With Hyrule Warriors marching dangerously close to its day of release, we wonder how many Nintendo gamers know their Dynasty Warriors from their Samurai Warriors – their Lu Bu from their Tadakatsu Honda. Indeed, most probably already know that Hyrule Warriors itself is just another in a long line of crossovers from publisher Koei Tecmo, but if you've never jumped into a Musou battlefield before, you're probably still pondering over one question: just what the heck is a Warriors game?
Unfortunately, the first thing that you may hear about Warriors titles is that they're a bit rubbish. It's no secret that developer Omega Force usually pumps out more releases in 12 months than people have time for, and this often crazy productivity is partly to blame for the fact that many critics love nothing more than to brand every new game exactly the same as the last. To say that Warriors titles are divisive is an understatement, but are they really as bad as some would have you believe?
The answer to that question largely depends on what your idea of fun is and what your expectations are. Legend of Zelda fans certainly shouldn't expect a traditional experience from Hyrule Warriors, for example, but if you've dabbled in any other Warriors, then you should probably know how the gameplay is going to unfold. Depending on your point of view, the consistent similarity between Warriors games can either be a plus or a negative. On the plus side, if you've played one you can probably hop into another with relative ease, but on the other hand, you might find that the formula doesn't change enough to keep things feeling fresh.
Sadly, for those that dislike the one-man-army based brawlers, the formula won't be undergoing any alterations any time soon. With every subsequent release, the Japanese market buys anything Warriors related by the bucket-load, and thankfully for fans the titles' success in their homeland is one of the main reasons that they ever see Western releases. That said, Hyrule Warriors is a bit of a special case in the sense that it's a Warriors spin-off that's tied to a gaming franchise, rather than a popular Japanese manga and anime license. With the big N's backing, Hyrule Warriors was never not going to hit Western Wii Us, but the question remains: what the heck is a Warriors game?
Well, believe it or not, Dynasty Warriors – arguably the most well-known Warriors series – started life as a one-on-one fighting game back on the original 32-bit PlayStation. It wasn't until its second instalment that the gameplay structure fans have grown to love was introduced, as huge battlefields full to the brim with enemy armies appeared, ripe for the slaughter. Carving your way through the opposition's ranks is easy thanks to accessible combat that has a focus on combos and powerful charge attacks, and it's this rather basic formula that acts as the foundation of almost every subsequent Warriors release.
They also tend to have some very, very big character rosters, too. Dynasty Warriors, which is based on warring Chinese history in and around 200AD, now features over 80 playable characters, each boasting their own combos, techniques and special moves. It's not really feasible for a Zelda tie-in to sport quite that many fighters, but still, the sheer number shows just how prolific Omega Force can be when it comes to crafting entirely new and unique move-sets.
However, each series hasn't always played host to such a stunning number of characters. The rosters are generally built up bit by bit, with a more expansive roster being a main selling point for the inevitable sequel. Of course, with series like Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors both based upon actual events in history, there are only so many personalities that can be crammed into the fray — although we dare say that it won't be long before we start seeing some relatively obscure faces making their way onto the battlefield.
Speaking of Samurai Warriors – which follows the events of feudal Japan from around the 1600s – Nintendo gamers may remember that the third main entry into the series was a Wii exclusive back in 2009 in Japan, and 2010 elsewhere. It wasn't long before it moved onto PlayStation platforms, but perhaps many loyalists of the big N may be left comparing Hyrule Warriors to the Samurai's short stay on the home console. The Samurai Warriors series itself again follows that same path of hacking and slashing your way through the opposing army, completing various objectives as you clash against other prominent warlords from the relevant time period.
Alongside the Chinese and Japanese Warriors representations, though, there are plenty of spin-offs to consider as well. As previously hinted, developer Omega Force has had plenty of success in tying popular licenses to the traditional Warriors gameplay format – and that's exactly what it's doing with Hyrule Warriors.
With characters and lore set in stone, the spin-offs sometimes end up feeling more focused than their Dynasty and Samurai counterparts. The Dynasty Warriors: Gundam series, for example, has evolved to the point where its gameplay is highly tuned and actually feels very distinct from the historical escapades found elsewhere. Meanwhile, the One Piece: Pirate Warriors games make a fantastic use of their license, with personalities from the show and manga ripping through the enemy with their colourful and downright ridiculous special abilities.
Hyrule Warriors represents an exciting new prospect for Koei Tecmo, and could be just the start of various gaming properties embracing the Warriors template. After all, Square Enix is already giving the idea a test taste with the recently announced Dragon Quest Heroes — and why not? The Warriors formula of battling thousands of opponents is something that's accessible, and it provides the perfect set up for a franchise's cast to kick the snot out of each other.
The Warriors games are consistent if nothing else, so when you're dashing through Hyrule as Link or smashing Zelda across the map as Ganondorf, just give a thought to the countless other Warriors titles out there – if you enjoy Hyrule Warriors, chances are that you'll find something to like in warring China or feudal Japan, too.
Rob is the Associate Editor of our sister site, Push Square. He's played so many Warriors titles that he's no longer allowed to mingle with large crowds, just in case he unleashes a devastating Musou attack which sends people sprawling in multiple directions.