A cat, a demon, and a ninja walk into a bar
It’s about time Koei Tecmo allowed its absurd stable of characters to meet each other. We’ve had mild crossovers in the past as well as some light meetings and partings, but nothing like Warriors All-Stars.
Before you roll your eyes, they do manage to maintain a level of quality that prevents it from just being “Fanservice: The Game.” But several recent Koei Tecmo sins hold it back, as All-Stars somehow manages to regress in a few places where it counts.
Warriors All-Stars (PC, PS4 [reviewed],Vita [Japan-only])
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Released: March 30, 2017 (JP), August 29, 2017 (NA)
All-Stars backs up its moniker with its cast, hailing from all corners of Koei Tecmo properties, and not just the most popular ones. Standouts include Nobunyaga Oda in cat form, William from Nioh (he’s really coming into his own), Ryu Hayabusa, and Laegrinna from the Deception series (they even delve deep into their history, incorporating romantic adventures). That’s going to be a selling point by itself, but it’s all about how well they mesh.
The banter is where it’s at, and Omega Force was smart to team up like-minded heroes — seeing William fight alongside of another ninja just makes sense, and Oda, a demon, allying with the devil’s daughter Laegrinna does as well. Given that the story is spread across three clans and 12 main characters (which can be swapped mid-campaign), there’s plenty of opportunities for banter and odd matchups — it’s easily the game’s biggest strength.
All of this is backed up by a party system that involves Persona-esque bonds and “regard” meters with your associates. It goes above and beyond most Warriors games, augmenting team skills and statlines, but never really reaches a point where I felt genuine affinity toward them as a result of my actions — any emotional reaction was directly linked to my prior history with that character. It’s not like you’re going to get biting dialogue, just little interactions that were carefully engineered. It’s worth playing every character just to see who winds up where.
The narrative excuse for actually getting all of these people into one “room” involves cat creatures and summoning heroes and villains against their will in a real Brave Fencer Musashi kind of way. It’s an okay enough gimmick as there doesn’t really need to be a reason for all this, and anything and everything can be skipped. You might not want to skip the story though, as All-Stars is on the shorter side of Warriors games.
Relatively, I must add, because while one critical path playthrough might only take you 10 hours or so, there’s many endings, a “true ending” to strive for, and plenty of surprise interactions to witness. In that way the length is a boon as it doesn’t really have the opportunity to waste your time. No multiplayer of any kind though, even online, and a lack of a free mode really stings. While I can deal with a lack of multiplayer, free mode is my bread and butter, and I long for the ability to take any character I want on a no-strings stroll.
Everyone, from the most traditional fighter to one that lays traps and throws out comical items like banana peels and hearts, is fun to play. I recommend jacking up the difficulty so things can get more hectic, as you’re forced to use more of your arsenal to survive. I especially dig the short dodge window built in after attacking, given that the X button doubles as a jump. That over-the-top “one versus a thousand” idea that began with the first Warriors is epitomized by Rush Stars, a new ultimate of sorts that you start each level with and earn more of after every 1,000 kills. It’s pure silliness, as your team cheers you on while you’re doing it on-screen and the resulting chaos showers you with loot.
The mission structure is a bit more haphazard. All-Stars‘ world map is a welcome idea, but it’s filled to the brim with anything ranging from busywork to legitimately challenging missions — erring on the side of the former. It’s all a bit jumbled really like a bunch of Ubisoft pins, and I much prefer the Hyrule Warriors concept of a deliberate grid-based map with a clear end goal. Quests generally boil down to “kill these things,” and there isn’t any real sense of agency in the faux hub. It seems overwhelming at first but slowly becomes more rote.
The enemy pool in any given map is a bit of a crapshoot too. Sometimes you’ll get a feisty bunch of monstrosities from Ninja Gaiden who put up a fight, and in other levels you’ll have to square off against generic All-Stars cat soldiers. While you’re doing all that there’s more loot to chase like hero cards and items (which can be crafted), more bonds to form, and skills to unlock. Again, the real magic is found in replaying the story from different perspectives and simply enjoying the battle system.
Warriors All-Stars is good silly fun as the story never takes itself too seriously, nor do the cameos. But in the process a few huge staples we’ve come to expect have been stripped, much to the detriment of a project of this scale. I really wish it didn’t have to be an “either or” situation.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]