By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
BACK in 1997, Dynasty Warriors was released on the PlayStation to much fanfare. Known for developing titles with historical settings, Koei banked on the popularity of weapon-based fighting games to generate a loyal following for what would turn out to be an institution of a series. From Dynasty Warriors 2 onwards, it has thrived on producing worthy additions to the crowd-combat genre, featuring unique twists provided by the immersion of its playable characters in famous Asian conflicts. And so successful has it been that it has spawned six sub-series and numerous independent titles, among them Warriors All-Stars. As the newest addition to the family, the latter shows exactly how much the franchise and, by extension, the company have evolved and changed through the years.
As with Warriors Orochi, Warriors All-Stars showcases characters from Koei’s other highly regarded brands, among them Nioh, Atelier, and Dead or Alive. While this might feel off at first glance, the way the characters and their moves are designed feels completely natural. Each of the 30 characters from 13 different series has his or her own unique fighting style and set of strengths and weaknesses. Regular attacks, special attacks, and musou attacks are well animated, underscoring the level of work that went into each character. Painstaking care has been made to show each as a one-to-one representation of his or her source and not as a cardboard cutout.
Exclusive to Warriors All-Stars are Hero Skills (which allow allied characters to do a series of special moves to assist your character directly in combat) and Rush Stars (which enable allied officers to jump in and attack in tandem with your character). Visually, these look stunning and flashy, and are a sight to behold viewed the first time around, embodying the very type of fan-service giddiness that the game intends you to feel as you watch your beloved characters hack and cleave their way through hordes of enemies. Add the Bravery mechanic, which actively rewards and powers up yours character based on the fulfilment of in-game tasks and enemy takedowns, and it’s clear that Warriors All-Stars wants you to imbibe a more energetic, fast-paced and feel-good experience.
Content-wise, Warriors All-Stars is no slouch; side quests are available for play and the vast world map is sure to add hours of playtime. That said, the stages do tend to look the same after a while, and whereas they were open, varied, and expansive in previous titles, they now take on a more corridor-like and linear design, forcing you to navigate through tighter rooms filled with enemies and thus abandon any semblance of strategy to survive.
Considering that the biggest draw of Warriors All-Stars is its impressive assembly of familiar faces, it can be forgiven for lacking in the story department. Certainly, it commits to form over substance, highlighting polished gameplay and visuals over engrossing plot progression. It does manage to bring all the characters together, and in a reasonable manner, but it largely sets aside narrative expanse; it hints of prophecy and kingship, and overall, side-characters exist to give more expository dialogue, but the core reasons behind turns of events are ultimately irrelevant. To be sure, just about all Warriors games (with the notable exception of Spirit of Sanada) suffer from the same limitations, and Koei Tecmo has creditably never sold its titles as meaningful gray-cell exercises.
If there is any black mark on Warriors All-Stars, it’s derived from Koei Tecmo’s decision to chuck the Free Play mode, a popular option that counted as a series standard going back to Dynasty Warriors 2. No longer can you just run the game to replay any and all missions that you had already finished. Along with a character-unlock system that compels you to commit to one story, it points to a conscious effort to emphasize the title’s pseudo-RPG leanings.
All told, Warriors All-Stars lives up to its premise. It aims for fan service, and it amply delivers. Compared to other releases in the Warriors series, it’s more polished and much smoother to play through even as certain elements have been sacrificed to streamline the gameplay. For fans of Koei Tecmo’s games, and there are legion, it’s a definite buy. Everybody else may want to start with its siblings first.
Video Game Review
• Polished, smooth gameplay
• Outstanding Hero Skills, Rush Stars, and Bravery mechanics
• Numerous missions to play through
• Iconic characters are aplenty
• No Free Mode
• Thin storyline
• Small and linear levels
• Repetitively simple at times