Arslan: The Warriors of Legend PS4 Review

Published by Koei Tecmo and developed by Omega Force, the story behind Arslan: The Warriors of Legend originally started as a novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka, debuting in 1986. The story of Arslan, set in the fantastic Persian-like nation of Pars, has since seen multiple manga and anime adaptations, with the most popular manga release coming in 2013 from Fullmetal Alchemist creator Hiromu Arakawa. The anime based off of Arakawa’s manga is scheduled to air its second season this year.

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend follows 14 year-old Arslan Andragoras, crown prince of Pars, a nation renowned for its military strength. One of the country’s greatest enemies, Lusitania, is on a radical crusade to free all slaves and convert everyone to their religion, by the sword if necessary. When Lusitanian armies invade a neighboring country, Arslan’s emotionally distant father, the Shah, leads his eight Marzbans (generals) out onto the field with all their strength.

Arslan: The Warriors of Legend gameplay with commentary


Of course, the slaves of Pars rebel at the first opportunity, opening their gates to the Lusitanian army and ousting the remnants of the government. Betrayal from a Parsian General and the arrival of an old enemy leaves the previously unrivaled army confused and defeated. Arslan’s royal parents are both captured, and many of the remaining Marzbans are defeated or scattered.

Cut off from the bulk of his army, Arslan looks for counsel from his protector Daryun, a Marzban and one of the most gifted fighters in Pars. The two of them flee the battlefield and seek out Narsus, a previous court advisor whose radical notions on equality and freedom got him exiled. Narsus is accompanied by Elam, a freed slave who excels at scouting and cooking. The roguish minstrel Gieve and Farangis, a priestess whose faith must require her to wear almost no clothing, round out Arslan’s inner circle. The six allies, along with a host of other top-notch fighters, must work to rebuild Arslan’s army, forge new alliances, and retake his war-torn capital. On this journey, the prince begins to understand the meaning and importance of freedom, and finds the strength to defend his new convictions.

Gameplay mechanics and combat style are quite similar to later entries in the Dynasty Warriors series, though chain strikes and Mardan Rushes are both new features. Arslan presents a brief, instructive tutorial early on in the campaign, with help pop-ups throughout as new characters and abilities are unlocked. Controls are relatively simple, with chain attacks being generated through repeated use of a few buttons, rather than complex maneuvering of every facet of the controller. This results in "hack and slash" attack mechanisms that can be a bit repetitive.

arslan warriors

Thankfully, there are 15 playable characters to break up the tedium, each with a unique style and a variety of armaments: fist weapons, great swords, spear and shield, daggers, mace, standalone spear, a variety of one-handed swords, bows, and even an oud and paintbrush. Several of them can also be used from horseback, and the horses sometimes lend a hoof too.

Extensive use of a particular weapon type yields weapon mastery (unlocking weapon arts), which grant a variety of new elemental attacks as they are levelled up. Wind, fire, water and miasma can be added to weapons to deal effects which slow, cause additional damage over time, or deal damage even through enemy block attempts. Chain combinations can be achieved once a character has multiple weapons unlocked. Switching between weapons directly after a power attack will cause significant damage along with a large crowd control effect: generally either knocking nearby enemies back or sucking them in prolong the attack chain.

Every character has a special move, which provides brief invincibility while unloading a unique area of effect attack in front of them. Each character also has a less destructive unique skill, an attack suited for his/her playstyle. Both special movies and unique skills require use of the special gauge. The gauge can be filled by defeating enemies as well as obtaining refill items from enemy generals or treasure chests on the battlefield. Generals can also drop skill cards, equipped from the main menu, which boost a variety of stats. Cards can also be earned from Mardan Rushes, completing mission objectives, or trading in unwanted cards.

The Mardan Rush mechanic is generally a game-changer. When activated, the player summons a group of infantry, cavalry, or archers, dependent on the situation. Infantry or cavalry are generally called on to capture an objective or destroy a barricade, whereas archers may be needed to attack entrenched catapults or enemies on higher ground. Players can’t control which squad arrives, but they can direct their destructive force anywhere on the battlefield prior to focusing on the indicated objective.

I was reminded on two occasions of the Lord of the Rings films, one of my favorite fantasy war depictions. Leading a cavalry Mardan Rush over hundreds of foot soldiers, I felt like one of the Rohirrim rolling over the orcs outside Minas Tirith. I leapt off my horse to battle an enemy general, and suddenly was reliving the scene where Sauron crushes dozens of on-comers with each swing of his mace. The "tactical action epic" is a bit heavy on the action and a bit light on the tactics, but it does deliver on the epic portion.

However, a thin line exists between feeling powerful and being overpowered. Some of the normal battles seem almost too easy… as if the average soldiers are just lining up and waiting for you to destroy them en masse.

Most of the bosses decided against that strategy, unfortunately. Some of the one-on-one fights were needlessly difficult due to frustrating mechanics. Boss enemies had fully regenerating shields every 10 seconds or so, so players have a brief window to use chain attacks or unleash special/unique skills against a stunned enemy before they regain immunity to damage and crowd control effects. Also, when not stunned, bosses deal heavy chain combos every few seconds. If your character gets hit by a single attack, you’re usually unable to block or dodge the rest of the chain, so you’re forced to sit on your hands and watch your health drop.

But the real issue with Arslan is its length, or lack thereof. I didn’t skip a single cut scene, because the story is good and you get most of that in between battles. Still, the play-through only took a little more than 10 hours. Considering that roughly half of that was spent watching the scenes, there is really only five or six hours of gameplay, although the higher difficulty settings take a little longer, and there are a few things to do after you beat the game. But even the story felt like it was cut off at an arbitrary point. Players do fight the central villain at the end, but the heroes had already beaten him on multiple occasions before, so it wasn’t terribly climactic. Arslan felt like a portion of a game, though it does end at roughly the same point as the first season of the most recent anime adaptation.

You can get a little more time out of the Free Mode, which allows replay of any of the story maps and some extra scenarios from the novel and manga. You can play as any character and can eat special meals beforehand to boost stats like damage or experience gain. Meal recipes can be obtained throughout the story for completing various objectives. There are about 50 scenarios in total. Online play (PS Plus required) and two-player split screen both allow free and story mode play, which is a nice feature.

Visually, Arslan is on point, blending a cadre of different styles into its own unique medium. The beautiful 3D cel-shaded graphic battle sequences transition nicely into 2D anime cinematics and back again, mixing in some still cut scenes for good measure. Arslan and each of his companions have a cool short scene when unleashing their destructive special skills on enemy squads. The only visual issue I had was with the user interface: the map can be difficult to decipher, particularly when it is cluttered with enemies. The soundtrack was another huge triumph for Arslan. The music is beautiful and strong, complementing but not overpowering the visuals. The driving background themes really helped set the stage for some epic warfare.

Breaking up and tying together the combat missions are narrative animated sequences, which feel a lot like a visual novel. The story is definitely one of the high points for Arslan. The subtitles are excellent translations, all of the Japanese voices fit the characters, and the dialogue is funny and dramatic in all the right places.

One issue I did have is that semi-important dialogue sometimes occurs while you’re fighting. I know only one phrase in Japanese and these warriors aren’t saying "thank you" over and over again, so I felt like I was missing chunks of the story, or at least a bit of character development as Arslan’s heroes bantered back and forth while I was busy button-mashing.



The Final Word

Arslan boasts great story and character concepts woven beautifully between stunning action sequences. Gameplay is straightforward, but a diverse cast of playable characters prevents too much monotony. The game is thoroughly enjoyable; however, a short campaign and lack of overall content will leave you wanting much more for your $60.