Have you ever noticed that on a yearly basis there are a bevy of sports games that get released that are only incrementally better than their predecessor and contain minor roster changes? I’m going to let the cat out of the bag; KOEI is bent on pushing their “Warriors” game lineup into the same model. Between Samurai Warriors, Dynasty Warriors, Dynasty Warriors GUNDAM, and their variants (Empires, Xtreme Legends, Hyper) and often with multi-platform releases, it’s hard not bumping into one of these games while scanning through release dates.
The original title, Warriors Orochi, tells the tale of the Serpent King Orochi pulling the mightiest warriors into his realm to prove his might. The sequel tells of Orochi’s defeat and how the visiting forces are settling into their new realm. The problem is, there are still despot rulers, power struggles, and the forces of evil bent on resurrecting the Serpent King.
While I missed out on playing the original, I played the source material for Warriors Orochi 2. You don’t need to look too hard at Dynasty Warriors 5 and Samurai Warriors 2 to find almost all of the moves and characters featured in WO2. There may be differences and they’ve added a few new gameplay modes, but fundementally the game development followed the spirit of the storyline: ripping off the past.
Before we get into this review, I want to point out that unless I indicate Dynasty Warriors 6 (the latest iteration of that series) my comments on the Warriors series speak only to Dynasty Warriors 5, as well as Samurai Warriors 2. I have spent countless hours cheering on Liu Bei and the dragons of Wu, controlling Wei in an effort to wrest power for Cao Cao and keeping the Sun clan from losing footing in Jiang Dong. I have helped bring down Nobunaga Oda and worked to save the world from Kotaro Fuma more than once. I asked to review this title because I wanted to play it- Dynasty Warriors 6 proved that they could breathe life into their old work-horse; does Warriors Orochi 2 carry it further? Let’s find out, shall we?
We’re fast approaching 2009; we’re two years beyond Ninety-Nine Nights(N3) and almost a year after Kingdom under Fire:Circle of Doom(KuF:CoD) have been released. KOEI is still looking like the same tired graphics that hail back to the last-gen engines. If the limitation is that Omega Force is still developing the game for PS2 (which they are) then I have some advice: stop it! If you want a game on that platform, develop for the new gen and then port backwards. They did it with Dynasty Warriors 6, releasing Warriors Orochi 2 after showing us Dynasty Warriors 6 is a misstep in my opinion.
N3 and KuF:CoD show that you can have beautiful graphics and a massive amount of independant enemies swarming to kill you (N3 more than KuF:CoD). The models in both are head and shoulders above WO2; KOEI has put out a next-gen PS2 port through and through. From blocky terrain to low resolution textures to simple models and slowdowns. Yes, I said slowdowns, and even after the release day patch. There were a couple of graphical glitches when I rode up to a gate on horseback and the camera locked itself into a top-down position staring at the top of the archway.
I can tell you that although there was next to no extra efforts put into the visuals (including recycling the maps and adding the occasional lava flow textures), the game is playable and there is nothing that is truly broken. I didn’t get a chance to test the game without the patch so that may be a factor for those who don’t have their console hooked up to the internet; besides that the biggest fault is that all of the visuals are rehashed.
There really isn’t one strong positive about the graphical presentation, and I’m already three paragraphs past my mom’s “…if you don’t have something nice to say…” addage. Let’s move on.
This is not a new game, it’s a mixture between two existing games and we’ve got the audio to prove it. Fire up the game with closed eyes and you won’t be able to distinguish it from the others. The music hasn’t changed in the slightest. It’s the pop/rock samples over traditional chinese (and japanese) music found in the source material, and after a dozen games it’s time to switch it up, folks. Surprise us, perhaps give us one or the other.
The musical score isn’t the only thing left unchanged; battle sounds are identical along with interface noises. The voice acting hasn’t gone anywhere either, so you can expect the same campy dialog and less-than-stellar script.
What’s worse is that other than plot dialog they insist on using some of the exact same sound-bites that were in previous games. Same voice, same inflection, same everything. This was the most obvious copy-and-paste in the game as the same phrases grate on the same nerves, except now you know they’re leftovers and that makes it so much worse.
Since it feels like I’m reviewing a rehashed game, I’m going to start off with the bad. It’s the same button-mash counting game I praised Dynasty Warriors 6 for moving away from. Rather than hammering on the X button, you’re going to count how many times you’ve hit it and then move to hitting the yellow to finish off a major combo. By the end of a 30 minute map, you might just be counting out loud just like the last wedding you were at that forced you to waltz. With the bevy of characters, the combat does vary somewhat, and the moves expand as you level up.
The basic controls are as follows: X to attack, Y for strong attack, B to unleash a flurry of death in something called musou, and A to either jump or (dis)mount horse. There is a block/strafe button, and one to call your horse to you. You control your warrior with the left analog stick and the camera with the right stick. You can also change the zoom level on the map, or pause and get battlefield detail.
