Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend (Xbox One) Review

The latest Koei Tecmo hack and slash game is another anime/manga adaptation, this time Arslan.  Arslan: The Warriors of Legend follows the story of Arslan as he gathers followers new and old to retake his (father's) kingdom.


This isn't necessarily a spoiler, since I won't go into specifics, but the game just kind of ends at a certain point.  I beat a level that had some importance to it, but there was no ultimate resolution.  Then there were credits playing.  I was actually confused, since it certainly wasn't the end of the story.  So I decided to look into it some more.

Near as I can figure, this game is based off the new tv show that is airing in Japan.  They have only finished the first season so far, and the game is basically that.  It doesn't sound like the novels are done either, and they have been going since 1986!  There was a manga series years ago that had its own ending after catching up to the books.  An OAV was also made, but not finished.  So maybe it is very fitting that the game isn't the whole story, since apparently nothing of the Arslan series is complete.

Despite that, the story is really well presented.  A few scenes use the in-game engine, but many look just like anime.  They also transition between them almost seamlessly.  The anime scenes aren't very animated, but it took me awhile to even notice, since they just look so good and at first I thought they were actual animated cut scenes.

Also in a small but wonderful addition, the cut scenes list the controls on the bottom of the screen.  You can thankfully pause the scenes and skip them, instead of just skipping them if you push a button.  Pausing them is really nice since the achievement pop-ups love to cover up the subtitles.  Usually I'll just pause the scene when an achievement pops so I can read the story.  All of the spoken dialogue is in Japanese, so the subtitles do matter.  Unfortunately, it won't pause dialogue in battle, so I missed big chunks of in-battle dialogue because I was either using a Special Move (Musou attack) or concentrating on the fight.

Even though I like the story presentation, it needs some more pronounced stopping points.  Ending cut scenes for one level flow immediately into the opening for the next stage.  It's nice to have a very fluid story with next to no loading, but I would really like a break in between each stage so it is easier to know when to take a break.  It might not bother everyone, but since the story mode runs around 10-12 hours, I don't want to do it all in one sitting.  The lack of loading is really nice for extended sessions, though.

Battles are very much like those of the Warriors games.  You have a normal attack and a power attack that will change depending on when in the combo you use it.  Plus, characters will eventually unlock a few different weapons that you can switch between with the d-pad.  Using each weapon will level up the weapon arts for it.  The weapon arts will change the elements and several of the attacks in it, which is really cool.  It gives each character a lot of variations, even if it feels like most people end up with a bow and a sword as two of their weapons.  I really like the multiple weapons per character.

Having multiple weapons also gives access to weapon chains.  When you do a power attack at the end of your combo, you can press the Unique Skill button (RB in my case) to then switch to your next weapon and get another attack or two.  I didn't feel it was really necessary to do it all the times I used it, but it kills more bad guys so there isn't much reason not to use it.  All characters also possess a Unique Skill, which costs some of the Special meter.  I rarely used them and instead used the meter for the Special attacks, since those are good at clearing out enemies or doing some good damage to a boss or their shield.

Here is a nice battle shot of Farangis because...reasons.
Another new addition is the Mardan Rush, which is activated by using a Rush Zone.  You will then gather troops to you and attack just by moving around.  It is possible to get huge chain combos doing this, and if you reach a special area, will break down a barricade or a group of shield troops.  Pressing the attack button will give you either a charge (mounted rush) or a shockwave attack (phalanx).  There is also an archer variant, where the cursor aims the arrows that are constantly shooting, and the attack button will shoot fire arrows.  Besides being used to open up other parts of the stage, they are pretty fun because of the massive combo you can get.  If you mess up getting to the end zone (which I did more frequently than I would like to admit), the Rush Zone will appear again.

When all is said and done, there are two problems I have with the fighting in the game.  The first is the boss shields.  Powerful enemies have shields that must be broken down before you can damage them.  After they are down for a few seconds, they come back up.  It does make certain enemies harder, and that is probably the point, but to me it's more annoying than interesting.  The other thing I'm not fond of is the ranking.  All missions and stages will rate you upon completion.  It doesn't seem to affect much other than the card rewards, but I'm don't really like constantly being rating on every part of a game.

The skill system in Arslan is unique in that skills are granted from cards that you equip.  There are ranks of cards, from C to S and some special limited cards.  The limited cards can only be obtained on the harder difficulties after performing certain tasks on certain stages.  Each rank costs a number of points to equip.  The spread is pretty wide, with C cards being dirt cheap and S cards being expensive.  A character's card point max is determined by their level, so as you level up you can equip more powerful card combinations, although the max number of cards is always three.  The cards can be sold for some gold, or recycled in groups to get another card.  There are even special sets that grant bonuses.

Besides the Story mode, there is also the requisite Free mode, which allows you to play any unlocked stage with any unlocked character.  This is good for level grinding or just using a character that you like without being restricted by stage.  The best part is the Extra stages that are basically side stories to the main plot that help flesh out some off-screen stuff.  You can also find recipes that cost money and give stat boosts for any Free Mode stage.   An online mode rounds out the game, but I wasn't able to find any matches to try it out.  The split-screen co-op works very much like all other Warriors games: fairly well, but I still wish both players shared the map rather than each have their own.  It really reduces screen clutter.

As mentioned earlier, the story takes about 10-12 hours for its 26 stages.  Other than that, there are some extra stages to do in Free mode.  Sadly, that's about it for the game.  You can obviously still play it after that, to max out the weapons or character levels.  The achievements and trophies for the game will also take a lot of grinding to do, as you have to max all character's weapons, find all the cards and recipe books, plus beat all the stages on the hardest setting.  Even so, it doesn't seem to have as much content as other similar titles.

While I had heard of the Heroic Legend of Arslan, I had not seen it.  Arslan: The Warriors of Legend does a good job in telling the story to someone who hasn't experienced it before.  So don't worry if you have never heard of it or seen anything on it, as that won't hinder your enjoyment of the title.  The seamless presentation is really well done, but I would have liked better breaks between the stages.  While the game is fun and has several unique mechanics, it seems a bit on the low side of content for Koei Tecmo hack and slash title.  Plus the way the story ended just felt off.  I would still recommend fans of the Warriors games and hack and slash games play Arslan: The Warriors of Legend, though, as it is a fun game.

(Review code for Arslan: The Warriors of Legend was provided by the publisher.)

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