This is an adaptation of a video I made in Spanish. You can watch it here.
Musou games, a videogame genre initiated by Dynasty Warriors, and such a divisive genre at that. Some people love it, others hate it. And that's fine, but I feel like some of the people who hate them, don't really "get it". Of course, you can get it and still dislike them. But their comments don't reflect that. The common misconception is "you only mash buttons and enemies don't even react to you". That's true to an extent. Combat is simple and enemies don't usually show a challenge. But that's fine because Musou games aren't about combat. This is what those people don't seem to know.
So, what's all this about? Musou games are strategy games where you are the only competent unit on the battlefield. You are the only one that can achieve something, and there's plenty to do, so you have to prioritize objectives, manage your time. There are a ton of games and not all of them focus on this. Some of them are more combat-focused than others. You'll see about them.
What's the point of this article, you may ask? I want to clear the misconceptions many people have about the genre. And if you are already a fan, maybe you'll see a game you overlooked that is interesting to you. I'll talk about the Musou games I've played, which aren't all (I haven't played any Samurai Warriors game for example). I'm also going to talk just about the most important things about these games: combat, mission objectives and things to do. I'll miss many things, but these games can be massive and I prefer to be as concise as possible. I also categorize the games as "classic" and "modern" gameplay. They aren't the best categories, but you'll see why I do this.
Starting with "classic" Musous, chronologically (again, the ones I've played):
Mystic Heroes (GameCube, PS2) (2002)
Mystic Heroes was released between Dynasty Warriors 3 and 4. Here, you have a magic bar that fills when you attack or charge it slowly. That's the unique thing about this game. You have four spells, and you can mix and match them in various ways, although they are used in a similar way. That being said, the combat isn't very fun. You spam these spells and they hit someone to fill the magic bar. You can even cheese most bosses if you throw a fireball or something, and while it gets back up, you charge the next one.
What this game does pretty well is the level variety. You have wide-open maps, maps filled with traps, maps with teleporters, mazes, a tower... it really helps to break the monotony of the combat.
About how much stuff is to do, not much. There are 2 story paths and a survival mode, but considering how's the combat, I think that it's worth playing the story mode once and leave it at that.
Overall, it's not the most fun game, but if you are a Dynasty Warriors fan, it's worth checking it out.
Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes (Wii, PS3) (2010)
This is one of the few titles in this list that isn't developed by Omega Force. And it's pretty good. Made by Capcom, this is the only Sengoku Basara game that has been able to leave Japan, which is a shame.
How does this game shake up the formula? Combat isn't about mashing your weak attack until you break the string with a more powerful blow. Here, those more powerful moves are more accessible with a two-button combination. Maps are very distinct from each other, with a variety of objectives. Its biggest strength is the characters, which are very diverse and fun.
The only problem this game has is how the maps repeat themselves. There's a total of 38 levels, which isn't a low number. Problem is, they don't vary. Each level has whatever objectives and whatever boss, and that never changes. So if you are playing the story mode of two characters, you may run in the exact same level twice, and that can be a bit annoying.
Anyway, if you want stuff to do, the games has you covered. Each starter character unlocks a new one, and they have multiple story paths. It can take you a while to complete if you want to do that.
Dynasty Warriors 8 (Everything) (2013)
I'm writing an article about Musou games and the only mainline Dynasty Warriors game I talk about is the eighth one. This is the first one I played, and I loved it. To be honest, after playing many more and coming back, I don't like it that much, although I appreciate it. Let me explain.
Combat doesn't feel very good. It's a bit clunky. But I don't know, it also feels badass. Maybe it's because of the "realistic" setting. It's not bad, but you have to get into the rhythm of combat.
Everything else is great. There's always a sense of danger in this game. You have to be always on your toes.
And if you want stuff to do, this game is madness. Each campaign has two timelines and branching paths. There's an Ambition mode where you start with two characters and recruit more. The cool thing about this is that you can chain missions to get better rewards, so you have to play fast enough to get to the next level and not get hurt too much. You have to play well the entire time.
If you want to play a mainline Dynasty Warriors game, this one is the best place to start.
Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) (2018)
I haven't beat this one yet so I can't talk about everything this game has to offer. Warriors Orochi games are a crossover between Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, with some other games added to the mix.
