Delving into Musou: Warriors Orochi

Regular readers will know that, for a little while now, I’ve been posting videos of my experiences with Warriors Orochi. So I figured it was probably time I wrote about it!

This realisation comes at a good time, as although I’m a significant distance away from beating the game — and I would actually like to try and “beat” it, at least in terms of completing all the missions on Normal once — I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit about how the game as a whole works.

It turns out that despite its apparently simple structure, Warriors Orochi has a formidably addictive metagame. So let’s look into where this game’s long-term appeal comes from.

For the unfamiliar, Warriors Orochi is a spinoff of both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors games from Omega Force. The setup for the game is that Serpent King Orochi (of Japanese mythology fame), seemingly banished from polite society (and indeed our dimension) and consequently rather bored with his present existence outside of conventional time and space, decides to use his dark powers to pit two eras of the most legendarily powerful warriors from history against one another: the fighters of the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history and, from a thousand years later, the samurai of Sengoku-era feudal Japan. Some of the warriors joined Orochi’s forces, lured by his ability to take advantage of people’s innate greed and darkness; others decided to stand up to him, push back against the situation in which they found themselves and try to find a way back to the “real” world.

In practice, what this means is that each of the three kingdoms from Dynasty Warriors along with the Samurai Warriors gang have their own campaign to work through, consisting of eight main scenarios and seven optional side stories. Unlike other Warriors games, there are no complementary game modes; you can either play the missions as part of the story in order to progress and unlock new challenges or characters, or you can play them in Free Mode to use any unlocked character on any mission, even if it doesn’t make any sense narratively.

The roster of playable characters in the game is initially small, with new additions added by progressing through each of the stories. In total, there are 79 characters, and although they are organised by “kingdom” in the character select screen, the nature of the narrative often sees unlikely allies working alongside one another, meaning that some of the Dynasty Warriors characters are unlocked by playing the Samurai campaign, and vice-versa. There are also a few characters unique to Warriors Orochi (albeit still drawn from established mythology) on offer, though these are very much in the minority; later installments in the series made a much bigger deal of “guest” characters, even going so far as to incorporate cast members from other Koei Tecmo franchises such as Atelier and Ninja Gaiden.

Within the actual battles themselves, the core mechanics are a little simplified from the game’s contemporary Dynasty and Samurai Warriors counterparts in some ways — you can’t use ranged attacks, for example. However, this is counterbalanced by the fact that the game is designed for you to take three characters into the fray at once; these operate in a “tag team” format, with inactive characters regenerating health and Musou in the background, while the currently active character is able to gain experience and unlock abilities through combat. More on that in a moment.

Each battle tends to unfold as a sequence of scripted events on an open map — there’s no explicit “base capturing” mechanics as in Hyrule Warriors or other later installments in the series. However, this isn’t to say missions are strictly linear; in fact, in most cases, there are several routes to success, often forcing the player to choose between a more roundabout but safer path, or a combat-heavy, enemy-filled route that will be more direct but significantly more dangerous.

The game doesn’t make side missions as explicit as in the Samurai Warriors series, but in many cases things occur during battle that can make things easier or more challenging for yourself according to whether you bother to deal with them in a timely fashion. For example, in one scenario, enemy forces set part of the map on fire; successfully protecting those attempting to douse the blaze makes getting around much easier, but failing to do so doesn’t cause you to be defeated — it just means you’ll have to find a better way around.

While the moment-to-moment gameplay of hacking and slashing your way through hundreds of foes is just as satisfying in Warriors Orochi as it is in the rest of the series as a whole, the core appeal here is the detailed progression system, which has numerous layers to it.

Firstly and most simply, each playable character has an experience level. Experience is gained by defeating enemies, with significantly larger chunks of experience gained by defeating officers. Inactive combatants don’t gain experience passively, however, so to keep your team levelled you’ll probably want to switch out every so often to give everyone a bit of time in the limelight.

