Arslan: The Warriors of Legend, is the latest Musou title from developer Omega Force and publisher Koei Tecmo. Unlike some reviewers of this title, I have no prior experience with the Musou genre, having not played any of the games released in the 16 years since the first real Musou games, Dynasty Warriors 2, released. So this entire review comes from the point of view of someone who hasn't had time to get tired of the various tropes and mechanics that the series may have built up over a decade and a half.
Arslan: The Warriors of Legend tells of the tale of the titular Arslan, the young prince of the undefeated Pars kingdom. When he heads out into his first battle against the nation of Lusitania, someone within the kingdom betrays Pars and the army is handily destroyed. Now the untested and kind Arslan has to assemble an army of generals and soldiers to fight Lusitania and the mysterious Silvermask. Alongside his loyal servant Daryun, Arslan will cross paths with and call on the allegiance of painter and strategist Narsus, the bow-wielding Elam, the bard Gieve, the priestess Farangis, the tribal warrior Alfreed, and the spy Jaswant.
Most of this will be related to you over the course of the game's story campaign. The campaign itself is lengthy, but not necessarily because of the levels themselves. They'll take you around 30 minutes to clear and then you'll have to contend with cutscenes covering the plot. The game flows from gameplay to cutscene and back to gameplay, making it hard to actually find a place to call it a night.
The cutscenes, and the voice acting that accompanies them, are pulled directly from the anime. It's the same scenes with frames cut out, making the cutscenes appear like a moving comicbook. Playing the story campaign means you don't really need to watch the anime, unless you want to experience Arslan's story in greater detail. The campaign covers all 25 episodes of the first season of the anime, with a second season coming this year.
Even more impressive are the in-game character models, who are used occasionally to act out specific story events. These models look like the anime designs, while still retaining their 3D qualities; Omega Force isn't up to CyberConnect2's proficiency over in the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm series, but it's solid work. When those models drop into the normal game, the effect is lessened a bit. In fact, the cities and battlefields you fight in during the game really aren't that detailed, probably because Omega Force prized showing huge armies onscreen over great texturework.
The battlefield is where you'll spend most of your time, as this is the meat of the game. Each level is narratively driven, so the character you're using is based on the situation at hand. (There's also a Free Mode, allowing you to jump back into finished battles with your character of choice.) In some levels, you'll switch between multiple characters as the battle progresses. You'll wade into battle with the current character, drawing on basic weapon combos (sword, spear, and bow are among your choices) and a unique weapon switching system that allows you to chain together long, streaming combos. The chain combos and weapon switching blunts some of the repetitive nature of the combat, but it can only cover it up so much and you'll default to similar combos to destroy whole armies. The only real shift is in elemental combos you can unlock as you use a specific weapon.
You can also take to horseback at anytime to mow down foes or to get to certain areas quickly. The horseback nature of the Parsian army is reflected in the Mardan Rush mechanic. When you defeat certain enemies on the battlefield, morale turns in your favor, creating a Rush Zone on the field. Activate this Rush Zone and your current general will lead a giant calvary that steamrolls over everything. If you enjoy seeing numbers get bigger, then the bodycount during a good Mardan Rush will excite you.
Seeing those numbers scale higher is part of the enjoyment of Arslan: The Warriors of Legend. Not only is there the overall bodycount on the battlefield, there's also the chain combo counter, which you'll try your damnest to keep going. I have killed so many just trying to get my chain combo above 1,000. The relatively cheap cost of the lives of enemy soldiers will make you feel amazingly powerful, which I gather is the strength of Musou games overall.
Into the huge disposable armies the game throws in Captains, Gatekeepers, and Generals, who affect morale or open up new areas when they die. On top of that, there are bosses; usually named opponents who have a rechargeable guard meter that you have to break before you can do any appreciable damage. Defeating these foes requires timing and a frequent use of the blocking and dodging mechanics. It's not too difficult on Normal (there are four difficulty modes), but the game will punish you for failure. Unfortunately, those battles do feel a bit rote.
The basic character and weapon systems are also backed up by a Skill Card system. Captains, Gatekeepers, Generals, and Bosses all drop skill cards when they die. You can equip three skill cards at any time and they impart status boosts to your characters. You can also use Synthesis, which meld skills old or useless cards together into new cards for cost. It's not a specifically deep system, but it does allow for more differentiation.
All told, as my entry into the Musou genre, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend was a rather impressive first step. The characters are varied and enjoyable, the presentation is solid, and the combat - destroying hosts of nameless soldiers - will really make you feel like a legend. If you're interested in the anime or you're looking for a great fantasy musou, this is the game to try. And if you've been avoiding the musou genre as a whole, I'd recommend picking up Arslan to see if it's really as bad as you think.
Once you've finished the story campaign, you can dig into Free Mode to try out other characters, but the roster is smaller then previous Musou titles.
The voice acting and music are pulled from the anime and sound suitably epic.
The city and field artwork feels barren, probably to prioritize large numbers of enemy soldiers.
It's a bit lighter in content than some other Musou titles with more history, but Arslan: The Warriors of Legend improves the formula with a stronger, focused story based on the anime. Arslan anime fans and Dynasty Warriors fans should find a good time here. If you've ever wanted to take up a sword and slaughter hundreds of enemies, Arslan is your game.