by Tom Mackey
reviewed on PC
Well-executed anime style
So, I have to get something out of the way before I go on with this review: When it comes to Anime, I haven't got a clue. I don't watch it, I'm not really sure it's for me, it always seems to be taking itself far too seriously. Basically, something about it just seems to rub me up the wrong way, and I therefore tend to avoid it like the plague. What I do know about, however, is a good hack and slash, and with Arslan: The Warriors of Legend, that's exactly what you get. Well, that's what you get depending on which style of hack and slash you enjoy, the God of War style shall we say, or the Dynasty Warriors style. It is on that question that your experience of Arslan will really be determined.
Now, as far as Arslan is concerned, I'll admit right away that I know little about this particular Anime series. What I have been able to glean is that this game is based on The Heroic Legend of Arslan, not to be confused with Aslan, the Lion from the Narnia books. Arslan is actually a fourteen-year-old warrior prince who enjoys slaughtering hundreds upon thousands of other warriors, sometimes including his own. This particular Anime series is the supposed draw to this video game tie-in, but it appears to be quite an obscure one, especially in the West. However, if there is one thing developer Koei Tecmo has done exceptionally well here, it is the integration of the series art style and characters into the game world. It always astonishes me more somehow when playing a version of an animated series that looks just like the series itself. There is something novel about feeling like you are enacting an animated tv series. The style here is consistent throughout both the gameplay and the in-engine cut-scenes, and it all runs at a consistent framerate. It is also on par with the the series itself along with the voice acting, all of which serve to give the game a very solid foundation to build upon. It must also be pleasing for fans of the series to see the characters and style so accurately rendered. The visual fidelity does drop a little between cutscenes and gameplay which is a tiny bit disappointing, but this is probably to be expected from a Warriors game considering the number of enemies thrust on screen at any one time.
Slash and kill
That's what this game really comes down to though, it's classic Warriors mechanics. If you've ever played a Dynasty Warriors game before then you will find yourself in familiar territory here. If you never have, then it goes something like this: You are a super powerful general in a huge army and run about overpowering hundreds of much weaker opponents with various straightforward attacks, punctuated by the occasional huge special attack. Usually towards the end of a battle you will have to seek out and defeat the opposing army’s general. These confrontations are generally a little more thoughtful and better paced than the rest of the mindless sword swinging combat. All of this takes place in massive battlefields which are usually pretty barren save for enemy encampments and towers etc. That's it. That is the experience of a warriors game. Which is why I have always stopped playing them after about an hour. The gameplay just becomes far too repetitive far too quickly for it to hold my interest at all.
Much the same can be said for Arslan. There are a few mechanics that seem to be new since my last venture into one of these games. The horse combat is quick and powerful, with attacks landed from the back of your steed having real weight behind them. This is a definite plus as it is easy for these games to feel like your attacks are just washing over waves of enemies rather than hitting anyone individually with any real impact. Those attacks are certainly familiar, with a light attack that you can repetitively bash enemies with and a more powerful charge attack for groups. All of the attacks are nicely animated with special attacks looking as pleasant and fluid as you'd expect considering the source style.
There is a new special move that the game leans on called a Mardun rush. This involves heading to a glowing area and hitting one button to commence what is essentially an automated mass rush attack against hundreds of enemies at once. This is used on occasion for other things like accessing new areas but, for the most part, it feels a bit like a cheat. It's a little like the developers have fully accepted that those who play their games just want to kill lots of things, so why not let them do it with one button? There are other playable characters but it tends to just be more of the same control wise, just with a different skin. Koei Tecmo have clearly been refining their particular brand of combat for years now as it all works very well and is nice and fluid. It's just still more of the same though, which for me is deadly dull, but clearly for others holds some kind of lasting appeal as they are still making these games.
The real thing that interested me more than I thought it would in Arslan, was the story. There is far more story in this game than I ever witnessed in any of the previous Warriors games, and it's a blessed relief. The gameplay is interrupted quite often by well animated story scenes which provide an actual narrative to follow throughout the game. It's nothing particularly new or inventive, but it gives you a reason to get through each battlefield beyond of just making it to the next one. It's this that may actually prove the draw and success of Arslan: The Warriors of Legend. The dedication to the art style and characters along with the involved storyline are far more likely to bring in the fans than the same old combat mechanics.
Ultimately, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend is a game that - as far as gameplay is concerned - seems to accept what it is and just do it well. Combat is fluid and well animated if just as repetitive as we've come to expect from Koei Tecmo. It is through the source material that the game starts to become interesting, giving some meaning and depth to the otherwise familiar experience. It doesn't do quite enough to make this game stand out heads and shoulders above its cousins but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
True to the source material, solid performance and story
Repetitive combat/mechanics, doesn't do enough different