Combat is like the one in Dynasty Warriors 8, but a little more fluid. It also has the best innovation from DW8: You can mount your horse immediately. Mounting your horse in DW8 is a pain. You have to call it, see where it is, go near it, jump, hope that the game registers your jump input well and then you can ride it. Here it's instantaneous and it's great. You also have 3 magic spells, so you can mix your combat a bit more. Sadly, these spells are an excuse to put an annoying enemy in the game that can only be defeated with them, but whatever.
Considering the absurd character number in this game and the "Infinity mode", I think I can say for sure that it has tons of stuff to do, even if I haven't even scratched the surface.
Dragon Quest Heroes (PC, PS3, PS4, Switch) (2015)
I wouldn't consider this game part of the "classic" games, but I wouldn't put it in the "modern" one either.
Dragon Quest Heroes is a tower defense game. Sort of. You always have something to defend, which is nice because fail conditions is what I value most in a musou game, but combat is pretty meh. I think they tried to emulate turn-based combat or something. What this game does well is having 4 spells easily accessible at any moment. This is something later games improve.
So why is this game a tower defense? You can get monster coins and summon them to fight for you. That's about it, but the map layouts make the game feel like it too. I don't know, it's a bit weird.
There's nothing to do aside from the story missions. Well, there are side quests, but they are arenas where you kill monsters. Considering I don't think this game's combat is very good...
The best thing about this game is the Dragon Quest IP, so that's something you might enjoy if you are a fan.
Okay, now we start with the "modern" musou games, which in my opinion is where the really good stuff begins.
Pirate Warriors 3 (PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Switch) (2015)
This game is madness. The combat is super frantic, sometimes too much, but it's always fun. You have two strings of attacks and combos, so you get to the big attacks faster. Overall there isn't much more to say, it's just that, fast and furious. There's an assist mechanic which is whatever, I won't go into that.
The problem with this game is that in the Extra mode, Dream/Nightmare Log, you never feel like you are in a battlefield. There are no or barely failure conditions, and usually, you defeat someone and another character appears, and then another one. It's a bit more of an arena combat game than a strategic game. Which again, is very fun, so I can give it a bit of a pass.
Story mode has many excuses to revisit, with optional challenges, and Dream/Nightmare log is fun to play. You have many levels interconnected, and you can go forward to unlock some characters and get to the end.
Overall, a very fun game, although a bit more mindless than others.
Hyrule Warriors Legends Definitive Edition (Wii U, 3DS, Switch) (2014, oops wrong order)
This is the one. I love this game. It has everything I want from a Musou game: good combat, failure conditions, and a ridiculous amount of stuff to do. There are three versions of the game and from one to another, they added so much stuff, new mechanics included, that they feel like a sequel. I'm going to talk about stuff common in the three releases.
Starting with combat, it's good. Not amazing since it doesn't have abilities tied to your shoulder buttons or anything, but what it does, it does very well. The game is fast, but not so fast that I don't know what's happening on screen.
The game has many different mission types, and there's always the danger of enemies getting to your base, so you can't slack off.
This game's extra mode is Adventure Mode, and it's crazy. You have many different boards filled with levels and unlockables, and you have to get good rankings (usually) in the levels to get to the next one. It gives you context for the levels and stuff to look forward to since each weapon has 4 upgrades to get in these maps. The game also forces you to play the entire roster, which is something I really like, since in other games I'm just staring at the roster, not knowing what to play.
So is this game perfect? not really. There are some big monsters that are a pain to beat since you have to wait for them to expose their weakness. With practice, you can beat them pretty fast and they aren't a problem, but I can't say they add anything worthwhile to the game.
In my opinion, the best Musou game by far (and the best Zelda game, but I understand if you disagree).
Fire Emblem Warriors (Switch, New 3DS) (2017)
What happens when you take the best Musou game and you improve the strategic layer and combat. And then you mess up everything else. That's Fire Emblem Warriors.
So, what happened? The roster is bad. Like, really bad. The game uses the weapon triangle famous in the Fire Emblem games. And that's fine. But half of the roster are sword users, and many of them are clones.
