Warriors Orochi Review
We're not sure how many Dynasty Warriors spin-offs Koei and Omega Force can generate, but we imagine these titles are just gonna keep coming. The original was an impressive action/strategy game that featured hundreds of individual units on screen at once, and really turned some heads when it first appeared on the PS2 way back in 2000. However, these days, the gaming public expects a lot more...and we just keep getting the same ol' same ol' from Koei. Warriors Orochi is their latest franchise-blending project; it merges Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, thereby bringing two worlds together for avid fans. We saw another recent combination of series with Dynasty Warriors: Gundam for the PS3, and while it was a passable and occasionally entertaining title, it certainly wasn't what we'd call "next-gen." Orochi is only a PS2 game - even though it was also ported to the 360 - so we can't hold it to PS3 standards, but even so...same ol' same ol'. ‘sigh'
At the very least, all these DW-related games uphold the same level of relatively quality visuals. This one is no exception, as we're treated to some pretty and well-designed CGI effects early on, and the character design remains mostly solid, too. However, there's really nothing even remotely impressive beyond these two highlights, as the gameplay still suffers from the same graphical imperfections we're so used to seeing. There's a lack of robust clarity in the surrounding environments, there's not enough variety in the backdrops, and Orochi also doesn't seem as vibrant as any of the Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors titles. There's just a whole lot of bland folded up in a better-than-average visual presentation. Fans of this type of game probably won't care too much, and it doesn't look bad for a PS2 game, but the graphics are hardly worthy of many compliments. Yeah, the story gets some nice cut-scenes here and there, but that's about it. The rest is very "meh" from top to bottom; nothing to write home about.
Still, at least the visuals are a bit better than average. The sound, on the other hand, is plagued by bad voice acting, a lot of repetitive and outrageously annoying battle tracks, and inconsistent and generic effects that have little impact. Thankfully, we don't have to listen to much in the way of poor voice acting if we don't want to (just skip over the story sequences), but we're stuck with the combat effects and soundtracks. There is some nice slashing and cutting going on, as there typically is in games like this, but how come the rest fails to sound anything like a war? We're constantly involved in multiple-unit conflicts, and everything just seems tame and run-of-the-mill. Even the Musou-powered special attacks - while certainly flashier - don't hold the same cache powerful combo maneuvers used to have in Dynasty Warriors installments. Every strike sounds similar to the last and those soundtracks, while sometimes epic, immediately start to grate in combat. Oh goody, another amateur rock track that repeats until I want to stab myself in the eye with a shrimp fork. Omega Force refuses to put any real effort into the sound category, and while we used to tolerate it, now it's just irritating.
If you've played even one Dynasty Warriors or Samurai Warriors entry in the past, you know what to expect from Warriors Orochi. There are a few differences here and there, but at its core, Orochi is all about entirely unrealistic yet satisfying and fantastical real-time war battles. Well, that's what it's supposed to be about. It ends up being about frustrating encounters when outnumbered, almost the same exact combat mechanic as in any other DW game, and a lot of options that don't necessarily translate to depth. Why? Couldn't we have had at least some evolvement, here? But before we get into the same analysis you've probably already heard a dozen times before, we'll take the high road and talk about the changes and enhancements that do make Orochi stand out a bit. However, make no mistake: you play this one the way you played all the other installments based on the DW franchise, and that's really the bottom line.
The most important and obvious addition is the inclusion of trio gameplay. You never go into battle with just one unit; this time, you're going in with three, and you can switch between each character whenever you wish. This becomes essential, too, as you'll find it's impossible to complete any given stage unless you switch off. This is due to the ramped-up difficulty and the fact that your characters can recuperate when you're not using them. So if you're getting lit up by a large group of enemies - and this will happen quite often - you'll probably end up alternating back and forth between your three characters several times. Furthermore, each character fits into each of the three available styles: Power, Speed, and Technique. This immediately impacts how you fight with a character. The Power character can add extra "oomph" to his attacks at any time with an influx of Musou, the Speed character can dash all over the place, slicing and dicing, and the Technique character can be very tricky and effective with his special moves.
It's great that no matter which trio you're playing with, all three are significantly different. The Power guy doesn't get his attack interrupted when nailed from surrounding foes, but he's also slower, and you have to keep an eye on his health bar. It may seem like he's not getting hit, but he is. This adds a much-appreciated dimension to an admittedly stale experience, and you can even chain massive Musou combo attacks together between character changes! How sweet is that? Furthermore, there are a grand total of 77 playable characters from both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors universes, and most of them need to be unlocked. That oughta keep you busy for quite a while, but just remember that the entire process will be essentially the same from start to finish. There are plenty of different scenarios to play through as well, even though you won't care in the slightest about the storyline or plots. Much like the sound, the developers simply don't excel when it comes to scripts or character development.
The rest of the gameplay remains "as is." You've seen this before, guaranteed. You run around, attempting to secure checkpoints and zones while defeating legion after legion of mostly mindless enemy soldiers. Getting surrounded by too many of them isn't a good idea, and officers can pose a problem, but it's not over-the-top hard. It can be immensely annoying to helplessly watch your character get juggled amongst a horde of enemies, unable to break free and unable to launch a counter-attack. The Power character can help in these situations, but it's still frustrating as all hell. Those supposedly super-powerful combo attacks, generated by the magic "Musou," aren't as devastating as they should be, though. The camera is decent, but it's a little loose and often sits too close to the character during battle. In general, there are plenty of issues and for a game that lives and dies with its gameplay, that's not good news. But we do have one final highlight to mention, and this should encourage all those customization nuts out there.
You can pick up a variety of weapons on the battlefield, and you can actually fuse two of them together to create an awesome super weapon! It's really easy to do, and the product of such fusions can have a tremendous affect on your ultimate success. But that's where everything ends because the rest of the gameplay, from the running to the jumping to the hacking, is all very familiar. Granted, there are more indoor environments and the trio system works okay, but there's really nothing else to talk about. Warriors Orochi is another fanservice game, plain and simple, and really doesn't appeal to gamers who don't appreciate the "been there, done that" rehash. Because really, despite a few small upgrades, that's all this is.
11/5/2007 Ben Dutka