I used to be one of those people who wrote off the Musou series as “boring” and “repetitive”; a mindless button masher with little going for it beyond the brief satisfaction of swatting enemy grunts away like flies. I’ve come to appreciate the series a lot more in recent years, though, thanks in no small part to Dragon Quest Heroes (a Musou-style Dragon Quest spin-off) and Hyrule Warriors. Both of those were games that appealed for their parent franchises, but they also showed me how satisfying and rewarding—and certainly not “mindless”—combat in a Musou game could be.
Since then I’ve played a few other games in the series, and I’ve enjoyed each one of them a great deal. Warriors All-Stars, the latest in this massive franchise, is no exception; in fact, in a lot of ways, it’s the ideal culmination of 20 years’ worth of the series’ growth.
Warriors All-Stars is a crossover game, bringing together characters from a wide range of Koei Tecmo properties for Musou-style action. The likes of Wang Yuanji and Ii Naotora are a natural fit for this sort of game, given their history in Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, respectively, but they’re joined by a cast from a much wider range of titles. There’s Arnice from Nights of Azure, Sophie from Atelier Sophie, Nobunyaga from Samurai Cats, Ōka from Toukiden 2, and Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden, to name but a few. Even Koei Tecmo’s more obscure properties are represented, like the pachinko series Rio and the dating sim Haruka: Beyond the Stream of Time.
The story bringing all these characters together is a straightforward one, as is often the case with crossover games. A mysterious kingdom is thrown into chaos when the king suddenly dies, leaving three potential successors to fight over the thrown, while a magical spring—the source of this kingdom’s prosperity—starts to wither. In an effort to stop the decay, the princess Tamaki attempts to summon heroes from other worlds to fulfill an ancient prophecy, but the war between Tamaki, her brother Shiki, and their cousin Setsuna rages on. Instead of fulfilling the prophecy, the heroes find themselves swept up in the chaos.
It’s a simple way of providing a narrative framework for something as inherently silly as a game where an Irish samurai from Nioh’s Edo period-setting can fight alongside the futuristic ninja of Ninja Gaiden and magical alchemists of Atelier Sophie. It works, though, because it sets up a grand war story in keeping with Musou tradition, while also making the most of the unique characters and settings of the wide range of franchises brought into the mix.
The characters are really where the storytelling shines. They’re an incredibly diverse bunch, in both character designs and personalities, and the way they play off each other is clever and often very funny. You get neat situations like Honoka, Dead or Alive’s schoolgirl character, meeting Mitsunari Ishida of Samurai Warriors and commenting on having learnt about him in history class, or Arnice and Hōro bonding over their shared duty of demon hunting. Each character is overflowing with personality, and that’s more than enough to make a rather straightforward plot into something captivating.
Until now, the Musou games have been mostly linear in their storytelling, be that for the sake of historical accuracy or to be faithful to the source material for collaboration projects. With Warriors All-Stars, Omega Force decided to take a more open, branching approach. The character you choose at the start of the game, the heroes you recruit along the way, and the order you choose to undertake key battles all influence the direction of the story. Depending on these choices, there are some 30 different endings to see.
There are four broad story paths, one for each of the three factions, and a fourth one that sees the three united against a common foe. The Tamaki, Setsuna, and Shiki paths simply result from your initial hero choice, but with the right decisions throughout the game, any of these can lead to the Yomi path. In that light, you can think of the latter and its endings as the variations of the “true” ending, but the endings for the the three standard routes are all worth seeing, too.
It’s an interesting set-up that gives you a lot more freedom in your approach than many past Musou games. Even if you’re not thinking specifically about getting a certain ending, just the choice between speeding through key battles or taking time out for sidequests can put you on wildly different trajectories.
Fortunately, Warriors All-Stars makes tracking and pursuing different endings easy, for those people who do want to see all that the game has to offer (which I’d recommend). The standard routes are all relatively short, rarely taking more than a couple of hours to get to a conclusion; the Yomi route is longer, but not excessively so. The game keeps a detailed log of all the endings you’ve seen and choices you’ve made, and lists all the requirements for different endings and branches.
Like any Musou title, battles make up the bulk of the game, and Warriors All-Stars tends to follow the established formula. Simple hack-and-slash mechanics let you plow through regular enemies by the hundreds with little challenge—that’s where the criticisms of “repetitiveness” come in, but killing footsoldiers is hardly the point of the game. Instead, there’s a focus on capturing bases, taking down enemy commanders, and completing various other objectives: escorting allies, finding elusive targets, taking down flighty enemies before they’re able to escape, and so on. The different objectives usually require you to prioritise and think about how you can use the map to your advantage. The moment-to-moment gameplay of combat itself is very button mashy, sure, but that’s just part of a bigger picture.
Warriors All-Stars puts its own spin on that set up with the way the party system works. Rather than having a group of heroes who act more or less independently, and whom you can switch between, All-Stars is more like a party in an RPG. You’ve got the party leader, who you control directly, and up to four other allies who follow you wherever you go and fight automatically. Each ally also has a special ability that you can activate regularly for things like stats boosts or an extra attack.
The trade-off to that is that you can’t freely switch characters the way you can in most other Musou games, nor can you strategically position your allies across the map. There’s a special move that gives you temporary control of an ally (or multiple allies at once), but your party leader is who you spend the majority of the battle directing. This feels like a big loss: Warriors All-Stars has such a rich roster, but aside from the party leader, the characters you bring to battle seem relatively inconsequential.
It also means you don’t have the same tactical option as other Musou games, where you can, for example, move one character to one objective, switch to another character and go to a different objective, and then alternate between the two to complete both tasks simultaneously. Games like Hyrule Warriors and Spirit of Sanada made great use of this ability, with levels and objectives designed around this ability to spread your forces, but Warriors All-Stars doesn’t have that option.
One of my favourite new features in All-Stars is the Bravery meter, which essentially starts as a stage-contained levelling system. You start each battle with Bravery at 1, and by completing optional tasks and defeating enemy commanders, you can increase this up to 10. Each Bravery increase comes with a major boost to all stats, and allies’ skills also get stronger once you reach certain thresholds. Enemy commanders also have Bravery levels, so there’s an incentive to complete sub-objectives to “level up”, so to speak, and even the odds. If you try to attack a 10 Bravery enemy when your Bravery is just 2, you’re asking for trouble. Conversely, having much higher Bravery than your enemy means you can destroy them in one or two hits—very satisfying.
Running through all these are the usual light RPG mechanics, like a standard levelling system and equipment (this time in the form of Hero Cards that boost the equipped hero’s stats). There’s a rather deep friendship system, where every character has an individual friendship rank with every other character, and increasing these gets you nice combat bonuses when friends are fighting alongside one another.
In short, Warriors All-Stars, like all Musou games, is far more than a simple, mindless button masher. It’s full of all the fun and silliness that you’d expect from a crossover game like this, but with a story that finds meaningful ways of bringing the different characters together. Battles combine fast, frantic combat with deeper high level strategy, and the new Bravery system brings a welcome extra dimension. It’s a shame that you can’t switch characters in combat or tactically split your party, but Warriors All-Stars is still a thoroughly enjoyable game.
Warriors All-Stars is developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo. It’s available now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and PC.
A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.