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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: Warriors All-Stars (Sony PlayStation 4)

Warriors All-Stars review

Review by Matt S.

Where the hell is Lady Sun, Koei Tecmo? Or Oichi, Meruru, Casty from Ar Nosurge, Firis, one of the girls from Blue Reflection, and any number of my other favourite characters? This game is terrible!

I jest, of course. Warriors All-Stars actually has a stellar cast, and I’m happy to say upfront that it’s my favourite Warriors game that has ever been produced. It’s rare that Koei Tecmo produces a game that I don’t like, and generally speaking I like the games in great part because I love the characters. So the idea of bringing together heroes from all the company’s various IPs into one giant mash-up was always going to appeal to me on a very deep level. Even putting aside the many licensed games that Koei works on, the characters of which clearly weren’t available (so, no Arslan or Guts from Berserk, sadly), it’s a testament to the sheer depth of Koei’s IP that a roster of close to 30 feels thin. But what is there is delightful, on every level.

Warriors All-Stars brings together characters from the following franchises: Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Toukiden, Dead or Alive, Deception, Atelier, Nioh, as well as a couple of incidentals that either haven’t been localised into English (Koei runs some popular dating games in Japan for ladies that it hasn’t seen fit to localise yet), or are truly obscure now – Opoona and Nobunyaga make an appearance, for example. As you can probably assume given the links between these franchises are almost non-existent, the plot that has been built into Warriors All-Stars to explain how they're all together is utterly nonsense; basically they’re all summoned into a fantasy world to help out a fox-faced noble take the throne, and battle others that have the same idea and their own team of heroes.

Warriors game on PlayStation 4

But, while it’s nonsense, the way that each major battle focuses in on one or two different characters does allow Koei to highlight their personalities, and that’s all that’s really important. For characters from franchises who had previously had minimal backstory, this has been an opportunity to get a better sense of them. Marie Rose and Honoka from Dead or Alive 5, for example, came as roster additions only after the original release of the initial game, and so had a minimal role in the broader plot as a result. Their role in Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 following that was simply to look gorgeous while wearing their bikinis. This is the first time that either character has had a core role in an actual plot, and I quite appreciated that. I also liked the opportunity to get to know some of the characters from Koei’s Japan-only franchises for the first time. Darius from Harukanaru Toki no Naka de, especially, is a character I found immediately interesting. And of the other characters, well, I love most of them, so another opportunity to bop heads with Arnice or Sophie, while listening to them talk in character, was most welcome indeed.

Warriors All-Stars, as a love letter to fans of everything Koei Tecmo, is also quite delightful in the little references that it throws in along the way for the most committed fans. Anyone who has played enough Atelier games, for example, knows that characters have a weird (and completely unexplained) habit of saying “taru!” (barrel!) every time they see a barrel. A few years ago I was actually talking to the producer of the series about this and, yes, Gust, the developer of the Atelier series, is quite aware that people actively look forward to seeing how each character exclaims “taru!” when he or she spots a barrel.

So in Warriors All-Stars, in the main hub between battles, there is, of course, a barrel just sitting there. And every single character has a different way of saying “taru!”. Nobunyaga says it with such complete disdain, which would sound sinister if it was Nobunaga Oda, and not a cute cat with Nobunaga’s voice. Marie Rose, meanwhile is so utterly cute about it, and can Koei please for the love of God give her the lead in her own game next. Most amusing of all, though, is William from Nioh. Good ol’ Bill actually speaks English in a world where all the other characters speak Japanese. That’s in keeping with his character from Nioh itself. But when he sees a barrel, he breaks out the most ridiculously deadpan “taru,” complete with his thick Irish accent. Yes this barrel nonsense sounds like a tiny, little, silly thing, but as a fan of Koei stuff and I giggled stupidly as I checked each and every character’s “taru” as I unlocked them.

Koei Tecmo game review

This is fanservice in the best possible sense. I’m not even going to pretend that this game will appeal to people outside of the Koei faithful. It really won’t. Those people could pick up any other Warriors game and enjoy it far more, because the context will make more sense. You don’t need to care who the characters are in a Samurai Warriors game, because the action and history itself is the focus. But Warriors All-Stars is all about the characters. If you don’t know what a Laegrinna or Arnice is, then you’re just not going to care that they’re there taking down Lu Bu one moment before having a hotspring adventure with a Marie Rose the next (oh yes, I’ve had that dream), and then watching a Plachta and Mitsunari Ishida play beach volleyball shortly after. It also won’t matter that after battles you’re winning the same resources that you collect in games like Trinity: Souls of Zill ‘Oll or Ninja Gaiden. It’s just not going to matter to you. But this merging of worlds is delightful for those of us who have spent ungodly amounts of money and time immersing ourselves in Koei worlds in the past, and it’s done with such an eye for detail that you really get a rich sense of the kind of company that Koei has built into one of the most important Japanese developer/publishers out there.

