Warriors: Legends of Troy seeks to break new ground in a genre that Koei has defined and dominated for decades. After going to one extreme with last year's superb Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage, the company is taking yet another unexpected path and bringing us into the heart of the brutal Trojan War.
As before, the gameplay is based on the concept of heroes - those exceptional individuals who singlehandedly turn the tide of a battle, mowing down swarms of enemies and rallying their comrades. This time, instead of classical Chinese combatants, we play as four heroes on the Achaean side (called "the Greeks" in the game) and four on the Trojan side. The game lays out the events of Homer's Iliad with a combination of cinemas, cut scenes, and gritty gameplay. The narrative cinemas utilize to great effect an art style based on Grecian pottery, and some of the later scenes, dealing with the fate of Achilles and the eventual sacking of the city, are particularly powerful, with stirring dialogue and heart-wrenching imagery. In fact, I have one and only one complaint about the non-game aspects of Warriors: Legends of Troy, but we shall get to that in a bit.
Some of the later scenes are particularly powerful, with stirring dialogue and heart-wrenching imagery.
The game itself was a little less exaggerated than I expected it to be, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I have only had limited direct experience with Koei's famous musou games, but as noted above, I loved Fist of the North Star on the PS3 and was looking forward to a similar game based in Ancient Greece. After hearing how bloody Legends of Troy would be, I was happy to see that there is not a cartoonish amount of crimson. One of the most striking aspects of the source material is the brutal depiction of death and injury - descriptions of spears piercing soft tissue and swords tearing at flesh. The effect both in the poem and in the game, however, is the same: there is enough blood to tell the story realistically, and though it serves a gratuitous purpose, it is also meant to give us pause as we consider just how much these soldiers endured for one man's folly.
Those who were expecting a bloodath will not be completely disappointed, though. There are many ways to stick it to the opposing combatants, from slashing and piercing with your main weapon to grabbing a spear or sword from off a pile of corpses and hurling it into the backs of fleeing foes. Above each characters health bar is a fury meter, which allows you to enter a state of overdrive when activated. Unfortunately - and this is my only major disappointment with the game - all you get in fury mode is faster and harder-hitting versions of your regular moves. There are no special attacks tied to the enraged state. Obviously, I wouldn't want this title to be have Capcom-like specials, but it would have been great to see some unique attacks incorporated. Even though there is a strong supernatural element to the game, the specials wouldn't have to be anything flashy - just a particularly brutal takedown or crowd-clearing moment of rage.
Each playable character does have a few finishing moves at his or her disposal: quick stabs and other coups de grâce, but they are activated with a simple press of the Triangle button on a stunned opponent. If you truly wanted to, you could even finish every enemy in the game this way, so it can lose some of its luster pretty early on. And given the look of the game, most of the finishers don't do much to stand out. Some super specials would have gone far in both distinguishing the game visually and relieving the monotony.
Warriors: Legends of Troy is comprised of twenty-one chapters in the main campaign and three different types of survival mode. The campaign took me fourteen-and-a-half hours, but that was only because I thoroughly combed through each map and went well out of my way looking for trouble. Killing opponents earns you blood currency that you can use in a kind of celestial jewelry store to purchase upgrade items. You have to fit these trinkets into an inventory grid, and once you're out of space, you're out of upgrades you can take into battle. You can choose to have different setups for different characters or you can copy the grid from one hero to the next. Some of the replay value is derived from the fact that you won't come anywhere near being able to reveal all the items on your first play-through, even if you take the time to maximize your kill payoffs, like I did.
The survival modes and multiple difficulty levels add more replay value, of course, but it is the story itself that may be the most compelling reason to play through a couple of times. The voice acting and facial expressions are handled very well, and the dialogue is especially solid. Watching part of the story then playing out the battle is an immensely entertaining way to spend an evening, and if you aren't familiar without the plot and subplots of The Iliad, it's educational as well.
As I mentioned earlier, there is one factor that takes a little of the wind out of Legends of Troy's sails, and that is the forced and (worse) inconsistent pronunciation of the protagonists' names. Given how otherwise excellent the cinemas and cut scenes are, it was distracting that the translators decided to go for what I assume is a misguided sense of cultural sensitivity. My parents both came from Greece and my first words were in Greek, but it was annoying that instead of using the Anglicized forms for names like Achilles and Zeus, the voice actors tried to adopt a Greek accent. So while the rest of each sentence sounded fine, the speaker would suddenly speed up and and throw in some weird verb sounds when saying the names. "Zeus" was pronounced as "Zay-us"and "Paris" was "Pa-ris" one time and "Pah-rees" another. It was even worse than those news anchors trilling over the names of South American locations, since at least those guys stick to one pretentious pronunciation per place.
But besides these quibbles, I had a good time with Warriors: Legends of Troy. In fact, I'm itching to get back to it now. There's a city to sack/protect!