Copy and Paste
When designing a game, out of the slew of decisions you have to make, one of the most basic comes at the very beginning: do you create something brand new, or stick to a proven formula? The former comes with a lot of risk. Creating something new means relying on your own creativity, coming up with designs or engines that have never been done before, and releasing an unproven final product to an audience that may not actually enjoy it. So, if a creator wants to play it safe, they may opt for the latter.
Sticking to a formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean you give up all ability to be creative with it. Many classic JRPGs used the same basic engine with some tweaks here and there, but still created their own unique stories and worlds, fending off the feeling that you’re just playing the same thing over and over. FPS titles are often the same way – if you’ve played one well, you can pretty much play them all at least competently, and there’s opportunity for uniqueness in weapons, environments, and occasionally storyline.
Some games, though, are famous for sticking near-completely to a single formula, with very little to nothing changed between titles. Those small bits that can be unique can feel that they have no effect at all, with recent releases feeling like they’re nothing more than reskins of former titles. Sports titles are often seen as a major offender, and the Assassins Creed series receives complaints along these lines as well.
There is one series, though, that stands out as being famous for these reskinned formulas: the Warriors games from Koei Tecmo. The series has a countless number of entries and, aside from a couple of special cases, nearly all of them play exactly the same as each other, just with different graphical presentations. The series remains popular enough for the developers to continue pumping them out, but the question stands – how long can you keep putting out the same game before your audience begins to get bored with it?
Developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo, Warriors All-Stars was released on August 29th, 2017, for PS4 and PC via Steam. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Crossovers with Cats
Warriors All-Stars takes place in a world populated by anthropomorphic cat-like creatures. After the death of a country’s king, a magical spring that the country relies on for sustenance begins to dry up. In hopes to revive it, the descendants of the late king use the last of the spring’s power to summon heroes from other worlds (read: various Koei Tecmo properties) to assist. At the same time, these descendants begin a battle against each other to figure out who will ascend to the throne, using these same summoned heroes to fight for them.
For a company that publishes games in all kinds of settings, from historical to fantasy, the world of All-Stars still feels incredibly out of place. This setting doesn’t feel fleshed out in the slightest, seemingly only created as neutral ground for the game’s character crossover to take place. The original characters created for this game also come across as flat. The various crossover characters don’t fair much better, with their personalities relying on making constant references to the games they come from.
To be fair, the actual plot doesn’t seem to be the main focus of the writing of All-Stars. Like many other crossover games, there is much more focus on character interaction; how these characters from various properties relate to each other. Much of this interaction takes place during gameplay, rather than in cutscenes, which sounds like a great idea…in theory.
The problem arises from this game being entirely voiced in Japanese, requiring English subtitles. With most interactions taking place vocally in the middle of battle, translated dialogue appears in the lower corner of the screen. Thus, unless you speak Japanese, in order to pay attention to dialogue and plot points, you have to take your attention away from battle to read the subtitles. With the game encouraging you to constantly be on the move or fighting, it is often difficult or near-impossible to find the time to read the story. The few bits that do take place outside of battle often rely on the context of the conversations that happened during gameplay, making even the rather light plot here very difficult to keep up with.
Done it All Before
If you’ve played one, you’ve played them all, and this remains true in All-Stars. All of the basics are here – various light and heavy attack chains, special power attacks built up in an energy gauge, a focus on taking enemy bases to power up your armies, just about everything will be instantly familiar to those with experience in the musou formula.
The game does add in a couple of twists to the usual. For one, you enter battles as a team rather than just a single character. Before each battle, you select a primary character to play as, along with four others to join your team. During battle, you can call upon your teammates to perform special attacks, or to fight alongside you (quite literally – summoning teammates this way locks them in a line, creating a moving wall of death if you summon all of them at once). You also have access to a “rush” attack, which immediately summons hundreds of enemies upon use, and has your teammates appear on the borders of the screen to cheer you on as you mow them down.
Despite the few new mechanics, I still found myself fending off a constant sense of boredom while playing this game. There was the whole feeling that I’ve played this game multiple times before, but compounding it was that All-Stars really feels too easy. I never once fell in battle. Hell, it was rare that my character would even be knocked down to half health. I was able to clear missions rated for six or seven levels above my current characters with ease.
Honestly, I think it’s the aforementioned new mechanics that dropped the difficulty of this game significantly. The “wall of death” formation you can create makes clearing armies from bases a breeze. The rush attack can be an instant win button; in the final battle of the story path I took, I was able to take the final boss to a quarter of his health with a single rush attack…with a character seven levels under the recommendation for the stage.
I will admit, there was one aspect of the game that I did enjoy, and that would be the crossover characters themselves. Each of them has a unique playstyle, incorporating aspects of their original games. Hell, I think Arnice from Nights of Azure plays better here than she did in her original game. Trying out each of the characters as I unlocked them was probably the best part of playing through this game, although the fact that every new character starts at level one is somewhat annoying.
One thing I always have to praise modern Warriors games for is their ability to handle stupid amounts of action on screen with little-to-no slowdown. Such is the case with All-Stars as well – I only encountered a bit of slowdown once, and I was unable to recreate the conditions to see it again. Even during rush mode, with hundreds of enemies on screen and your team’s character models animating on the borders, everything still ran butter smooth.
I wish I could say the actual graphical presentation was interesting, though. While all of the crossover characters retain their artstyles from their original games, creating some interesting clashes, the original designs for this game are rather dull. The anthropomorphic cats look like generic internet fan art, standard cannon fodder enemies look more copy-and-paste than ever, and the battle environments are repetitive to the point that I had to rely on using the in-game mini-map to navigate. There was a point in the game that where I played four missions in a row on the exact same map.
Each of the crossover characters does get a fairly impressive introduction cutscene when you first encounter them. Usually showing off their skills or making a reference to their origin games, these parts are animated well and attractive to the eye.
Like most Warriors games, the background music gets easily lost in all of the chaos happening in game, making it very hard to notice. The voice acting stands out amongst the discord though, which makes sense since, as I mentioned, most of the character development happens via voice-over mid-battle. The performances are definitely a highlight, and probably the only good thing going for this game’s original characters.
Innovate or Fall Behind
Overall, Warriors All-Stars is more of the same, and the Koei Tecmo crossover gimmick really isn’t enough to keep things interesting. I’ve played this game many times before with different skins, and at this point, I’m honestly becoming really bored with it.
Like any other iterative series, Warriors has its faithful followers that will devour every new entry with gusto. However, if Koei Tecmo wants to attract newcomers, I really think they need to start bringing some real innovation to the formula. Something beyond the minor mechanical tweaks in each entry. Something that will actually surprise players, and break the series out of its “fame” for repetitiveness.
All-Stars is still a competently-made game, and fans of the series and Koei Tecmo’s properties will probably find much to enjoy here. Outside of that demographic, though, this game is blindingly mediocre, and hardly worth your time.
~ Final Score: 5/10 ~
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.