Read the word “Warriors” in any gaming publication and, chances are, it will usually be followed up by another – oversaturation. Where most series would buckle under the constant flow of sequels, spin-offs and ports, this jewel in the Omega Force crown continues to enthrall a sizeable fan base across a growing spread of gaming platforms.
Traditionally, much of the focus has been centred around the developer’s two mainstays, Dynasty Warriors and its newer, slightly altered cousin, Samurai Warriors. However, as the years have gone by, Koei Tecmo has brought an increasing number of licensed Japanese properties into the fold. From One Piece and Gundam to Dragon Quest and Zelda, these venerable titles have been lobbed into the Omega Force machine. It’s a well-oiled contraption and one that continues to pump out game after game with varying degrees of quality.
That said, the acclaimed studio is showing no signs of slowing down as it takes another bite out of Japan’s ceaseless love for all things anime. Sat in the crosshairs this time is a lesser known property – at least here in the west – though one that boasts a fair amount of pedigree. Originating in 1986 as a novel, The Heroic Legend of Arslan has received numerous adaptations, including a recent manga series and anime. Compared to high profile shows like Naruto and One Piece, it definitely calls for a more refined taste, drawing plenty of inspiration from the crusades era.
Going in, all you really need to know is that two kingdoms have gone to war. Caught in the middle is the crown prince, Arslan, whose father falls to a treacherous plot devised by Lusitanians as well as his own retainers. With the kingdom of Pars at stake, Arslan journeys across the surrounding realms, acquiring a ragtag company of heroes as he goes, intent on reclaiming the throne from the elusive Silvermask.
There are some cool characters and memorable set pieces on show, though the narrative can be hard to swallow at times. This is mainly due to the lack of an English dub, worsened by the sluggish pacing of most cutscenes. As we’ve seen in previous Warriors titles, this spills over into gameplay with character dialogue flashing up on an already cluttered screen.
Arslan’s focus on characters means that you’ll usually adopt a few of them when riding into battle, changing whenever the narrative dictates. Although the roster here is smaller than Dynasty Warriors, these playable fighters feel a tad more fleshed out. This is partly due to the game’s unique weapon system, allowing each character to flit between sword, spear, and bow on the battlefield. Attacks with these arms can be chained into destructive combos as well with no two move sets feeling identical.
Still, when push comes to shove, nothing about the Warriors format has changed, really. Aside from feeling slightly more linear, stages are punctuated by rally points used to initiate what is called a Mardan Rush. These are effectively playable set pieces that pull the camera away as you lead an advancing force of soldiers, wrecking everything in your path. They almost feel like bite size chunks of gameplay lifted from another Omega Force title, Bladestorm. Although a bit gimmicky, they succeed in changing the flow of battles while also providing an impressive spectacle for players to watch.
Away from the field, you can consolidate your equipped weapon combos as well skill cards. These pick-ups are semi-random and help to imbue your fighters with stat bonuses (basically substituting items from Dynasty Warriors). The fact that these can be sold and synthesised adds a layer of complexity to the system but it’s not deep or engaging enough to get players hooked on card-hunting.
With a handful of basic modes and the option for two player co-op, there’s a wealth of content to get through. As always, the challenge for Omega Force is keeping the player’s attention despite coiling a chain of repetitive objectives and enemy types around you.
It does look good, however, even though the masses of soldiers beg for for some sense of visual identity. Once again Koei has succeeded in bringing another anime into the third dimension while still retaining its unique aesthetic. The Heroic Legend of Arslan is no different, boasting some awesome character designs and a colour palette that isn’t too vibrant.
For those who love the novels, manga, and television show, this is perhaps the only Arslan game you’ll ever get to play, unless a sequel is already in the works. Based on that fact alone, it’s sure to reel in fans although other players may fail to see the appeal. Tear the anime-patterned wrapper away and what you have is essentially another iteration on the same aging format Omega Force has been peddling for years. In this case it has been slightly altered but not enough to conceal the franchise’s ongoing fatigue as fewer bold ideas are brought to the table.