No More MSG, Please
Everyone has a cheesy indulgence. Some people like Sarah Silverman, despite how blatantly awful I find her comedy; some people adore Spiderman movies despite repetitious lines and schizophrenic pacing; and lots of folks love Harry Potter books despite how bad the prose is. Me, I really like Dynasty Warriors. There, I've admitted it. Give me a schlock action title, and I will give you money. Even with this bias, however, I say clearly to you, oh gentle reader, that you should avoid Warriors Orochi at all costs. If someone holds a gun to your head and demands that you buy the game or be blessed with nine-millimeter aspirin, I suggest you think about how much aspirin you can take.
If you've played one Warriors game, you have played them all. The gameplay boils down to mashing the X button an awful lot, occasionally throwing in a press of the Y button for a change of pace. You don't even really have to look at the screen. This, however, doesn't actually bother me all that much. It's definitely a poor fighting game system, one of the poorest in fact, but it gets the job done well enough.
Let's get the two big conceits of Warriors Orochi out of the way. First off, the storyline. A snake demon named Orochi from Japanese folklore brings the Warring States period of Japan and the Three Kingdoms era of China into one messed up mish-mash world, and takes on all of their time’s greatest warriors at once. Orochi wins, but in a stunning show of incompetence, kills none of the heroes. And so, there lies the great, cheesy excuse for Tadakatsu Honda and Lu Bu to fight, for Nobunaga Oda and Cao Cao to pit wits, and for Mitsunari Ishida and Sima Yi to see who can be more of a jackass.
On the game side, the big conceit is that you can take three characters into battle with you. Why? No one really knows. There's no explanation, so you pretty much just have to accept it. More often than not, though, it didn’t change the gameplay much, except on the higher difficulty settings. Walking around with both a crowd clearer and an officer assassin is nice but not terribly important. The one significant reason to change characters is to regenerate musou, your character’s special meter, as you no longer regain it in battle by hitting people. However, peons still drop musou-restoring power-ups, so in effect, you almost never need to change characters.
There are a few moments when switching characters is valuable. The first is when you're fighting a horde of enemies at once. Since they will mob you and stab you with pointy objects until you have the good fortune to fall to the ground, you'll get reasonably scratched up for once – generally not enough to kill you, but enough to make you notice. So you'll switch out one character, bash away with the next for a while, and then switch again when that character gets roughed up. By the third switch, however, the challenge dissipates, and you'll just wrap things up with your third character and carry on. The second instance is when you're fighting Orochi, who is clearly meant to be the Dynasty Warriors boss to end all Dynasty Warriors bosses. He makes Lu Bu look weak, and he makes Pang Tong's long-range musou attack look short-range. He turns invulnerable on the first attack of his combo, and most of his charge attacks damages everyone around him within two pike lengths. But once you start switching characters, Orochi is as manageable as a common garden snake.
The graphics are still PS2 era, just with more men wandering around on screen. This is hardly inspiring, especially when it causes the 360 to slow… down… As much as I would love to make a low-blow remark, I can't summon the energy. I'm just plain disappointed. This is the third installment of the Warriors series on the 360, and it still performs poorly. Patience has its limits.
And you'll need a great deal of that to make it through the game if you're a rabid completionist. The game is still mind-numbingly easy, but unlike previous incarnations of the series that have had the common courtesy to not make your battle leader a two-pound weakling with smashed eggs for brains, Warriors Orochi blesses you with the most boneheaded leaders imaginable. You will be jamming the X button, murdering thousands of nameless Chinese and Japanese peasants, when suddenly your noble leader will die…
At the hands of nameless Chinese and Japanese peasants.
While his morale bar is full, and the opposing force's is empty.
On easy difficulty.
So you say to yourself, “Oh, well, I'll just put the battle leader in my party. That way, he won't die 'cause I don't flail onto pikes for fun.” Nope, sorry. The game subs some rube into the battle leader position in that character's stead, forcing you to live with its stupidity. The game is not hard; it just punishes you for playing it.
If you've played previous games in the franchise, you know that the voice acting is generally terrible. Nearly every character sounds like they were acted by hobos pulled off the street. Warriors Orochi brings the series to a new low, with many voices just sounding wrong. Moreover, the music is pretty generic wanna-be 80's fantasy movie metal. “Bad-ass Chinese kung fu master, squealing guitars, ROOOOOCK!” Those would be the lyrics if the music had any. Be thankful it doesn't.
Another thing that's blatantly wrong is the severe lack of new content. Not only is the game bereft of any officer creation mode as previous titles have had (Sorry, Greg, no MAN-DRESS for this one!) but there's really nothing outside of story mode. Unlike past iterations of the series, free mode in Warriors Orochi won't let you play battles from the other side, and only battles from story mode are on the list. So really, you're just playing story mode battles over, and electing to jump through about three more menus than you would just by going to story mode. That's no gouda!
The saddest thing about the game, however, is that it simply has not changed. Warriors Orochi is the same game you played back in 2001. Sure, some new characters and little adjustments have broken the mold, but this far into the “next generation”, it's hard to take an offering like Warriors Orochi seriously. The gameplay is still repetitive, with the large-scale warfare more a backdrop for arcadey brawler action than anything else. And worse, without the historical context to distract from the cheese inherent to the franchise, it becomes impossible to ignore the game's numerous flaws.
Despite the very fertile ground present for Warriors Orochi to become a functioning medieval warfare simulation, the Warriors series stays locked into a money-grubbing trend of shoveling marginally iterated titles onto consumer shelves. While it was easy to forgive the series' limitations on the PS2, it is simple laziness at this point.
Do not play Warriors Orochi. You'll be in desperate need of high-caliber pain-killers to stomach all that cheese.