The Musou series of games developed by Koei Tecmo are an underrated bunch and, despite their technical issues, are largely misunderstood on this side of the world. They’re loved like little else in their native Japan with the likes of Dynasty Warriors and its many spin-offs receiving both critical and commercial success, but over here, well, despite a hardcore contingent that ensures the releases keep coming, this is a series oft derided as little more than a repetitive button masher.
In fairness, you do mash the same buttons quite a bit and fact that each subsequent release does share more than passing resemblance to the original Dynasty Warriors released way back on the PS2 certainly doesn’t help its cause, but years of subtle refinements and a greater degree of tactical nuance than many give it credit for make the Musou series, and Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate in particular, a far more appealing proposition than many would have you believe.
Still, the ridiculous name doesn’t help and neither does the fact that a new Musou release seems to appear every 5 minutes (Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn were both recently released and Samurai Warriors 4 is just around the corner), but fear not as, despite the inclusion of an array of nods and the return of numerous characters from the series’ past, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate might just be the perfect place to start for anyone with a passing interest in the series……or for those looking to get back on the Musou wagon.
Beyond being a crossover between the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warrior franchises, the Orochi series’ commitment to the more mythical side of battle means that not only do you get a good cross section of characters from both series to play as, but you also get to experience a collection of enemies and locations completely untethered to realism or historical accuracy. Yeah, destroying hundreds of soldiers is kinda fun, but it’s nice to have a few mythical beasts thrown in for good measure and last time I checked, nobody ever complained about a game having too many dragon/hydra hybrids…….oh, this game has a dragon/hydra hybrid.
While the ability to play as over 100 different characters from the two series and a handful of additional characters from the likes of Dead or Alive and Atelier will inevitably be a big draw for many, for newcomers, it will most likely be Orochi’s three team combo system that will prove the most appealing aspect of the game. Rather than a handful of different weapons per character, Orochi has you take a team of three into battle, with switching between combatants on the go allowing you to string out long elaborate and visually spectacular combos. Of course, the usual selection of character specific combos and special attacks are all present and accounted for, but there are few things more enjoyable in Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate than ploughing your way through an army of assailants in an unbroken combo using all three team members.
Of course, experimenting with different teams is half the fun (even if some fighters are painfully underpowered), but be warned, getting the best out of Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is an absurdly time consuming experience. Of the 100+ characters unlocked as you progress, each unlocks as a level 1 fighter, meaning that if you wish to add them to your team and not have them suck utter balls, you’ll have to go back to earlier stages and grind for levels and equipment. Some gamers will invariably love this kind of thing, but for me, it meant that despite the allure of newly unlocked characters, I largely stuck with the same cast of three when it came to battle time.
Still, despite this issue, there is no doubting the borderline outrageous amount of content available in Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate. With a huge story mode, tons of playable characters and a wealth of additional modes that include 3-on-3 battles (both online and off), a Gauntlet Mode, that provides dungeon-like stages and Musou Battlefields that allows you to edit stages and post them online, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate offers an almost embarrassment of riches when it comes to its sheer wealth of content.
Yes, the additional modes vary in quality with none offering anywhere near the grandeur of the core Story Mode, but regardless, many will inevitably scoff at the additional content out of hand due to the preconceived idea that this is a series about little more than simplistic combos and brain dead enemies. Ok, so the enemies are pretty stupid, and yes, on the lower difficulty settings, basic combos will usually see you win the day, on the higher difficulty settings though, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate, like the best games in the Musou series, essentially provides an experience in battlefield management. Beyond dealing with the enemies in your immediate vicinity, you’ll be required to put out fires all across the map as you weigh up the benefits of pushing on towards the stage’s big bad and ensuring that your other regiments aren’t defeated in battle and subsequently do a runner. It’s hardly Total War: Rome, but it certainly asks more of you than mindless button mashing.
Despite being the most user-friendly release in the series for quite some time with improved forging capabilities and far superior menus going a long way towards streamlining the experience, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate is still weighed down by many of the long standing issues that have blighted the series for years. Enemies are still bland, locations lack imagination, and despite the additional horsepower of next-gen consoles, is still a relatively ugly game by modern day standards. A handful of poor design choices also hinder the fun, but despite these issues, Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate nonetheless stands as the strongest Musou game in quite some time and is without question the best entry point for those interested in this hugely successful but ultimately polarising series. It still has its faults, and it’s unlikely to win over the haters, but those sitting on the fence might just find themselves converted by Koei Tecmo’s latest.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.