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CONSOLE: PlayStation 4 DEVELOPER: Omega Force PUBLISHER: Bandai Namco Games
RELEASE DATE (NA): February 9, 2016 GENRE: Hack'n'Slash/Strategy
// review by Jeff

Come on and 'Slan, and welcome to the jam!

I bought a PlayStation 4 recently. I hadn't planned to do so, but the draw of a good sale price sealed the deal. Suddenly, a major problem entered the fray: what games do I buy first? The first was a no-brainer: Dragon Quest Heroes II, as I enjoy the world of Dragon Quest. But I still felt like buying a second game to immediately pad out my library. I saw other games that looked tempting, but, like a beacon in the night, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend shone brightly through the cloud of temptation throughout. But...what was this game? All I really knew about the game was that a friend had livestreamed it and hadn't thrown it into an adjacent dumpster fire by the end. That's as good of an endorsement as any, so out came the wallet. Having now played from beginning to end, I can safely say... that was a smart purchase.

The first question on everyone's mind is... what exactly IS an "Arslan" anyhow? Arslan is the crown prince of Pars, a kingdom loosely based on early Persia, currently known as Iran. Pars is conquered by the bordering Lusitanian empire primarily for its lack of belief in their one true God, and Arslan narrowly escapes a fatal fate despite the massive battle in play. Alongside such battle experts as the Mardān Fu Mardān Daryun, a respected and most skilled warrior, the tactical and aloof Narsus, and the sacred priestess Farangis, Arslan builds alliances and respect from all over the continent, and the journey documents those epic battles needed to secure his place in the ruling community as he grows from fragile child to competent leader. In the midst of his quest, he must also contend with Lord Silver Mask, a mysterious fellow claiming to be the rightful heir to the Parsian throne, and only through combat will anyone get through to this guy.

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is actually based on The Heroic Legend of Arslan, a Japanese series of fantasy novels that eventually spawned a manga and an anime series, not to mention two video games, one being this. (There was a strategy RPG for the Sega CD released exclusively in Japan back in 1993.) This game follows the first season of the anime in sequence with extreme rigidity, covering the events of each episode from Arslan's escape from Pars to his reclamation of its territory for his own ideals. Since its release in 2016, a second season has aired that tells more of the tale, but as the game stands now, there's definitely more story to be explored, as the strongly dissatisfying ending lays the groundwork for a sequel. The anime is available for viewing on Crunchyroll.

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend was developed by Omega Force, one of Koei Tecmo's most prolific divisions. The problem with how prolific they are is that, despite occasionally straying from the formula, they only seem to make one type of game: Musou, as it's known in Japan. In plain English, they're strategic hack'n'slash games that require the player to fulfill specific missions on the battlefield, typically the slaying of a key figure. Overseas, the Musou franchise is known as "Warriors", encompassing the Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and other such titles (including other popular games such as Nintendo's Hyrule Warriors and Square Enix's Dragon Quest Heroes series). And that's what Arslan is... except there seems to be a more heavy tilt toward the story elements than the gameplay itself.

Missions aren't particularly lengthy, though the cutscenes can be, and that may be the game's one downfall: there is a LOT of story to go through, acted through semi-animated cutscenes. I say semi-animated because although all the characters are lovely and hand-drawn, generally, only their mouths move during scenes of discussion. If there is any body movement, it's shown through quick transitions between static images. That is a testament to how lazily the plot segments were compiled. Considering it's an ANIMATED series you're basing things on, how about a little more...animation? This isn't the days of limited capacity on a 1MB cartridge we're talking about. Production values here could have been much higher. And let's not forget that cutscenes here are extensive. Characters talk at length, and they speak with such promptitude because of the Japanese voiceovers ("No English voices. Sorry. Nah." -Koei Tecmo) that you really need to keep up with those subtitles. Even the text itself is jarring, as they all speak with such formality. It's much different than most other games of our time. Maybe I've heard so many Grand Theft Auto V conversations that I've forgotten what civility and honour sound like.

Also, prior to playing this game, I had no idea the PlayStation 4 controller has a built-in speaker. Imagine my surprise when my controller shouted at me in Japanese for the first time!


Warriors giving a swift kick in the Arslan!