There isn't much more to say, to be honest. The gameplay feels a lot like Hyrule Warriors, which is great. It has some improvements like your AI not being useless (not always) and having moves that expose enemy's weak point. The triangle system is more intuitive than Hyrule Warriors' elemental weaknesses, which I didn't mention but I can do a different article talking about it. There are plenty of failure conditions so that's good.
The extra mode is okay. It's not as good or big as Adventure Mode, but it isn't bad.
I haven't mentioned the story in any game because I don't care about them, but this game's story is especially bad. Many of the story battles go like this: "our friend is with people we don't know. They must have kidnapped her! Let's attack!".
Fate/EXTELLA Link (PC, Switch, PS Vita and PS4) (2019)
This is the other game in this list that isn't developed by Omega Force. It's solid. It has some new ideas, like the way the maps are made or the Command Seal, in which you start the level with 3 points and you can use them to teleport over the map, revive or fill all your bars. They also make a good use of the active skills available at any moment (although they are a bit too good). The mechanics that aren't great are the mashing of buttons when attacking the enemy in a certain way or when they attack you, but whatever. The combat is frantic and fun, and that's what is important.
This game won't last you long though. Once I unlocked all the characters and played with them at least once, I don't have much more to do. Well, I do actually have stuff to do, but the extra mode is a boring list of levels, and the last level recommends you to have level 150. I'm not grinding to that level, thanks.
The game has some visual novel stuff, which I skipped because I dislike the art style of most characters.
Overall, a solid good game that is worth checking out for the right price.
Pirate Warriors 4 (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch) (2020)
This game's combat is so good. I dare to say that it isn't just good for Warriors' standards, It is actually great. You have the frantic and fast combat from Pirate Warriors 3, and you give a hitbox to your dashes and the ability to jump. You can string combat like it's none's business. Enemies have a shield bar, which at first, I thought was going a bad mechanic, but it's actually a good one since it tells you exactly when you can juggle the enemy and when you cannot.
Map design is pretty good. They feel more organic than the ones in the other spin-off Warriors titles, and they have some verticality.
Sadly, everything else falls a bit flat. Story missions have zero incentive to be replayed. None of the side challenges like in the previous game. The Extra mode is just a list of missions, which at least is an excuse to continue playing this game's amazing combat. These levels are again combat arenas, but again, the combat is so good that I give it a pass.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity (Switch) (2020)
Reading what people say about this game, I know I'm in the minority. But I don't like this game, which sucks because its potential is huge. This game really embodiments the preconceptions people have about the Warriors game.
I'll start with the good stuff, which is the character variety and combat. You have your string of attacks, a button with a unique mechanic for each character, four abilities accessible at any moment, and 3 elemental rods. The four abilities and rods are used more for exploiting weak points in bosses, but they are a good addition. You can also parry and dodge at the last second to unleash a flurry attack, just like in Breath of the Wild. Maps are also great, they feel organic.
Level structure is the worst one from the games I played. You literally just go to the yellow point and kill whatever is there. You can ignore everything else because they won't chase you down, and you don't have a base to defend, so what can they do? Nothing. One of the last levels gives you multiple objectives and the game itself clears half of them. I was laughing when I saw that. Finally, something that feels like a Warriors game, and the game plays itself.
What about the Extra mode? Maybe levels are better there. Not, they aren't because there isn't an Extra mode at all. You have plenty of smaller levels on your map, but they are that, smaller levels. Only the story missions use the big battlefields, and they don't have any strategic layer at all. I have no reason to unlock the last two post-credits characters because I don't have anything worthwhile to do with them.
I have said with the Pirate Warriors games that I give them a pass even though they barely have a strategic layer. The difference is that those game have better story levels and an Extra mode that uses the big levels. Their combat is also so frantic that is fun (PW3) or the best in the genre (PW4). Age of Calamity's combat is good but it isn't that good. It's the original Hyrule Warriors combat with a few new trinkets.
I have to mention the framerrate, which is destroyed by just playing some of the characters. I was hugely disappointed with this game.
So, what to play? How do the games compare each other? I made an image that reflects the pros and cons of every game:
Again, I haven't played every Musou game out there, but this is my opinion so far about the games I've played.
What do you think? Do you think differently about this genre? Is there a game you didn't know that you want to play now?