Review: Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate

23 Mar 2020

Ahh, Koei Tecmo’s Warriors franchise. Ever since Hyrule Warriors (my first Warriors game) I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for you. While you don’t change a whole lot from one iteration to the next (most of the time), you never fail to deliver a great way to kill a few hours bashing through hordes of mook fighters. So how could I pass up the chance to review another one – or more specifically, the expansion to one?

We’re not here to review Warriors Orochi 4 (known as Warriors Orochi 3 in Japan; In the US, Warriors Orochi 2 was actually the expansion to the first game), we’re here for the Ultimate expansion. So, let me step away for a bit and beat the original game first.

(Many, many hours later….)

OK, I’m back. So let’s take a look at what they added and decide just how ultimate they made the game.

Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate was released on February 14, 2020 for Nintendo Switch, PS4. Xbox One and Steam, the latter of which was played for this review.

Worlds Collide

For the uninitiated, the Warrors Orochi games are a mash-up between the Samurai Warriors (based on feudal Japan) and Dynasty Warriors (based on the three kingdoms era of China) franchises, with a dose of both Greek and Norse mythology thrown into the mix. Unlike the franchises it brought together, Orochi created its own storyline based on all of these things, and there is apparently continuity across the four (really three) titles. Fortunately, for those who haven’t played the previous games, Warriors Orochi 4 does include a summary of the past games’ storylines in its menus.

The gist of the story in the fourth game starts with armies from China and from Japan, who are fighting separate battles in their respective places and times, suddenly being enveloped in an unnatural mist, and when it clears, both armies find themselves in an entirely new and unfamiliar world (Apparently brought there by Zeus, father of gods in Olympus). They clash with each other a bit before a mysterious figure (Nobunaga), welding a strange snake-shaped bracelet, appears for a show of unnatural power, threatening both sides.

Now having something of a common enemy, over the course of many missions and chapters, warriors from each faction form a coalition and clash with said adversary, who turns out to not be their enemy, but was compelled by a stronger force to fight them.

Repeat this several times with several “antagonists,” and eventually you discover the serpent god Orochi, whom all the characters gradually remember having fought previously (in the previous games), threatening to destroy literally everything. You have to stop him from completing the World Tree Yggdrasil in order to carry out this destruction.

While I can’t get too much into it without being overly spoilery, the Ultimate storyline continues from the end of the main story, and focuses on cleaning up unfinished business. It starts with Loki and friend Yukimura Sanada turning against Odin, thus incurring his wrath. They are rescued by the goddess Gaia in an incorporeal form, and begin a quest to destroy Odin once and for all.

On the whole the story is intriguing, if not extremely predictable, and it was enjoyable to follow. However, I wish more effort was put into the dialogue scenes which tell much of the story, as it’s just a bunch of static images and text with voiceovers, kind of like a manga. It’s simple, but it does work, and it gets you get into the action faster, where more of the story is told as you fight…so I guess I can live with that.

The more significant issue here isn’t new to Ultimate (Or any other Warriors game in the last several years). All too often there are long chains of characters talking during the gameplay which, if you are playing well, will constantly leave you waiting through lines of unskippable talking before that door blocking your path will open, since gameplay mechanics will never preempt the dialogue. I’ve seen this in multiple Warriors titles, but it happened especially often in this one.

It’s not really a problem the first time you play, but when you repeat any stage, you are probably focusing on beating it as fast as possible and this gets in the way. I admit that it’s because of my lack of knowledge in Japanese, but the dialogue was hard to follow in battle, since I have English text on screen, while people are talking to me in Japanese, while I’m simultaneously smashing 150 bad guys. That said, you can review all the dialogue that has occured, including replaying the voiceovers if you want, on the pause screen.

Through the Grinder

Aside from the additions to the story, Ultimate makes some updates to battle mechanics, namely the ability to swap character’s Sacred Treasures, which are used to cast magic spells. If you don’t like a particular character’s Sacred Treasure, you can switch it out for another one, which is great if you like a particular fighter but don’t like the magic they got stuck with. It also expands upon the original’s swap combo system, which lets you swap party members between Charge Attacks, allowing you to chain them together. Now you can perform a swap after a Musou (special) attack, and chain those together as well. Finally, Ultimate of course adds new warriors you can play as: Achilles, Gaia, Hades, and more.

