A video game based on an anime based on a manga based on a series of historical novels, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is nothing if not the product of a richly textured, popular IP, if perhaps less known outside of Japan. The game — actually the second to be based on Tanaka’s fourteen book-long series of novels The Heroic Legend of Arslan — borrows heavily from the look of Hiromu Arakawa’s designs for the anime television series. In any case, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend makes the player feel like they’re in the middle of a beautiful, fluid and spectacular anime.
Omega Force’s Arslan is a hack and slash/action game on a grand scale, with gameplay mechanics highly reminiscent of their popular Dynasty Warriors franchise, combining fighting game-style moves and combos with powerful attacks that cut a swath through dozens or hundreds of enemies. Fans of the Warriors series will feel instantly at home and pleased by the additions and tweaks to the formula. The game makes a great first impression with a riveting and action-packed cutscene that actually foreshadows the story’s first major battle, before jumping back in time several years to set up the story proper. We meet young prince Arslan as a young boy, learning basic combat at the feet of his master, before a surprising turn of events sets in motion the arc of the story that will drive the rest of the single player game. Needless to say — and without giving away the twists and turns — there are betrayals, reverses and a large number of warriors to befriend as Arslan grows from boy to a truly heroic figure assembling an army of allies. With fourteen novels from which to draw material, Arslan’s campaign is packed with incident and large-scale battles and a number of playable heroes, unlocked during the story.
Arslan’s combat is more complex and textured than simply button mashing hack and slash. Like other games in the Warriors franchise, characters have normal and charge attacks, can block and perform evasive moves in various combinations, and of course each hero has unique special attacks specific to them. New to Aslan is the “Charge Shift,” a combo that is a set of moves with one weapon building to a finishing move with a second weapon switched mid-combo.
Horses are not just a means of transportation in Arslan, as most characters have mount-specific moves and combos that make charging through a throng of enemies on horseback especially effective. The biggest new addition to combat is the “Mardān Rush.” Used primarily to unlock gated areas by smashing through a wall or pile of rubble and after a particularly effective chain of combos, heroes are temporarily able to control huge battalions of mounted units, archers, or infantry, sweeping across the battlefield and racking up hundreds of kills at a time as they move to Finish Points. It’s a little “gamey” and unrealistic, but it isn’t overdone.
Like in other Warriors games, battles are timed and scored by a letter grade in both the single player Story Mode campaign and in the Free Mode, and higher scores result bigger rewards. Additionally, some enemies drop Skill Cards, which can be applied to characters for extra skill boosts like higher damage or stronger armor. There are hundreds of Skill Cards to unlock and the battlefields are littered with treasure chests that also contain healing potions and other items.
Arslan’s combat alternates between immense battles with a series of changing objectives and thousands of combatants, and one-on-one boss battles that are considerably more challenging and demand mastery over a wide range of combos and weapons. Occasionally — but rarely with any discernible effect on the outcome — boss battles will toss in another hero to help distract the enemy. The Story Mode is playable in co-op as well. Completing the Story Mode is necessary to unlock the Free Mode, which is where the game’s longevity and variety really shine. There are many playable warriors to try, and almost all are interesting and potentially effective heroes.
The huge battles are amazingly fluid and frenetic but truth be told, can become repetitious over a long period. It isn’t always easy to find the designated target within the mass of indistinguishable warriors and while slicing and dicing dozens of enemies at once or sending waves of soldiers flying in the air is absolutely cool and the animations are impressively cinematic, the experience is also slightly bloodless, literally and metaphorically. Losing in a boss encounter means replaying either entire, multistage battles or dropping in from the game’s last save point, which is rarely right before the boss.
Boss battles require a full arsenal of skills and combos and feel effectively like a fighting game but a lack of lock on targeting means that lots of charges or big power moves will propel the hero far past the boss and require several seconds of camera readjustment or searching for the target. Aside from this complaint, the camera generally is rarely a problem.
Graphically, Arslan absolutely nails the look of an artistically rendered anime. There are many jaw-dropping moments where the lighting and architecture work together to great effect. But perhaps because it needs to run on the PS3, there are likewise some cut scenes that look less impressive and the battlefield environments are often nondescript. The game is voiced in Japanese with English subtitles and the music — which underscores nearly every moment of the experience — is quite varied, moving between delicate and understated moments to high energy symphonic rock for the more dramatic scenes.
Arslan: The Warriors of Legend takes the Warriors formula and franchise in a new direction, but the core gameplay is largely familiar. Though they can grow repetitive, the large scale battles are still impressive and the anime art style and story make the game feel like an immense, interactive movie. Although there isn’t a huge challenge in defeating the rank and file soldiers, the boss battles are tough, and when you add in all the unlockable heroes to try and the many ways to customize and level each character, the amount of content and replayability add up to Arslan being one of Omega Force’s better Warriors games.