mardan Rush. After completing some requirements, which usually involve defeating a number of officers, a blue glow appears on the field. Enter the area and hit the button, and you'll take control of an entire army of archers or cavalry, depending on the situation. Their purpose is to take down a barrier, but taking control of so many soldiers acting in unison, even for a brief moment, is thrilling enough that you hope the feature appears in future Musou games. This is especially true when you mow down armies with them and see the hit counter quickly jump into the tens of thousands.

With the new game mechanics and tighter story likely to pull in those who may have shunned this type of game in the past, there are a few things that detract from the experience. The HUD is very functional and provides lots of info with various meters and maps, but the map and counters on the right side of screen occupy so much space that you feel like you're missing something in the middle of a fight. It also doesn't help that the camera has no lock-on feature, and the block feels like a bad substitute for this. This may be fine when you're fighting large groups, but when you're going after a boss or named enemy, the default manual camera speed isn't fast enough to compensate for the lack of lock-on. Also, while the controls are normally tight, mounting your horse or climbing ladders can be a chore since it uses the jump button while you're perfectly still. Any attempts to do this while you're moving — even the slightest bit — result in a jump instead.

The graphics are more on par with the modern Dynasty Warriors releases rather than Hyrule Warriors or Dragon Quest Heroes. The backgrounds are fine but not exceptional, while the character models are detailed and have obviously received the most attention. The cel-shaded appearance matches the anime well, even though it produces some pretty jagged lines if you look close enough, and it makes the transition from cut scene to gameplay mostly seamless. Speaking of cut scenes, they seem to be a blend of still shots animated in a slideshow style. Whether or not that is preferable to fully animated cut scenes is up to player preference, and the same can be said for the choice of adding an ever-present moving border as the background. Meanwhile, the effects that add flourish to some of the attacks and scenes look fine. There's also a lot of pop-up for characters, both enemy and allies, and it happens close enough that you'll create a full battlefield directly in front of you just by taking a few steps in any direction.

The sound is done rather well. The music evokes the grandeur of the series with a sweeping score for big battles and something more reserved but still powerful for smaller-scale affairs. The effects haven't differed from the main game series, so sword clashes and hits sound familiar. The vocal track is only in Japanese, which sounds great since the original anime cast is involved, so the acting is perfect for each character. However, there is a tendency for those voices to pop out of the controller speaker at the same time as they do from the normal sound system or TV speakers, creating an effect that is more distracting than inclusive.

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is a crowd-pleaser of a game. Although it has a more open-ended conclusion since it follows the series so closely, the more cohesive story and seamless transition between gameplay and cut scenes make the title feel more substantial. The new mechanics make this a deeper game when compared to its forebearers, and while some legacy issues still exist, they aren't enough to drain the fun from the game. This is a game worth checking out for lapsed and current Musou fans as well as those who want to see what happens when you add a good story to hack-and-slash game mechanics.

Score: 8.0/10

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