In desperate times, in a world on the brink of total decay, heroes from different worlds and times are called together to pull the world from collapse. Champions of martial arts and magic band together to save the world they've been summoned to and, hopefully, return to their own. They'll form bonds with one another and fall into conflict as three factions fight for control of the throne. Also Nobunyaga is there and he's a cat with a gun.
Warriors All-Stars is the Musou celebration of some of Koei Tecmo's most well known characters from their most successful franchises. Faces from Dynasty Warriors, Nights of Azure, Toukiden, Ninja Gaiden, Nioh, and more, make up the cast of 30 characters to choose from. Along with a large cast is a plethora of features, though this isn't necessarily a good thing.
The story of Warriors All-Stars is told from many different angles, though they all fall into one of three perspectives, decided by the factions the heroes fall into. The heroes don't all step off a bus together and get to analyze the complex political climate before choosing sides. The warriors are scattered around the land mass, coming across one of three people vying for control of the throne. Whomever they encounter first is generally who they side with.
Things begin as they usually do, with a great crisis on the horizon and the search for heroes beginning. Rather than have good guys vs. bad guys, the cast of heroes will join up with one of three armies, all fighting against each other with no one ever fully explaining their motivations. It's a problem that exists in a lot of Japanese media, the problem of "just talk." Almost all problems could be solved if a character would just put aside their ego for two seconds and explain their perspective. Yet, for the sake of drama and progression, that can't happen, and thousands upon thousands of grunt soldiers die while family members bicker.
Though the main plot involves capturing shrines in order to reclaim the power necessary to restore the Spring, the central life source for the world, the game can end rather abruptly. There are many different endings that can occur, few of which actually relate to the main arc at all. In my first run, one character had become a big fan of another, wishing to study under them to become a better fighter. The mentor-to-be agreed, but only if the student-to-be passed a test, which of course involved fighting lots of bandits and monsters. The test passed, the two shake hands and then turn into butterflies. Roll credits. If you're confused by that, so was I.
Finding an ending does not strictly end the game, however. Immediately after the credits, you can start a new game from that save file, choosing a new first character and starting the story over again. You might even choose a hero that lands in a different camp (though the thrust of the story remains the same among all three factions). There's something frustrating about the fact that all three factions are more or less the same. It drives home the irritation caused by the leaders of these groups refusing to hash out the details of their motivations and realize they're stupid.
With so many heroes, there are plenty of interactions to be had. While on the world map, your characters might find treasure or give you a gift as a result of you befriending them. Within the central hub city, the heroes relax with one another, enjoying spas, bars, and arcades (the technological state of this world is all over the place). As mentioned while talking about endings, certain characters are more drawn to one another than others, and you'll see those two talking to one another more than anyone else. The dialogue is written well, though how well the writers captured the individual personalities from their source games is hard to say, as I'm not personally familiar with most of the characters.
The main thrust of Warriors All-Stars is the combat, which should be familiar to anyone who's played other Musou games. You control a primary hero, executing combo moves through a series of relatively easy button presses. Ending a string of X number of light attack with a heavy attack activates the corresponding combo attack. While some heroes can extend combos by mashing the heavy attack button, the crux of the executions is the same across the board. These attacks allow your hero to cut massive swathes of destruction through hordes of hundreds and thousands of enemies.
As simple as this combat sounds, complexities begin to develop with each new sub-system involved. In addition to regular attacks and combo moves, there are special attacks, Hero Skills, combination Hero Skills, team-up moves, and Musou Rush attacks. Thankfully these different means of destruction are relegated to different areas of the controller and are not hard to execute. Special attacks are only available when a meter is filled, and Hero Skills can be triggered between cool downs.
Musou Rush is by far the most fun attack. Though the kills made during it don't count toward your stage kill count, the better you do the better rewards you get after it finishes. This feature comes with a lot of charm in the form of your team mates cheering you on. With every 150 minions you slay, another one of your four teammates shows up to sing your praises, eventually joining with you in a big final attack. It's something you would only find in a Japanese game and adds a lot of fun and charm to the overall experience.
Speaking of your teammates, you'll be able to bring upwards of four along with you. Initially you'll have just two other heroes who will fight in your team, but more heroes can be unlocked through their individual missions. Though you don't have direct control over these heroes (except during team-up), you are granted access to their Hero Skills. These skills are unique to each hero, providing effects like healing, buffs, debuffs, and of course damage. Having certain heroes in your party allows two heroes to combine their skills for an even more effective attack.
Upgrading your hero comes in two forms: leveling up and Hero Cards. Leveling up works exactly how you expect, with your stats increasing with each experience milestone. Hero Cards are considerably more complex. Cards are obtained randomly in the world or through randomized crafting. These cards have attack bonus, and can have friendship boosts and ability slots. The abilities can be added in with the materials you collect in the field, plus some gold. Friendship boosts show up after gaining a certain level of friendship with certain characters, though these boosts only show up on cards found after those milestones. In addition to grades and elemental types, finding the right Hero Card can be tough, and honestly the system feels more complex than it needs to be.
