Warriors Orochi Review (Xbox360)

The 'Warriors' series of games, from prolific Japanese development studio Koei, has become so entrenched in gaming folklore at this point that it's essentially become self-sufficient. It's virtually impossible to find any gamer of PS2 age and above that hasn't played one of the numerous titles in the lineage, and the series' has enough of a hardcore fanbase at this point to maintain a steady stream of near-identical releases at the expense of any true progression. Warriors Orochi brings together the two pillars of the franchise (Dynasty and Samurai) in one all-encompassing package for the first time, making its feature-rich debut on both the PS2 and Xbox 360. The mechanics will be familiar, graphical quality remains sub-par, and the structure and depth of the missions remains unchanged. Originality will be damned, it seems; but as fan-service there really is no alternative.

You'll certainly be hitting much larger combos than 15!
29 is also a little on the low side...

For those of you joining the party late, the Warriors' games essentially task the player with controlling one or more of the legendary and mythical heroes from either Chinese or Japanese history, and beating several shades out of a vast army of under-powered foes. The action takes place on large free-roaming tactical battlefields, with objectives and boss fights to accomplish, usually against a set time limit. Characters level up as each mission ends, with elaborate special attacks, mythical weapons and loud costumes to discover and enjoy, and usually a split-screen co-op mode to partake in if needs be. What they lack in finesse, Warriors' titles usually make up for in sheer numbers, and the vast scale of some later battles in each game can be a sight to behold.

The storyline excuse for melding both series' together in this release comes in the form of the titular serpant king, 'Orochi'. Seemingly bored, the king decides to test his strength against the very best warriors from historical ages of China and Japan, using vast power to break the rules of time and space, allowing everybody to fight on the same battlefield. I guess that's what boredom and omnipotence brings to the table. In essence this means upwards of 70 playable fighters combined from both the Dynasty and Samurai games, and a character select screen more complex than the average mathematics degree.

Each character is classified as power, technical or speed
Combining all three can be beneficial

In order to make a little more sense of the insane amount of protagonists available, Koei have split the main storyline up into four different factions comprising of Wu, Wei and Shu for Dynasty, and one group for the Samurai class. Each section of the storyline contains separate missions, unlockable weapon upgrades and warriors, but they all essentially end up at the same boss fight against the king himself. None of the sections are linked in any manner, which means that the main campaign soon becomes a war of attrition against the traditionally mind-numbingly dull combat. Hammering enemies with the two standard attack buttons and chaining kills may be satisfying for a little while, but over the course of four seperate campaigns it really does get to the stage of wondering exactly what you've been doing for the last few days, and whether to take up a new hobby.

That isn't to say that Orochi doesnt have its high points or contain the occasional tweak to the formula. The main new play mechanic for this release is the ability to take a party of three combatants into any scenario, instead of the usual solo protagonist. Characters can be switched on the fly with either of the trigger buttons, allowing for some nimble attack chaining and musou attack combination opportunities. Whilst it hardly enlivens the series, the ability to choose and level up any three characters from the huge campaign roster certainly serves to prolong the action. Series stalwarts will also notice that your mount can now be called from anywhere on the battlefield, and by any character. Whilst only having a minor impact on play, cutting down the amount of time needed to get from point A to point B can become a godsend at times, and is certainly a case of Koei listening to feedback in a positive manner.

Of course none of the problems mentioned above would matter if the series were to be given a proper next-generation reboot, but unfortunately Orochi only marks the latest development of years old technology. The 360 version in particular simply looks terrible and can be difficult to tell apart from the PS2 version at a glance, with slightly sharper texturing and an increase in resolution being the only discernible difference. The lack of any online support whatsoever also serves to annoy, with the untapped potential of a Warriors game again going unanswered. The usual depth of offline modes are of course ever-present, but a complete lack of any online functionality in this day and age cannot be underestimated.

Colourful attacks are all the rage, as per usual

A very small section of the character select screen

However, in many ways Orochi is simply preaching to the converted. Regardless of the faults and the lack of any type of technological or artistic progression, this is simply a game which will be loved and hated in equal measure. If you've played and enjoyed any Dynasty or Samurai Warriors title in the past, I canít help but recommend it. If you haven't, it'd be wise to hang around until Koei finally decides to update the formula. Perhaps then we'd get the game that Ninety-Nine Nights promised, but failed to deliver. Orochi however, definitely isn't it.

Top Game Moment:
Chaining together three Musou attacks and clearing out a screenful of enemies in a matter of seconds.

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