I like this game and I don't care who knows it.
The Warriors franchise has gained a bit of a bad rap over the years for being mindless garbage, and I have decided after much consternation that that label is wholly unfair when applied to this game. This is my plea to convince you all of the same. Why? I don't know. Maybe it's that I think this game is truly a product of such extraordinary circumstance that certainly some sort of moon configuration or devil pact must have been involved in order to bring about it's inception, and I need to bring it to your attention. Maybe it's that I'm a big dummy who doesn't know good games and stuff. Most probably, it's because I hope a few more people will find the same sort of enjoyment I did with the best hidden gem I've played this year.
So this game is hack'n'slash Pokemon.
Let me tell you how. There are 132 unique characters to collect. And I mean truly collect. This is done by playing through the extremely extensive story mode as your initially small group of characters convince others to join their cause against the greater evil that is Orochi. There is such a thing as a "rare" character, as some are collected through general play and some take fairly extensive individual effort to unlock. Each warrior levels up to a cap of 70 - and gains new abilities along the way in some instances. You equip them with weapons and items, and you equip the character's themselves three at a time.
The similarity between the Pokemon games and this Warriors game in particular is striking, with only smart and logical changes enacted in order to bridge the genre difference. It really nails that collecting, leveling, customizing addictive brew that Pokemon is so famous for. Only, like, way better. Let me tell you why.
Xiahou Ba is a cooler dude than Pikachu.
Xiahou Ba is a guy with a big sword and a name I can't pronounce. This was my first impression of the fellow as I took him out for a spin after I unlocked him. I liked his AoE heavy combos and massive shockwave attack on his C1 and C4 a lot. His special R1 ability buffs his regularly slow moving swings and makes them uber fast. His musou deals crazy and consistent damage in an AoE around him. He wears a hat in his first costume, and then in his second you get to take his hat off, and he's like a young dude, which is pretty cool.
I liked how he fit into my team, so I kept him around for a decent stretch of the game. As he got to know his fellow officers through the game’s relationship system, I got to know a bit more about him through short conversations at the campsite between them. Walking Dead this is not, but hey, dude is a dude. A real one with a fairly interesting personality and clear and differentiated relationships with many of the other characters in the game.
That is all true with every single one of those 132 characters in the game. They are entirely unique individuals, with different playstyles, strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and personalities - and ties link each of them together in a positively tekken-esque fashion. There are thousands of lines of voiced dialogue locked behind a relationship system that reflects the increasing familiarity between officers. While never exactly weaving an epic tale with each of those relationships, it goes a long way to make the characters flesh and blood. Much like Pokemon, at a certain point I was able to identify these people whose names I was still not sure I'm pronouncing correctly with increasing accuracy.
Ding Feng is more customizable than... Charizard.
Talk to me about “breeding” all you like - The changes you can make on these characters are moreso than giving Blastoise the ability to cast harden. Each character has a set of 4 weapons starred 1-4 and accordingly adjusted in attack damage. On each of those weapons are individual buffs that modify the character - the Reach ability will give your attacks more radius, the Slay ability will give chance to kill instantly as well as do % of max health damage, the Ice ability will give a chance to freeze enemies solid for a short while on charge attacks... The list goes on. Each ability has a level and can go all the way up to 10 in strength.
On top of those 1-4 starred weapons, there are “Big Star” weapons - these start out extremely weak, but grow with your character into being better than most 4 star weapons. The designs here are sometimes silly in an awesome way - warriors that previously throw knives will throw cards, a sword and shield will become a protractor and drafting compass.
That is all complimented by a fusion system that allows transfer of buffs from one weapon to another. A weapon can have up to 8 different buffs on it, which obviously leads to many, many opportunities to customize your warrior - whether it be compensatory for weakness or glass-cannoning by stacking attack buff after attack buff, you can do it.
THEN, even outside of weapons, there are items that further augment your character. One item allows you to block attacks from all directions instead of just in front of you, one item gives you extra protection versus projectiles, one item lets you start a battle riding a goddamned elephant.
That’s all reasons why it excels in it’s Pokemon RPG trappings, but it’s all for 'nought if the gameplay is no fun to game-play. And this is the point where most people will point out, “These games are totally mindless”. I am here to tell you, it’s only a bit mindless.
The combo system is as complex as it gets.
This part right here is what most people hold against these games. It’s widely considered that the Warriors games use one button - square (Or X on Xbox). Well I’m here to tell you that it uses TWO buttons. Aha! Gotcha now!
Yes it’s true - triangle is a button that can be pressed in order to hit things as well. And while a two button combo system doesn’t sound terribly complex, consider the fact that alternating presses of square and triangle yield different results. Square triangle (C2), square square triangle (C3), etc. Crazy, right? This gives each character probably 7 or 8 combo lines plus a special R1 skill plus a musou “ultimate” move that can all be combo’d within themselves.
Now, anyone who has payed cursory attention to the series knows all that, and those are the mechanics that have carried the Warriors games for years. But the thing that this game does so right where it’s predecessors did so wrong is to give you a proper three character party to take out into each battle. This makes the fighting infinitely more complex in that you can swap to another character and continue comboing at any time by hitting R2/L2. It's such a simple change, yet so effective. Certain characters fall naturally into a more supportive role, complementing bruisers with ranged attacks or good escape moves.
Bearing in mind there are 132 characters each with their own unique set of skills that compliment each other’s in interesting ways, this makes assembling your dream team of characters a main pursuit throughout the entire game. All this crazy customizability boils down to is a game that you’re constantly striving to break by powering up your characters to absurd levels. Anyone who enjoys trying to truly overcome a game with a smart application and exploitation of it’s mechanics - this is the game for you.
But... Now, I love this game. I really do. But I cannot in good conscience recommend it without mentioning the singular issue that prevents this game from being the amazing marriage between quantity and quality that this franchise has been brewing for years - and that’s a lack of consistent difficulty. There are 4 difficulty levels that range from dumb easy to insanely difficult, but having static difficulty is simply not enough considering the fact that at a certain point, your favourite warriors that you've leveled up a bunch have to be challenged further. The player has to actively judge and find the challenge level that’s appropriate to the warriors’ levels in order to be significantly and progressively taxed, and it’s a big problem that prevents the game from being as great as it should be. This is really the issue that drives most people off this franchise - whether they know it or not. The game does an occasionally bad job in giving you a good reason to really try hard in making your team all kinds of awesome. That said, when you hit that difficulty curve just right, it’s a fantastic time. The game is nice and challenging and you need to use everything you've got to survive.
Even with over a thousand words here, there's still things I haven't scratched the surface of, like the pretty crazy story, or character proficiencies, or how incredibly addicting it all is. For the sake of relative brevity, I'll just stop now. In the end, this will all appeal greatly to only a fraction of a fraction of you - the game is not for everyone. But hopefully I've given some good empirical evidence as to why some people love these games, and why those people are not bad people. Probably.
If you do plan to pick this up, be aware that it's only available on PSN for the PS3 in the US and only available on disc for the PS3 in EU. It's on disc on 360 all over. Oh, and only in Japanese everywhere - there are no English voice dubs for this game.
I'm impressed you read to the end of this, and I appreciate it!