If you've never played a Musou game before — and, quick sidenote: I had never played through one prior to this — they generally involve you taking control of a single character, often a great leader or a historical figure, as they complete a mission directly on the battlefield. You're often tasked with defeating a specific person, escorting individuals from one area to another, or just keeping the large army of enemies at bay. It's a bit unrealistic, as no one person could legitimately fend off hundreds of people at a time. You just know that some rebel soldier's going to slice at your clavicle when your back is turned. In Arslan, there are literally hundreds of soldiers (mostly enemies) on the field, all wanting your head; it's a pretty majestic sight to see, actually.

With each mission, you will take control of one of many members of Arslan's comraderie and lead them wherever the map leads you. An area of note will be highlighted on your map as to where you need to go next. The feel of crushing the souls of so many individuals on your way is sadistically satisfying. In some cases, you may even be switched between characters on different parts of the map within the same mission. Each character has their own unique attack styles and special moves that can be executed when your SP ("Special Points") gauge is filled, either by finding items on the battlefield for that purpose or by slaying soldiers. It's fun to see what each fighter can do; Narsus' uncanny ability to splash a large wave of enemies with deadly paint is a treat for the eyes. If you're decent out there, you may earn Skill Cards, which can be equipped to each character to boost their traits.

Once you are successful, you'll receive a grade based on a combination of how long you spent on the field and how many enemies you knocked out. Getting an "S" rank, the highest rank, is difficult but not impossible. I started out the game getting "D" ranks, the lowest possible ranking, but eventually learned the intricacies of the game and worked my way up to As and Bs, with the occasional S rank. I'm satisfied with that, and the ranks didn't seem to be overly consequential anyhow.

Beyond this is my favourite part, which is the Mardān Rush. From time to time, large blue circles will appear in strategic places on the battlefield. Entering those and pressing R2 will switch to Mardān Rush mode, where you will suddenly control an entire army at once! Feel free to plow through groups of individuals at once and also reach a blue wall in the distance before the time runs out, usually leading to Arslan & Co. busting down a barrier to access more parts of the map or some shady weapon the enemy wants to keep intact. I can't help but love the feeling of invincibility and temporary supremacy in battle.

From time to time, there will be one individual of note that you have to defeat; we'll call these the "boss battles". They are different from standard soldiers in that they are able to engulf themselves with a shielding for protection. In order to cause damage, you have to first hack away at the shield until it shatters, THEN you can whack away like crazy until the shield revives. I didn't care much for the shield constantly returning; I would've much preferred a standard 1-on-1 challenge without the need to pad it out with strikes that don't matter.

Yet all in all, is Arslan particularly rich in gameplay? Not really. There tends to be little in the way of variation, and most of the higher-ups you need to defeat all possess the same imitable strategy of attack. But what gameplay IS there is very satisfying. Slicing through a giant horde of brainless soldiers feels downright good. Beyond these missions, you'll just have to sit back and enjoy the cutscenes, which are extremely plentiful and lengthy, breaking up the action just a little too much. If it's any consolation, the game is downright gorgeous. The characters may not be the most polished in appearance, but Omega Force more than makes up for it with pure flash and glitz, especially in the special attacks. The PlayStation 4 version also makes use of its console technology over the also-available PlayStation 3 edition, adding more detail where possible and an increased number of soldiers on the battlefield. The soundtrack is also very fitting and regal, if I need a good word to describe it. All the songs have a "royal" feeling to them, pushing a mix of Eastern instruments and Western trumpetry. I particularly enjoyed having this song appear during certain cutscenes; it lifted my spirits so!

As you conquer Story Mode (the primary mode of the game), you'll unlock new characters and quests in Free Mode, where you can choose what mission to play without the restraints of playing through everything else first. Beyond this, you can even play with a buddy in Co-Op Mode, both online and offline. There is plenty of slaughter for everyone!

Admittedly, this was the very first Musou game I had ever really put my mind to finishing, and, honestly, if this is how they all play, then I'm sold on the Musou franchise as a whole. Arslan: The Warriors of Legend may not appeal to everyone, but if you're one of those individuals that envelops every Dynasty Warriors game that comes out or just wants to plow down an entire army in a heartbeat, this'll be a treat. Luckily, you don't need to have seen the anime to know what's going on. Just be the best Arslan you can be!


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