Friendship is by far the most daunting task before you. Though the game tells you all the ways you can gain regard with your fellow heroes, it still remains unclear how and why you gain the values you do. You can ensure you use each hero on your team at least once, and you'll still end up gaining a full bar of regard from one hero and only a small pip from another. These patterns at least are constant, so it's clear some heroes are more prone to liking other heroes than other. Along with boosts, becoming closer friends with a hero means unlocking gallery options and special hot spring scenes. Since friendship is unique to each hero, there's a large investment of time needed to get everyone into a group hug.
While there are keeps you can capture within a given map, it never really matters all that much, which is strange as they bothered to give keeps different strategic values (some boost enemy health, others offer gold, etc.). By the end of the level, you're only graded on your KO count and your completion time. Other Musou games would have taken into account how many keeps you took and/or how much damage you incurred, but not Warriors All-Stars. It's just as well, as there are tons of side battles you can complete for materials and gold, plus all the conflicts needed to unlock heroes, all compounded by the fact that you're expected to play through the game multiple times.
You won't encounter much difficulty in any of your tasks or maps. Though the overall difficulty can be increased, it only increases the level recommendation for maps, regarding more grinding. Base commanders can be eliminated in one hit, and after you reach certain Bravery levels (the individual level you gain per map), even enemy heroes can be done away with in two swings without you ever needing to stop running.
A tremendous amount of voice acting exists in Warriors All-Stars, with many scenes being fully voiced, and others having at least some introductory words for each block of text. Considering all the story paths, endings, and character interactions, it's impressive that the game is voiced at all. I can't say for certain if the voice actors are the originals you'll find in each hero's respective game, but I doubt anyone will be disappointed with whom they got for each, regardless. The only character who had some acting hiccups was William, and I can only detect that because English is my native language and I don't speak a lick of Japanese. On that note, 99% of the lines are in Japanese, with only William speaking English. There is no option for English dubs, though subtitles do exist.
The music is top notch, with the battle music continuing to play in my head for hours after I've finished. It's encouraging and exciting, matching the player's actions well and helping to round out the experience of being a total godly badass tearing through simple soldiers like they were tissue paper. Individual sounds are easy to pick up on, which is good when you need to dodge an incoming, and unblockable attack, and you can't see the visual cue (because they're behind you). While the characters do talk during battle, the voices do little good (unless you speak Japanese) other than indicating that there's some text for you to read. Personally, I missed much of the in-battle conversations because I was too busy cutting down anthropomorphic soldiers and bandits.
Everything looks great, too, thankfully. Though it's a bit odd to see realistically-detailed characters like William standing next to a pure anime-translation like Darius, on their own both look great. There was thankfully never any slow down during the game, which is always something to look out for when you have a game with so many enemies on screen at once. Considering Koei Tecmo's history with Musou games, I'd be surprised if they hadn't come up with a good engine to handle the genre.
While the locations vary in their look, the number of different maps you'll encounter is somewhat low. Going into a modern subway tunnel after running across a lush countryside outside of a castle definitely paints a contrasting picture between all the locations, but you'll be seeing each one frequently. To some degree this works to your advantage, as you'll be learning maps and knowing the best routes between keeps.
Warriors All-Stars is filled to burst with features and heroes, though it's missing some hallmarks in the former. Unlike in other Musou games, there's no Free Battle mode, where you can just pick any map, any hero, and cut down enemies until the game says to stop. However, with all the side missions on the world map, and a limitless supply of rush battles (battles that pop up randomly and have to be selected within 5 seconds or so before they vanish), you shouldn't want for things to do.
There's something of a feature bloat within Warriors All-Stars. I can't help but feel like some features that could have done with more polish, lost out on that development time so they could extend the friendship mode further. It's a shame so much of the game is accomplished through grinding. However, Musou games can be somewhat repetitive in their combat, so if that has never stopped you from enjoying them, there's little chance the grind for friendship will either.
Despite the feature bloat, with some being too complex, Warriors-All Stars remains a solid Musou title that any Koei Tecmo fan should enjoy. Ever since Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo 64, I've wanted to see more big companies put out games that feature characters from their most popular franchises. It's a relief that this entry into the cross-over genre is more like Smash and less like the similarly named PlayStation All Stars. I just wish Warriors All-Stars featured the true big named hero of Koei Tecmo: Bo Jackson from Tecmo Bowl. Well, there's always DLC!
|+ Large cast of varied characters.||– A few too many features and not enough polish.|
|+ Smooth performance and classic Musou combat.||– A few irritating writing tropes that pop up.|
|+ Looks and sounds great.|