The Best Anime Musou Gamesby Heidi Kemps,
Koei-Tecmo's Omega Force development team might be the busiest people in the game industry. They've taken an extremely successful gameplay formula from their Dynasty Warriors games -- often referred to as “Musou,” from the Dynasty Warriors's Japanese title, “Shin Sangoku Musou” -- and have been able to adapt and apply it to a host of other properties: historical conflicts, manga, anime, even other game series. It's amazing how well the concept of beating down hundreds of foes at once with elaborate combos and special moves translates across numerous media properties, and it's also neat to see how Omega Force makes both small and large adjustments to the core gameplay to fit with the various properties they adapt.
With the recent release of Fire Emblem Warriors and a host of upcoming Musou-inspired titles on the horizon, the series seems to be on a lot of peoples' minds. And if you're an anime and manga fan, there's a good chance a series you enjoy has received the Musou treatment at some point. We thought now was a good time to take a look at the various anime and manga properties that Omega Force has adapted over the years, as well as tell you what platforms you they're available for and whether or not they're worth your time.
The first attempt to take Musou outside of a historical-fantasy context came in the form of 2007's Gundam Warriors, which gave players the opportunity to hack-and-slash hordes of mobile suits. While mowing down mountains of MSes probably isn't canonically accurate (cue a hundred emails from Gundam fans explaining why I'm right/wrong), it's quite fun, with the mobile suits providing a bigger variety of movement and ranged attacks than is typical for a Musou-style game -- along with battles taking place both on land and in space. Later games in the series also expand their anime-reenactment “History Missions” beyond the Universal Century Gundam universe, allowing fans of Gundam series like Wing and 00 to replay key moments from their favorite shows. It's a nice evolution of the Musou formula, and I'm honestly a little sad that it's been a few years since we last got a new installment -- there's plenty of newer Gundam material out now that would make great additions to the series.
Verdict: Worth your time
FIST OF THE NORTH STAR: KEN'S RAGE
One of the first tie-in Musou games is also, sadly, one of the worst. It's a shame, too, because Kenshiro making hundreds of heads explode simultaneously sounds like a ton of fun -- in theory. The original Ken's Rage is an ugly, dull slog of a game, with little in the way of gameplay variety. It's also a serious eyesore: I know the world of Hokuto is a broken, brown destroyed mess, but this game gets incredibly wearisome to look at. Ken's Rage 2 fixes things a bit by mixing up the gameplay a bit more, but it suffers from a lot of extra padding and an inconsistent framerate. With the incredible-looking Hokuto ga Gotoku on the horizon, you can safely skip these even if you're totally jonesing for a Fist of the North Star gaming fix.
ONE PIECE PIRATE WARRIORS
Out of all the anime-affiliated Musou games, One Piece Pirate Warriors might be the best. The goofy, colorful aesthetic and over-the-top characters of One Piece mesh perfectly with the delightful absurdity of overpowering hordes of enemies all at once, making for a gameplay experience that's plenty of fun. Teammate combo attacks using the unique “Kizuna” system are a real treat, allowing you to combine the outlandish special abilities of various One Piece personalities for great effect. And hey, if you're daunted by the hundreds of episodes of One Piece you'll need to watch to actually catch up to where the anime's at, Pirate Warriors 3 provides a surprisingly solid abridged adaptation of the story that can help you catch up -- making it both a great Musou game and a good place for One Piece newbies to hop in.
Verdict: Worth your time
ATTACK ON TITAN
It's debatable whether or not this should be on the list, but I feel like it fits. Koei-Tecmo's Attack on Titan games are fundamentally based on Musou series DNA, however, there are substantial differences in gameplay. Since it wouldn't really make sense for Eren and the other Survey Corps members to be slashing through hundreds of titans at once, the focus is more on battling individual titans and using your ODM gear to carefully restrain and cut them down. There are numerous Musou-style missions where you must guard certain points on a map, along with slower-paced beat-em-up style sequences where you control Eren as a Titan. It's a solid title with some fun moments -- I really like the feel of zipping around with the ODM gear -- but due to its different format, it might not scratch the Warriors itch as well as some of the other games on here. And hey, Attack on Titan 2 hits next year, so you might just want to wait for that.
Verdict: Fun for fans
ARSLAN: WARRIORS OF LEGEND
The Heroic Legend of Arslan anime didn't seem to make waves in the West as much as it did in Japan, but that didn't stop Koei-Tecmo from releasing an English adaptation of their Arslan Musou game. A common complaint I hear about Musou games, often from people who haven't really played a lot of Musou games, is that they're all just re-skins of each other. Of course, this isn't actually true, but out of all the licensed Musou titles, Arslan feels the closest to being just “Dynasty Warriors but anime.” Yes, there are differences -- there are a few tweaks to weapon-changing, and the “Rush Mode” that lets you annihilate literally thousands of enemies with an organized brigade is cool -- but overall, it feels like the anime Musou with the strongest bond to the titles that inspired it. Maybe it's my lack of interest in the source material, but this one didn't really click with me. Still, a lot of folks really like it, so it's probably worth a shot to see if it works for you.
Verdict: Fun for fans, but also worth trying
BERSERK AND THE BAND OF THE HAWK
It's easy to forget that a lot of folks' first exposure to Berserk was the Dreamcast game released over 15 years ago. There was a later attempt to adapt Berserk as a PS2 game (which languished in Japan for good reason), but when people got word that a violent Berserk-themed Musou was coming, there was a lot of excitement. The end product, however, left a bit to be desired. As cool as it is to play as Guts swinging his huge-ass sword around to slice everything into a bloody mess, the gameplay is quite repetitive even by Musou standards. A lack of variety in mission objectives and a serious cinematics-to-gameplay imbalance drag Berserk down significantly compared to other Musou outings. Even the bloodshed feels strangely subdued. At least it looks nice -- some would argue better than the recent TV anime -- but overall, it's a disappointment.
Koei-Tecmo aren't the only people making Musou-style games. Here are a couple made by other developers that are worth looking at.
Okay, Sengoku Basara was a (weirdly localized) game before it was an anime, but let's be real here -- if you're outside of Japan, you probably know of this property from the anime adaptation. The original Sengoku Basara game on PS2 received a strange, tone-deaf localization called “Devil Kings” that removed a lot of the historical references and weirdness, but the later Sengoku Basara 3 got a much truer-to-the-source English release as Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes. It's a real hoot of a game, packed with bizarre humor, over-the-top situations, and the hack-and-slash gameplay every Musou fan knows and loves. Sadly, nothing of the series has been localized since.
This upcoming title might not be made by Omega Force, but one look at the trailers will show you exactly the type of gameplay Bandai-Namco's going for here. Given that the Gintama anime makes a lot of tongue-in-cheek references to other otaku properties, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some choice digs at and subversions of the Musou formula. An Asian version of Gintama Rumble in English will hit on January 18, 2018, but Bandai-Namco hasn't mentioned the possibility of an official North American or European release yet. They haven't been shy about bringing over their other anime-based games, so it's definitely a possibility. If you want it, let them know!
So what are your favorite anime Musou games? What properties do you think would work well with Musou-style gameplay? Head over to the ANN Forums and share your thoughts!
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