The only companies that even comparable, in terms of the raw value that their franchises hold for fans, is Square Enix (which for some reason refuses to do these cross overs), and Nintendo. Warriors All-Stars is every bit to Koei and its fans what Smash Bros. is to Nintendo.

And that’s why I was surprised at first that the roster actually is slight when compared to other Warriors games. To this day I still break out an older, but similar character mash-up in Warriors Orochi 3, which had a near endless stream of characters to play with. And I really, really wanted to team Lady Sun up with Marie Rose and Meruru when I first hear that Warriors All-Stars was in development. Alas, that was not to be. But that very short moment of disappointment quickly faded, because I realised that in Warriors All-Stars ever character has a very distinct fighting style, whereas in Warriors Orochi 3 they generally all behaved similarly. On the higher difficulty settings it’s important to actually understand how each character strings combos together, and then optimise those attack patterns. Warriors games are always derided for being “button mashers” but I defy anyone to try to use the same button presses with the heavy, slow William as you’d use for the nimble Marie Rose, or the range-orientated Nobunyaga. It just can’t be done.

Koei Warriors game review

There are characters that are what you’d called “overpowered.” Plachta is a demon in battle, for example, and I certainly found the game fundamentally easier with her. But that’s the beauty of the game not having a multiplayer focus – balance between characters doesn’t matter. What’s important is that if you play well and you can get through the game with any character, and I certainly found the challenge of mastering some of the less effective characters enjoyable. What they all share is visually entertaining super attacks and plenty of personality in their quips as the battles progress.

What is slightly more disappointing is the limited character customisation. Coming from Spirit of Sanada, which was nearly a JRPG in how you could develop characters, customisation in Warriors All-Stars doesn’t extend far past equipping “cards” which are awarded at the end of battles and can upgrade various statistics and abilities of each character. There’s some strategy in how limited these cards can be. There are a lot of different power up options, but only room on a card for a tiny few of them. So you do need to be really strategic about how you merge them together between battles to power them up. But then, that is a system that we’ve seen in plenty of Warriors games now, and that is something I’m getting tired of, as a die hard fan of the genre.

What’s more interesting is the way you can take four allies into battle with you. They’ll fight on their own volition for the most part, but you can also call on them to perform super attacks, or alternatively, pair briefly with you to unleash devastating combos on enemies. Each character has their own version of support, and mixing and matching an optimal team, and then understanding how to best make use of those abilities is a fun learning curve.

Warriors on PS4 review

As with all Warriors games, the basic enemies are distractions, to the point that you’ll spend most of your time ignoring them altogether. Enemy heroes are far tougher and you’ll need to make good use of every resource you’re got available to you to push through them. Additionally, battlefields have “bases” that you need to capture by defeating a certain number of enemies so the “commander” appears. Knock him out and the base changes to your side. These bases have a variety of effects, but it must be said that they’re minor, and tend to be important locations more because that’s where the missions and boss enemies tend to be than there being any strategic impetus for capturing them. Some may find the flow of levels to be overly simple, especially when compared to the likes of Arslan or the Empires sub-series, but I’m fine with it, since the game’s about the heroes anyway, so Koei’s done the right thing in keeping you on the move to these highlights.

Warriors All-Stars is a gorgeous game. Enemies themselves are delightful, having been pulled from the various franchise themselves. Bopping the jelly-like punis in the Atelier series has always been a delight. Now you do it on a mass scale. The cute-yet-sinister toy soldiers from the Nights of Azure games is another highlight. The levels are also taken from the franchises; you’ll be battling it out on Zach’s beach from Dead or Alive one moment before invading a castle straight from Nioh the next. The level designs are, again, nothing we haven’t already seen in Warriors games, but seeing those designed dressed up as fanservice for people who have played the games they’re based on is a thrill.

Warriors All-Stars is a delight. It’s explicitly a love letter to the Koei Tecmo faithful, and it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. Does this mean it’s for everyone? No. Not even close. I haven’t played a Warriors game that assumes knowledge of the base material from which the game comes from for quite some time. But that was always going to be the case and those fans that this game is designed for will know what they need to. So the real question is whether Koei Tecmo fans would like a Warriors game – Koei’s most enduring approach to game design – that pulls beloved characters from almost all of their favourite franchises together?

PlayStation 4 game review

The answer to that is: “Of course they will.”



- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld


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Review: Warriors All-Stars (Sony PlayStation 4)
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