After reviewing Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn a month ago, I was convinced that this was one franchise I would never fully appreciate. While I enjoyed some of the robot action, the core gameplay was far too repetitive for my taste. The whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth, and I had no interest in going back for another helping. But while I may have been done with Dynasty Warriors, Koei's long-running action franchise was not done with me.
A funny thing happened to me as I began working my way through the convoluted story of Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate. Instead of rolling my eyes at the button-mashing play mechanics, I started to understand what people saw in this series. With so many characters to choose from and an over-the-top story that involved both time travel and Ninja Gaiden's Ryu Hayabusa, Dynasty Warriors won me over.
In case you haven't figured it out by now, I'm not a Dynasty Warriors expert. I've played bits and pieces of the games over the years, but Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is only the second game I've put a substantial amount of time into. In fact, I was so much of a novice that I wasn't even aware that this specific offshoot is a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. As it turns out, this is an electrifying pairing, and before I knew it, I was hooked on this simple hack and slash action game.
It didn't matter that I hadn't played through the first two Warriors Orochi entries, because the game throws me into an epic battle against a monstrous hydra. With so much death and destruction happening all around me, there was no time to worry about backstories. Unfortunately, the gigantic hydra was too much for my small army and we had to retreat.
What should have been a tragic defeat was turned into something intriguing when a mysterious woman tells our heroes that they need to go back in time to form a powerful army to take on this evil menace. And wouldn't you know, that's exactly what we do. In a conceit that probably don't make any sense to the continuity of either series, we're thrown across time to help allies, make new friends and collect more than 100 fighters for your cause. As a fan of time travel fiction, I was on board right from the start.
As great as the gimmick is, it doesn't change the fact that you're largely doing the same things in every level. Each battle takes place in a large, intricate play field. It's up to you to race around the stage keeping your friends safe and killing the army leaders to open gates and advance the story. If you've played any other game in this series, you'll likely know exactly what to expect from the mission structure.
To make these repetitive stages more interesting, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate lets players assemble a three-person team to take into battle. These can be any of the characters from the game's enormous roster, each with their own unique weapon and set of attacks. And best of all, player can switch between these three characters at a moment's notice, giving the game some much need variety.
I would be lying if I said I played as all 145 characters, but the several dozen I put time into were all incredibly unique and satisfying. Although none of the characters were particularly deep, each offered enough special attacks and combos to keep the combat interesting. Not every warrior is good for all occasions, and a lot of the fun comes in finding which characters fit your play style. Once you've found the perfect pairing, your three-person team is nearly unstoppable.
I never realized how big of a difference weapons would make in a game like this. Even though Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn featured a lot of different guns and missiles, the action never felt all that different from one mission to the next. But that's not the case in Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate. Making your way through the angry mob with a giant battle axe is demonstrably different than battling everybody with a knife or small sword. And yet, the game offers enough incentive to get you to try both types of weapons.
It was at this moment that I realized I hadn't been giving the franchise enough credit. Up until this point I had largely written the series off as a mindless button masher, measuring its worth based solely on the complexity of its play mechanics. Once I was able to let go of this metric, I discovered that the true depth is in the large variety of characters and weapons. The fun is in playing as a bunch of different warriors and leveling them up, constantly earning new weapons and items.
That said, it wouldn't hurt to make the missions a little more varied. Far too many stages can be boiled down to killing leaders, taking over parts of map and making sure your allies aren't killed in battle. Although I had just gone through the Gundam spin-off, I still wasn't prepared for how chaotic this game would be right off the bat. With so many armies on the map, it's sometimes difficult to figure out what you're supposed to be paying attention to. It's frustrating to lose a battle because you couldn't locate an injured friend, especially when that means starting the whole mission over again.
Aside from a complete lack of checkpoints, a large part of the problem involves the woefully inadequate map. Because there are literally thousands of soldiers on the battle field at any given time, I found the standard overview map to lack enough details. It's even worse when you zoom in, only to find a map that is of absolutely no use in any situation. The only way to get the information I needed was to push the "start" button and use the map in the pause menu. Given how many sequels, spin-offs and re-releases this series has seen, I'm surprised Koei is still having problems getting the map right.
Even after I came to grips with the on-screen map, my shock continued to linger. There are so many design decisions in Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate that feel like they come straight out of the PlayStation 2 era. As much as I loved collecting 145 characters, I was surprised that the experience wasn't polished. It was especially overwhelming for somebody brand new to not only the Warriors Orochi series, but also proper Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors.
When it comes to the presentation, this is the best the series has looked on the PS Vita. Compared to other recent entries, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is much more detailed and everything looks larger. Unfortunately, this seems to come at a price. I was surprised by the draw distance in the portable version. Sometimes you won't see an enemy until they are just a few feet in front of our warriors. The draw distance is also bad on the PlayStation 3, but it's noticeably worse on the Vita.
Understandably, a large part of the appeal of this game comes from pairing up fan favorites from both Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors. As somebody who hasn't put much time into either series, I went in expecting to have no personal attachment to these popular characters. As it turns out, I was wrong. While it's certainly true that I didn't know most of the cast, I was delighted to see faces I recognized, including characters from Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive. For whatever reason, these characters helped ease me into what would have otherwise been a daunting mishmash of new faces.
Speaking of being overwhelmed, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate comes with an awe-inspiring amount of modes. Beyond the time traveling story mode, players will also be able to customize their own missions, battle it out in the duel mode and create the ultimate five-person army in the gauntlet mode. There are even bonus objectives in the different modes, as well as side missions to take on. There is nothing barebones about this re-release.
Although I doubt I'll ever love this series as much as the die-hard fans, I can honestly say that I was given a brand new appreciation for the franchise thanks to Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate. There are a lot of outdated design decisions that I would change and it could probably use a proper next generation reboot, but I was won over by the insane roster of characters and deep modes. There's a lot to like about this game, even if, like me, you're not the typical Dynasty Warriors fan.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.