WARRIORS OROCHI / Koei / Playstation 2
With about a 55% ranking on Gamerankings and Metacritic, you'd think this was a terrible game. I've skimmed through the few reviews that are online, and what the critics focus on is repetitiveness -- it's too much like the 12 or so other Musou (Dynasty Warriors and its spinoffs) games that came before it. The "pro" critics aren't lying, but I get the feeling that the severely low ratings may have more to do with buttmad writers getting assigned yet another sprawling, grindy Musou game on a tight deadline rather than a fair and thorough assessment of quality. Warriors Orochi is guilty as charged on several counts, but it's far from an F-level game.

The universes of Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors are crossed over here as a demon named Orochi who loves playing war games comes to Earth, and decides to mash up the two games into some new weird world where he can fight against them with his personal demon armies. You can expect cheesy story from any crossover game, but I actually thought this was handled fairly well, as it's gradually revealed who ended up fighting for what sides and what their motivations were over the course of the game. There's some intriguing surprises, and actually a fairly well-executed plot on the whole. The only real weakness is that it relies on familiarity with the Dynasty Warriors story to really get a grasp on the characters and their relationships. If you know all these characters from previous experience, however, it's interesting to see how they respond to this new world, and how factional infighting breaks out amongst everyone in spite of the threat of Orochi.

The map design, unfortunately, is among the less enjoyable of the series, at least that I've played to this point. Having a team of three is a nice touch for relieving tedium in battle and adding a bit more strategy ... but it also leads to super-pumped enemy bosses in story mode that can easily one-shot a character that's even a little underleveled. In general the maps take the approach of really requiring foreknowledge to be effective, either with lots of timed events where you have some ridiculously narrow window to rescue a weak general, or unpredictable scripted events jumping off that can lead to a failure state via your base getting overrun or leader getting whacked after you've separated too far from them. After a couple of frustrating initial failures, I realized the game intends for you to grind it a few times on the easiest maps before you can move on in Story Mode. Trying to play them all back to back in Normal difficulty is a recipe for buttpwn.
Once I adjusted to the dumb little particular quirks of the game, the rest of it was enjoyable. And there's an absolute pile of content, with a separate story campaign for each of the Wu, Wei, Shu and Samurai Warriors forces, each of which has 16 maps of its own.

For about a dozen Musou releases prior to this one, there's some unacceptable flaws that haven't been addressed in the design, and in general a lack of evolution. That said, it's still a very solid, fun and interesting Musou game if you're inclined to them. Just be aware that a more graphically impressive version was also released for the Xbox 360.
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