As we see so often, there’s a lot of fun to be had in a major crossover title. Seeing a dozen different stories coming together and characters from different worlds meeting taps into the imaginations of dedicated fans in the best way. Super Smash Brothers is perhaps the biggest video game related example of this idea, letting you see Samus and Zelda lay the smack down on Mario and Kirby. When a company makes a game like this, it almost ends up being more about the celebration of their lineage than the game itself. With Warriors All-Stars, Koei Tecmo seeks to celebrate a long and diverse line of characters under their belts, but sadly does so with some lukewarm results.
Warriors All-Stars is another Dynasty Warriors style game, but with a cast of characters that’s drawn from over a dozen different Koei Tecmo titles. While a good portion of them are safe picks from Dynasty Warriors or Dead Or Alive, there are big surprises in there like the protagonist from Nioh, William, a cat version of historical figure Oda Nobunaga, and Rio the casino dealer from Koei Tecmos series of Rio slot-machine games.
Why are all of these characters suddenly in the same world, though? The king that fuels a well of spiritual energy that keeps his kingdom thriving passes away, leaving three successors to the throne who must find heroes from other worlds that can help restore its spiritual energy. At the same time, though, each of the successors is vying for the throne and battling each other to become the next ruler.
The story is interesting enough, and I was left wanting to uncover the answers and discover the true intentions of each of these characters, but unfortunately, simply seeing the conclusion to the narrative is a herculean task. You start the campaign by picking a character you’d like to begin as, but don’t think each playable character has their own story. Everyone in the cast is part of one of the armies of the three potential successors to the throne: Tamaki, Shiki, or Setsuna. It’s these three that have their own stories, which you’ll experience depending on the playable character you pick.
Once you start the game, you’re met with a huge world map where your upcoming main missions, side missions, and challenges are available, and you can also do special missions to unlock new characters. What the game doesn’t quite explain, however, is that doing certain missions in certain orders will lock or unlock other missions. For example, I did all of my recruitment missions right away, and was locked out of the main story. After a three hour playthrough, I got a strange and sudden ending involving two characters, neither of whom were the one I started the game as.
To see an actual ending to the overarching narrative requires you to jump through so many hoops and fulfill so many precise, mysterious requirements that it barely seems worth it. The side-endings were way more satisfying anyway, as they were the only times you got any meaningful cross-franchise interactions. A lot of the interactions I would have loved to see never came to fruition though, because of the three-team structure. I would have killed to see William from Nioh meeting with the big-eyed anime girl protagonist of Atelier Sophie, but since they were on different teams, it never happened.
After you see an ending, your playthrough ends, and you are expected to start a brand new one from scratch, with only your character levels and inventory carrying over. Strangest of all, none of the characters you unlock will stay unlocked, so you can only ever pick from a selection of 17 characters, despite the game having 30, and you have to go through the recruitment missions all over again. I could stomach having to recruit characters again if campaigns were lengthy, but with each playthrough being 2-4 hours long, it’s just downright punishing.
Thankfully, the gameplay tying all of this together is more tightly designed and Warriors All Stars does a lot of things with the combat to really help it stand out. When you go into battle, you bring along five assist characters with you, each of which can fight alongside you simultaneously, add an extra attack to the end of a huge combo, perform a special attack that deals massive damage or gives you passive buffs. All of these assist systems add so much flair and fun to the gameplay, as well as an interesting layer of strategy.
Even better than the assist systems are the core movesets of the characters. The characters who would seem the least likely to fit into this kind of game always ended up having the most fun and visually dynamic attack moves, and no two characters in the cast ever felt like carbon copies or lazy designs.
The maps and missions, unfortunately, did. Warriors All-Stars fails to borrow from the mission and map design of previous Warriors games like Zelda, Berserk, or Dragon Quest Heroes. Those games feature proper level structures, varied missions, and proper boss fights. Warriors All-Stars has none of that, with each map being a labyrinthine maze of enemy bases and blocked gates that all melded together and cause more headaches than happiness.
Another bright spot in the game, and perhaps the biggest one of all, is the visuals. Warriors All-Stars is a beautiful game, with sharp visuals and vivid colors that contrast against the massive hordes of enemies the PS4 manages to render at all times with no frame drops whatsoever. Most impressive to me were character models, though. Characters from existing 3D current-gen games look like they were literally plucked right out of their own titles, while new or old character models are rendered beautifully to perfectly match their original designs.
Warriors All Stars is a grand celebration of the history and popularity of Koei Tecmo. Unfortunately, the celebration fails to deliver a satisfying video game experience. Every time I had to re-unlock a character, or study three different menus to try and guess which missions I had to avoid so I could get the next proper story chapter, Warriors All Stars felt less like a celebration, and more like homework.