Developer Omega-Force released its first foray into the world of historical and fantastical hack-and-slash action games for the original PlayStation in 1997. The game, Dynasty Warriors, would find almost immediate success and go on to spawn several sequels, multiple off-shoot series including Warriors Orochi, and one-off titles like the recent Zelda-themed Hyrule Warriors. And all from the same Japanese development studio. In fact, one look at the Omega-Force Wikipedia page and the picture is clear – for the past couple of decades the studio has lived and breathed nothing but Dynasty Warriors-style experiences. Where large scale battles sit alongside huge casts of playable characters, character-driven stories, and over-the-top action.
Now, with dozens of these games out in the wild one might assume that this review will place Warriors Orochi 4 in the context of this long history, or at the very least within the context of the Warriors Orochi franchise – which blends both Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and fantastical elements like gods and demons. Truth be told this was the first time that I’ve fired up and played an Omega-Force production. After seeing footage and then playing for a few minutes and witnessing the clear ridiculous nature of scoring 1,000-plus hit combos and defeating hordes of enemies in a few strikes – I was beginning to formulate an opinion with the words “shallow”, “repetitive”, and “weird” floating around.
And then something strange happened, in the sense that I learned something about myself. Flashy visuals, fast-paced repetition, hundreds of not-very-well animated characters running around the screen, over-the-top presentation, Greek gods fighting both historical and fictional Japanese and Chinese figures, an over use of jiggle-physics to recreate large breast movement – yeah, I’m easily entertained. And perhaps, don’t quite possess the discerning taste and refined thirst for quality that I once thought.
Warriors Orochi 4 is fun, pure and simple. A blast even. Something that I’ve actively looked forward to playing over several other games featuring large open-worlds filled with deep character customisation, branching storylines, fancy weather effects, online events and activities, and go-anywhere and do-anything design. Perhaps it’s simple respite ahead of the release of Rockstar’s impending Western Epic 2, but this is the sort of game that lives up to – in the best possible way – the term mindless fun. Which is an apt description, because it was well over two-hours into playing Warriors Orichi 4 before I noticed each character you control has a health bar. Magic and charge bars sure, that stuff fuels the insane combos and on-screen mayhem, but playing Warriors Orochi 4 is an exercise in never taking any sort of noticeable damage. Or dying.
Spam those attacks, swap out characters to chain combos, call in screen-filling supers ala Street Fighter, and use magic to send the combo meter into a frenzy. Magic and over-the-top abilities are par for the course here with combat realism all but a thing of myth and legend, in the same way the story blends countless characters and timelines and weird bracelets made from Medusa’s hair that Zeus isn’t too happy about being set loose. Combat is a simple handful of buttons affair, and the difficulty is non-existent at least on Normal mode. Depth and variety come from the deep bench of playable characters that are added to your roster after each stage of the story is completed – and learning to approach each stage as a racing game and score an S Rank.
In Warriors Orochi 4 there are 170 playable characters – each with their own look and variation on a theme fighting style. Of course, a lot of them share the same magic abilities but switching out characters between levels adds a level of variety absent in the core level-design and how each stage plays out. Almost identically by the way. Each character is also fully voiced and part of the overall story – which is surprisingly complex, convoluted, and, well, impressive in its excess. There’s a very anime-like quality to the presentation that feels like its own thing – something that no doubt has been fine tuned over countless Warriors-like games over the years. Characters talk amongst themselves endlessly too, but with Japanese voices and English subtitles it’s all but impossible to keep abreast of in-mission narrative beats. Thanks to the relentless pace of the action.
In the end though after, say, 15 or stages or varying length, the action does begin to feel a little repetitive with design that feels decidedly old-school thanks to the complete absence of environmental interaction and movement that is as floaty as watching synchronised figure skating with hundreds of skaters instead of two. But yeah, Warriors Orochi 4 is still a lot of fun to play. A blast even.