None of this is significantly different than any previous version, but just like their incremental features, they have added some good along with all this bad. There are no bodyguards, no affinities or single-officer helpers this time around; instead you go as a 3 person team in which you can switch between officers at any point where you could take an action. This means you can chain together up to three musou attacks. It adds some variety as well; you don’t feel the grind of performing the same moves every time.
Along with the party system they’ve also added a special attack unique to each playable officer which can be triggered when your musou meter is full enough. I found I rarely used these as I’d rather use a full-blown musou attack, but some of them can be a help in beefing up an otherwise weak officer.
Just like the previous iterations, enemies don’t fight together. Instead, like blades of grass, they are mowed down by the methodical gait of your weapon and disappear from the battlefield in some invisible grass-catcher. It’s a wonder standard soldiers even show up for these battles; very rarely have they influenced me in where I want to go. If anything I’d head to the crowd to kill all the enemies whilst my weapon of discerning nature ignores all the friendlies I hit with it and kill only the “red dots” on my map. I’d like to point out that this isn’t just for the most powerful warriors; nay, even the little girls (Xiao Qiao and Da Qiao) can best a legion in less than a minute with no corpses to show for it. Now granted, this is after you’ve leveled them up, and there are five levels of difficulty, so if you want to challenge yourself you can. I found that some of the officers are unbalanced and as such you need to either kill weak soldiers or fight ungodly officers.
Now that you have a team to cycle through, you’re likely to favor the strong ones, right? Wrong. At least Omega Force saw fit to correct the balance issue by assigning three classes (STR, SPD and TEC) to each warrior based on their history in the series and the play styles.
The strength class (STR) characters gain a bonus where their attacks are rarely interrupted even by enemy officers. This allows you to fight through the pain and gain the upper hand regardless if you’re being hit by other people. Their special attack (RB) is generally an area clearing attack.
The speed class (SPD) warriors all get the ability to jump in the air and then by hitting jump again they fly forwards to escape the fray of battle. Their special attack generally consists of a running attack.
The tech class (TEC) offers these underpowered warriors the ability to power themselves up. Some of these officers have fans, guitars or even ball-and-stick games as their primary method of killing, so it’s pretty important to be loading them up with whatever powerups they can get.
The weapons are once again back to the four levels – starting weapon, intermediate, strong and special. As of now I have not collected a special weapon, however I’ve delved into the gameplay enough to get a good idea as to how the weapon system works and have a dozen officers with their level three weapons. Each character can have up to eight weapons in their inventory, and then between battles can merge them to upgrade one existing weapon. There are also treasures for completing certain tasks for most map scenarios, and these are used to create specific item powerups. It gets complicated here and I’m not sure it’s worth rewriting the manual in a review, but suffice it to say that you can either merge weapons or convert unwanted weapons with specific powerups into charms that allow you to do special things. Each weapon can hold up to three of these charms, and there is 20 in all.
These weapon charms work to replace the special item system. For example: one enhancement gives you true musou -the strongest version of that attack – all the time, while it is normally reserved for players who have almost no health. Some of the more basic items (such as improve attack) have been replaced with the ability enhancement system, and those skills stack.
Each playable officer in the game has 3 upgrades available in the course of play that get added to your profile. So if you enter battle there will be a special requirement for that officer to complete a certain goal, e.g. kill 3 officers within the first 10 minutes, and that special ability will be unlocked. If that ability was to improve defense, then that ability is added to your existing list (and stacks) and will be available to equip with any other officer. In a round-about way it shortens the level-grind for players who go and start using new officers; they can carry over the ability with no penalty.
Since I’m on level grinding here, I have to say that Omega Force also put in the ability to take your existing experience points and either merge your weapons (as mentioned above) or put them into another officer to level them up so you don’t need the lowest levels with them. It’s a welcome feature given that for a completist having 90+ warriors is a daunting task.
I am a big fan of the series, even though I’ve grown weary of the repetitive nature. Given that Dynasty Warriors 6 came out and it was better than expected, tossing Warriors Orochi 2 together as a glorified PS2 port onto the 360 was a bad idea. My score is going to reflect this, and I hope it gets the message across.
There are a ton of officers to play, over eighty in all. There are new variants on existing game modes and there are costumes and cutscenes to unlock. Since they’ll likely have a Warriors Orochi 3 within the next 2 years it might take you that long to get all of it done, but I doubt it will hold your interest unless you have someone to play coop with. It’s too bad there was no online cooperative play components to really use the vast number of characters effectively. Just because you can play dream modes and use every character in the main story doesn’t mean that it’s fun.
Given the strong PS2 roots that this game shows, it really is no surprise that there is no online co-op modes, and what’s worse is that the split-screen co-op is hampered by poor code porting and runs slow in really big battles. To take it a step further, if you play co-op story mode both players get the same three officers so there isn’t any real benefit to cutting down the grind time.
I am going to say that if you’ve played some of the older titles and welcome the ability to play both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors characters, this is the best solution, but it does come with the same limitations and only a few minor incremental upgrades.