Levelling up increases the characters base statistics, which include their maximum hit points (represented by a growing green bar), maximum Musou (allowing them to perform special attacks and powerful Musou moves), attack and defense power and speed. The higher a character’s level is, the harder they hit and the more punishment they can take. Pretty simple.

A warrior’s offensive capabilities are further enhanced by their weapons. Each character has four possible tiers of weapons to obtain, but not all weapons of the same tier are alike thanks to their attached abilities and, occasionally, modifiers to their base attack power. Weapons can be “fused” together using “Growth Points” earned through successful missions; this process allows you to not only add a bonus to the weapon’s base strength, but also add new skill slots, attach new skills or power up existing skills.

The skills available for weapons range from simple increases to damage output to elemental affinities, which have various different effects when the character performs certain strong attacks. Fire element attacks, for example, cause damage over time as the target burns, while Bolt elements have a “chain lightning” effect, spreading to other nearby targets. You can also add useful effects such as the ability to drain life or Musou from enemies with successful attacks, allowing you to build your various characters according to how you like to play.

There’s also a “global” system in place called Team Abilities, which is probably where the meat of the game’s progression comes from — as well as plenty of incentive to play as a variety of characters. Team Abilities are essentially passive bonuses to various statistics, up to seven of which can be active at a time. These can be simple increases to all characters’ base stats, improvements in the effectiveness of specific types of characters, increases to the rate at which characters gain experience or improvements to specific, situational abilities such as mounted combat or Musou attacks.

The crucial thing about Abilities is that they stack up to twenty times in most cases; if, for example, you unlock the experience-boosting “Acclaim” skill with multiple characters, the bonus to experience gain will be significantly more than if you had done this with just a single character. Consequently, most Warriors Orochi veterans recommend unlocking at least a few levels of Acclaim as quickly as possible; it helps make grinding up new characters to a viable level significantly less time-consuming!

To unlock an ability, you must meet the character’s conditions for that ability and clear the mission in which you met the conditions. This means it’s possible to unlock up to three abilities in a single scenario with proper planning. There are also no restrictions on what combination of mission and difficulty you use to unlock abilities, so it’s worth figuring out a short, simple mission you can clear quickly (the first Samurai mission, for example, can be cleared in about six or seven minutes without too much difficulty), then romp through it a few times in Free Mode on Easy difficulty and enjoy the fruits of your grinding as you return to progressing through the story.

The conditions you’ll be expected to meet range from the simple — “defeat 70 enemies” — to the more complex and conditional, such as “defeat 180 enemies, including 4 officers, while not allowing your health to drop below 50% and without using any attacks that consume your Musou bar”. Each playable character has four abilities to unlock, with their third and fourth generally following either the more complex example above, or requiring an objective to be accomplished within a set period after the start of the battle.

Let’s be clear here: these progression mechanics elevate Warriors Orochi from a satisfying hack-and-slash game with a varied cast of characters to dangerously addictive digital crack — mostly because the abilities are fun to unlock, provide incentive to use a variety of different characters rather than simply sticking with your “main”… and, more importantly, they actually provide a noticeable, tangible benefit to your experience. Even a single level of an ability makes a difference; four or five makes a big difference, and while I’m yet to fully stack any up to the full twenty, I’m looking forward to the obscene benefits doing so will offer, particularly when it comes to things like experience gain.

The other interesting side effect of all this is that if you’re paying attention to unlocking abilities with the characters you have available at any given moment, you can potentially make progressing through subsequent story routes much easier. At the time of writing, I only have a couple of Samurai story missions left to go, but I have Acclaim up to its fifth level, which will mean when I move on to the Wei, Wu or Shu stories, characters will progress significantly quicker. And the more characters I unlock through the other story routes, the more I’ll be able to accelerate my progress further. This is the sort of thing I get excited about in this kind of game.

Anyway, that’s Warriors Orochi. If you’d like to see more — much more — of this game, be sure to check out the weekly Warriors Wednesday videos, in which I stumble my way through each mission figuring out what to do. And eventually we might even get on to the sequels!

More about Warriors Orochi

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