Hiromu Arakawa's re-imagining of Japanese novel series The Heroic Legend of Arslan is a great fit for a Warriors title: it's packed full of huge battles between warring nations and peppered with memorable characters. We've got a promising base for an Omega Force developed hack and slasher, then, but does Arslan: The Warriors of Legend provide a battlefield that's worth bloodying?
Once it's booted up, Koei Tecmo's latest throws you straight into its lengthy story mode, which follows the events of the manga and anime up until a certain point. The good news is that this is probably one of the best story modes that's ever featured in a Warriors game; the bad news is that once it's over, there isn't really anything else to hold your attention besides levelling up your favourite fighters and perhaps playing through levels again to attain a better ranking.
All in all, Arslan perhaps isn't as robust as other Omega Force releases. The playable character roster is relatively small, sporting just 15 officers, and in terms of modes, there's only the aforementioned campaign and the traditional free mode; the latter lets you play any unlocked stage as any character of your choice. For fans of Warriors games, it's not quite the smorgasbord of content that's come to be expected of the prolific studio.
However, as mentioned, the story mode really is top notch while it lasts. Utilising enhanced animation stills, it provides a surprisingly in-depth retelling of the source material, complete with fully voiced Japanese dialogue. Split up into multiple parts, it's clear that a lot of effort has been put into making each scenario feel like an episode of the anime, with narrative details being dished out by the cast before the game sends you off onto the field of battle.
The battles themselves tend to be relatively linear in their structure, as each conflict is directly tied to the narrative. One mission may see you rescue young Arslan from a band of villains, while another might have you defend a fortress from waves of baddies. Yes, proceedings usually boil down to slaughtering groups of generic soldiers before taking on a tougher boss character, but there's at least a decent amount of variety in the tasks that you're given.
Becoming invested in each battle is made easy thanks to the previously mentioned dialogue sequences – some of which which can last minutes at a time. This gives the release ample opportunity to flesh out its interesting cast of characters. Between the genius of Narsus, the sheer martial prowess of Daryun, and the infectious confidence of Gieve, picking a preferred personality is a tough proposal, and that's obviously to the credit of what is largely a well-written entourage.
Arslan is something of a rarity within the genre, as you'll be playing through its story mode in order to see what becomes of the plot, rather than treating the narrative as some sort of shaky thread that ties together a laundry list of battles. Indeed, this central mode sets a benchmark when it comes to the actual story, but it's not perfect when viewed in its entirety.
For starters, the gameplay doesn't always live up to the hype that the pre-battle dialogue scenes create. For example, proceedings may have been building up to a colossal clash between two gigantic armies, but when the battle eventually rolls around, it merely consists of defeating a handful of enemy units and it's all over within about five minutes. This isn't always the case, but the general shortness of some skirmishes will make you wonder why they're so brief to begin with.
However, story mode's biggest issue is something that can't really be fixed at this point. Hiromu Arakawa's The Heroic Legend of Arslan is still in production, which means that this licensed title can only take the plot so far – and it's undeniably disappointing when you get to that end point and the credits start to roll. Of course, the fact that it's disappointing goes to show how enjoyable the story mode actually is, but that's not really the problem.
The problem is that you just know there'll be a sequel to Warriors of Legend that does everything better: a larger playable character roster, better graphics, bigger maps, an expanded battle system – and it'll no doubt continue the plot. This is the typical Omega Force cycle at work, but it still makes it difficult to view the game as little more than a starting point.
The combat system, while perfectly serviceable and enjoyable, also feels a bit like a starting point. On top of the traditional Warriors-style movesets which see you tapping a mixture of square and triangle to smash away dozens of foes at once, Arslan incorporates a weapon switching and chaining mechanic. Essentially, each character has access to up to three different weapons, and you can either switch them out as you like, or you can tie them into your combos with a tap of R1.
While whipping out a bow to blast enemies that you've launched into the air with your great sword is a lot of fun, it doesn't bring much to the table aside from giving you an easy way to keep that combo counter ticking. Likewise, as you level up your character you unlock slightly different elemental based movesets that apply to each weapon, but again, it's something that doesn't add any additional flavour – you'll usually just pick the one that seems to be the most effective and stick with it.
The skill card system seems to be another attempt to give Arslan its own gameplay identity. Defeated officers will drop cards that can be equipped to your heroes, boosting their attributes. It's a light role-playing game mechanic that admittedly adds a nice little bit of depth and gives you something to work towards. Sure, it's a tad uninspired, but finding a powerful new card brings a slight spark of joy to a game that can appear a bit too bland outside of its lovingly crafted story mode.
Speaking of bland, the majority of maps are incredibly dreary. Some battles take place on vast, open stretches of land – which, at times, makes a refreshing change compared to the often maze-like level design in other Warriors titles – but there's just no life to them, and incredibly muddy textures don't help. Fortunately, the character models are pretty enough to distract from the sub-par settings – at least when you're busy wading through the opposition. Oh, and a rather rousing soundtrack certainly doesn't detract from the title's overall presentation, either.
A lot of care and effort has been poured into Arslan: The Warriors of Legend's story mode, but the narrative focus has taken attention away from other aspects of the release. Outside of the plot, things are enjoyable but unspectacular, and by and large, the title feels like the basis for a better sequel. On this occasion, Omega Force's latest is like a commanding officer with no charisma – you can find respect for it, but you wouldn't follow it blindly into battle.