But the real meat and potatoes is the new game modes: Challenge Mode and Infinity Mode. The first is a short series of special maps where you compete on a high score leaderboard for the best time or highest score, with separate scores for fixed characters and your actual, fully-powered-up ones. It’s a fun challenge and it’s actually available early in the game, but it doesn’t offer a whole lot and you’ll be done with it quickly.

Completely opposite is Infinity Mode. Hoo boy, Infinity Mode. While technically not completely infinite, this is the true endgame for Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate. It is actually quite analogous to the Adventure Mode of Hyrule Warriors or the Ambition Mode of Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends, where you have a huge range of battles featuring a variety of scenario types, and you have to unlock all the characters, power them up, and eventually craft their ultimate weapons.

There is also a short and simple “story:” Zeus, king of the gods of Olympus, offers to give up his seat of power to the one who can ascend twelve towers of his creation, representing the twelve signs of the zodiac, and subsequently challenge him. Each of the towers revolves around a specific type of battle scenario and has several floors. You initially form a party of seven from all of the characters you met in Story Mode; all other characters are locked and you must unlock them by finding them in battle.

While its premise is simple and it seems like there’s not much to it, if you love grinds (as most followers of the Warriors franchise do), you will be right at home here. To unlock an ultimate weapon for a character, you must encounter a specific other character in battle several times as well as collect various other materials over many battles. The rub is each battle has some fixed characters and many random ones, so it will take a lot of play time to meet the requirements for just one warrior’s ultimate weapon (One estimate I found in the community was an average of 40 hours to complete an ultimate weapon. There are 177 playable characters total in Ultimate, so do the math!). A rather arduous task, to say the least. The challenges are fun and I can certainly spend many an hour beating up thousands of baddies, but Infinity Mode practically lives up to its name. If you love this sort of grind, though, it could be worth the price of admission just by itself.

Beautiful Words, Beautiful Sounds

Well hey, that’s a pretty darn good section title, I guess I don’t really need a paragraph here! Just kidding.

While appearing to more or less be on the same exact engine as several previous titles, the visual quality has improved a bit in Orochi 4 versus past titles. Warriors games do generally set the poly-count bar of their character models and such a bit lower than other games so they can have more of them on screen at once (Because beating up 100 guys is better than beating up 10), but the environments and characters all look good, with the only real flaw being the possibly over-aggressive fading in/out of the mook enemies. I feel like modern PCs can at least handle showing them further away, but perhaps they didn’t want the PC version to be too different.

The music though…oh, the music. It’s pretty high on the list of reasons to buy this game, and Ultimate adds more to choose from too. One great thing about it, though, is on the loading screen before a level, you can press a button to pick the music to play for each stage, and there is plenty of good music to pick from. Although like past titles it leans towards a more high-energy style with a driving beat, there is still a range of styles in use and you’re sure to be tapping your feet or drumming your fingers or whatnot to much of it.

Lastly, every line of dialogue in the game is voiced, although only in Japanese. If you don’t know the language, you may end up turning the voices off as they can become distracting from the in-game action. I won’t ding it for that though, as I’m sure people who are more into Japanese language and culture will enjoy it.

Finishing It Up

If you just go by the description on the Steam store, it seems like Ultimate isn’t a big addition to the base Warriors Orochi 4, but it’s actually a lot more than it seems. It does more than just give you more characters, more modes, and more stuff. It also makes legitimate improvements to the combat and gives you some customization and flexibility over the characters that you didn’t have before. Plus, if you are of the mind to try to get everything in Infinity Mode, there are more hours of gameplay just in that mode than the entire game had before Ultimate. Everything is well polished and any bugs or issues that might exist were too trivial for me to notice.

If you’ve already played and enjoyed Orochi 4 itself, the Ultimate expansion makes everything better. The only downside is the asking price ($39.99) for existing owners of the game is a bit high for an add-on, but…you really do get a lot for the money. If you’re a fan and you haven’t already bought this, it is a worthwhile purchase. If you are more casually interested in Warriors stuff, maybe wait for a sale….but still get it. It won’t disappoint you with many more hours of mook-smooshing fun.

~ Final Score: 8/10 ~

Review copy of Warriors Orochi 4 and Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate provided by Koei Tecmo for PC. Screnshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Koei Tecmo.