3WS – Three flavours of Musou

The musou games (sometimes called “warrior” games in the west) are a pretty polarizing sub-genre inside the gaming world. For its niche audience of players, in which I’m included, they’re pretty much some sort of gaming drug with how addicting they get to be. But, on the other side of the spectrum, these games are hated ferociously by other gamers that find it’s simplistic combat repetitive and boring.
Those players could be wondering by now if they should just stop reading the article as they feel like they’ll never want to get any of these games. However, I think they’d do themselves a favour by getting until the end because what we’ll see in today’s 3-Way Showdown is that not all Musou games are the same.
The game’s featured today will be: Fist of the North star: Ken’s rage, Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes and One piece: Pirate warriors. Enjoy.

What are they?
These Musou games are categorized inside the hack n’slash genre but, in most examples of the hack n’slash games (or most gaming genres for that matter) your main goal is simply surviving the enemy. What you seek in a musou game isn’t simply the survival of your character. Most of the enemies are just cannon fodder so surviving isn’t hard in a musou game. In this case, what you strive for is efficiency.
There is a whole battle going on and you have to tip the scales in favour of your side and for that you’ll have to roam the whole battlefield “putting out different fires” in the most efficient way. It’s not about if you’ll be able to face five hundred enemies and survive (because that will be easy) but about if you’ll be able to dispose of them quick enough so that your capitain doesn’t get slain before you can reach him.
Another ingredient that makes these Musou games so addicting to its fans is the character buffing. Some enemies will drop new weapons or accessories that will make you deal more damage and receive less for when the enemies get tougher. Apart from that, your character  levels up which also improves their stats.
You can already guess that those two mechanics together result in a risk-reward system that will be the spice to make every battle engaging. Should I dedicate myself to slay every single enemy on this zone to make my character stronger or should I already rush for the final boss before he destroys my base? That’s the kind of thing that will make your brain keep working and not trying to remember the different combos like you’d do on a classic hack n’slash. It’s obviously then that this kind of games won’t be for everyone, but they can be very enjoyable if those mechanics spark an interest in you.

Its quirks
Now the reason why this article was written in the first place. Even if these three games can be categorized as part of the same sub-genre, they’re certainly not just a lazy asset swap.
Starting with the most obvious, the fact that one of them isn’t technically a warriors game. Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes wasn’t developed by Omega force, the creators of the Dynasty Warriors series. This game was published by Capcom and while you’ll also be facing hordes of hundreds of enemies, the general mechanics of the battles aren’t quite the same.
Here you’ll have to capture different towers of control that are basically where enemies spawn from and then rush for the stage boss. The stages don’t feel quite like two armies facing each other in a real battle like you do in most Samurai Warriors stages but instead a one way thing as you’re the one capturing the enemy almost on your own. To spice things up and make things more interesting however, every stage features a different “gimmick” or side things to do like having to place bombs to blow up your way through a cave or being chased by an indestructible samurai robot.
Moving onto the game based on the Fist of the North Star manga. What makes this game different from the usual Dynasty Warriors title is the more linear and story driven approach of the game. You’ll still be facing a lot of enemies at the same time but most of the stages in Ken’s rage aren’t big open battles but something more similar to a regular hack n’slash game. Levels are designed in a more linear fashion but they feel way more handcrafted with plenty of unpredictable events and turns and a much bigger focus on one to one fights against bosses than in a regular Musou title.
You could also apply that to half of the campaign in the first One Piece warriors games. The game wants to follows closely some of the events happening in the anime and for that some of the stages are pretty much linear affairs that resemble closer the more typical hack n’slash level design.
Apart from that, you’ll have that this game tried to implement some simplified plaftormer elements as traversal through some of the stages required your character to perform some interesting acrobatics like climbing or jumping from poles.

The good parts
The best part of the One piece game and Ken’s rage comes with the fact that it’s tightly based on an anime and so it follows its story. That comes through in even the way the levels are designed depicting some of the events of the source material so it feels like you’re playing through them in a deeper way than you would do if they gameplay was more similar to the typical Musou formula.
The other highlights of the games are also tied with its quirks. In the one piece game you have those platfoming sections that, even if they are heavily qte based, they provide a much needed variety from the regular fighting. Also, if you’re a follower of the One piece property, you’ll know how colorful and distinctive the characters in the anime are and they translate great to form a varied roster of playable characters that display a very imaginative and flashy set of moves.
In the Fist of the North Star game you’ll notice a big focus on 1 to 1 boss fights that obviously are the portrayal of the ones in the manga. If you’re a fan of the series that would be already reason enough to get the game but, even if you’re not, those bossfights are probably the best you can find in any musou game.
As for the best part in Sengoku Basara, that has to be the colorful display of characters that the game features. Certainly taking much bigger liberties with the historical figures they’re supposedly representing, every character feels unique which will incentivate you to play the campaign with each and every one of them. And that also brings me to the second highlight of the game which is the amount of characters you’ll be able to unlock. Those will also be done by finishing the main mode with an already unlocked one and it feels quite satisfying.

The bad ones
What sticks out the most from Sengoku Basara is that, ironically, out of these three games it’s the one that will remind you more of a typical “warriors” game and with that, you can also notice better it’s biggest problem. The game isn’t as big in scale nor as deep in its mechanics as, for example, Samurai Warriors 4. That’s not to say that the game is bad because it isn’t, but it’s inferior from what you can get on titles from Omega Force.
Strangely enough, one of the things I highlighted from One Piece: Pirate Warriors is also one of the worst and I’m talking about the platforming. I felt they were fine and the variety that it adds to the stages feels refreshing but they could be way better. As starters and as I mentioned before, they’re qte based and that will rub some people the wrong way.
My gripe with the Fist of the North Star game is way more serious though. The combat in this game feels very different from any other Musou game, in particular, it feels way slower and most of the attack moves from the characters have a very short reach which makes the fights against big numbers of enemies to not feel as satisfying and fun.

My thoughts
Honestly, in this 3-Way Showdown is not as much important which is my favourite game of the three. This was just an excuse to showcase that, within the Musou genre, not all the games are the same. It’s not a matter of the different licenses that they’ve been getting (like Gundam, Saint Seiya or Dragon Quest) either.
That being said, 3WS have a structure that I must follow so I have to say which is my favourite and that one is the One Piece one. Not because of me having a bigger attachment to the license, it’s just that I found it to be the most fun out of the three.
Then there would be Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes which is fun and engaging enough but, at the end of the day, I’d still prefer to play Samurai Warriors better.
The third spot then it would be for Ken’s Rage which I feel that offers the most distinctive gameplay of the three but, it’s not a difference that I personally enjoyed the most. The combat is slower and more focused for 1 on 1 fights so if that sounds good for you it could very well be your favourite but it isn’t for me.

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