The Wide World of Musou Clones: Utawarerumono Zan

You’ve heard of Musou games, right? Fighting a thousand enemies as one person in a single stage, capturing bases by beating the base commanders, plots that develop during the various stages. Most people have likely played a Musou nowadays because of Nintendo and Koei’s Hyrule Warriors which takes the gameplay of Koei’s Dynasty Warriors and gives it a Zelda skin.

The word Musou comes from the Japanese name of the Dynasty Warriors franchise “Shin Sangoku Musou”, since Koei’s Musou games were the defining example of this genre, the genre is simply referred to as Musou similar to how the Metroidvania genre got its name from Castlevania and Metroid.

Musou clones, like literally any video game genre, vastly vary in quality from developer to developer. Some developers can make great games in this genre, while others make really bad games in this genre. So I’ve decided to start this infrequent series where I look at a wide variety of non-koei musou clones and examine how they tick and what makes them good or bad.

For those unaware of Dynasty Warriors, let me first break down the gameplay of Dynasty Warriors as that will be one of the main focal points when it comes to comparing how various Musou clones compare to Koei’s main series.

The main gameplay of Dynasty Warriors has the player press the square button to attack and begin stringing together a combo, the triangle button is used to bring that combo to an end with a different attack ending the combo based on when in the combo the triangle button is pressed. Attacking enemies will fill up the Musou bar which when full can unleash a powerful musou attack with a press of the circle button.

One more thing I didn’t think I would need to bring up, but it’s presence in several modern Musou clones has made it necessary to talk about is a gameplay mechanic introduced in Warriors All Stars and further used in Dynasty Warriors 9. In those two games you would be able to press R1 and then one of the face buttons on the controller to do a skill, in Warriors All Stars they would vary between being attacks or a skill buff, however in Dynasty Warriors 9 they were all attacks.

The series has become very well known for letting you kill thousands of enemies in a stage, and while that is generally true please keep in mind that while in modern console games those numbers can hit up to 3000 or higher, when we’re talking older consoles like the PS2 those numbers are usually only a few hundred and very occasionally 1000

Base gameplay isn’t the only factor where I’ll be comparing these Musou clones to Koei’s franchise of course. Storytelling ability and roster will also be judged, as these can be major factors in the enjoyment of Musou games.

For roster, the two factors I’ll use to judge it will be size and quality. Musou games have become known for their large rosters, however I am not expecting big Dynasty Warriors 9 sized rosters from various Musou clones, that would just be unfair. That being said, having too small a roster would also be a demerit. So while I don’t have a definitive number to put on how many characters would be a good-sized roster, I’ll simply use the vague definition of “good enough to decently represent the world this game takes place in”.

Of course having the largest roster in the world wouldn’t matter without quality. One of the most important factors I’ll be judging each roster on is how each character plays from one another, if everyone more or less feels like they play the same then that will be treated as a harsh negative.

Storytelling ability may seem a bit of an odd duck to judge these on if you’re a person who only thinks of Musou games as fun distractions where you are just thrown into a field and fight enemies. But Koei’s Musou games, especially in recent years, have done a great job of having the story progress and be told as the gameplay of the stages is going on and is one of my favorite things about the Dynasty Warriors franchise, so it feels only fair to judge these games on this factor as well

Now for a few final disclaimers before we begin

  1. I love Dynasty Warriors and most Musou games, so don’t be expecting me to talk flaws of the genre, only flaws of individual games.
  2. All games were played on Sony consoles, so the terminology used throughout will be for PlayStation controllers.
  3. I am a completionist, nearly all games here were either played to 100% or as close as I could.

Alright, I feel I have explained thoroughly enough, let’s begin our dive into the wide world of Musou clones. My first choice of game to cover shall be Utawarerumono Zan;

Utawarerumono is a visual novel franchise with SRPG segments, but today we’re not talking about any main game in that franchise, instead we’re talking about an Utawarerumono spinoff game known as Utawarerumono Zan

This game’s take on Musou gameplay is similar to another famous Musou clone Sengoku Basara, where instead of there being a different attack depending on where in the square button combo you press triangle it’s always the same attack. Here you can also hold the triangle button for the attack to last for an extended period of time.

The game’s roster consists of all 12 party members from Utawarerumono Mask of Deception, and all of them play very unique from one another. The game embraces its SRPG roots by having every character have various RPG stats and these stats have a large effect on gameplay where characters like Rulutieh have large HP pools compared to characters like Uruuru who are complete glass cannons.

There’s also a party system in the game, you bring up to 4 characters onto the battlefield at a time and they’ll all act independently attacking enemies on their own. Now while the party system seems inconsequential for most of the game, I eventually came to really appreciate it however the reason why I will go over in a bit, first let’s talk about the game’s equivalent to Musou attacks.

A look at the party system

This game’s equivalent to the Musou bar and Musou attacks is referred to as the zeal bar and techniques respectively. From here on they will be referred to as the musou bar and musou attacks to avoid confusion.

The original Utawarerumono Mask of Deception SRPG segments would have the player doing a quick time event before every attack to determine how much damage the attack would do, this has been incorporated into the game’s Musou attacks, by also having you do quick-time events for them. Musou attacks in general are very unique in this game compared to many other Musou clones, to start not all of them are even attacks, but can rather be things like healing HP or raising defense.

The game features a stat upgrade system like Mask of Truth and Deception as well

Now this is where not only the party system comes in, but also a system similar to the skill system in Warriors All Stars and Dynasty Warriors 9 comes in. Pressing R1 and then a face button corresponding to a party member will instantly activate that character’s Musou before putting that skill on cooldown. Now combine that with some musou attacks being buffs or heals and you have a great mechanic for making playing hard mode missions an absolute joy

Another mechanic Zan has is overzeal. If the musou gauge is filled you can press the touchpad on the PS4 controller and enter overzeal mode where your stats go through the roof for a limited amount of time, and if a character is level 35 or higher pressing the touchpad again will activate that character’s ultimate attack, which can only be used once per stage.

On a pure gameplay basis, Utawarerumono Zan is one of the most fun Musou clones I have played, however this is where the positives end, for Utawarerumono Zan has a lot of major problems in storytelling. See, the game is theoretically an adaptation of Mask of Deception and things do start out really strong story wise with the game’s opening hour adapted pretty well and some good storytelling in a stage where you flee from a giant bug. It doesn’t last however, the game wastes no time in starting to entirely skip hours upon hours of the story at a time and only adapting a single scene every once in a while, to the point that I, who had played Mask of Deception before, was confused about what was going on at times because of how much it would skip. This 30 hour visual novel is condensed down to around 3 hours, and despite this, the game still feels like it earns showing the ending of Mask of Deception in full.

This is how most of the story is told

This super condensed story also has an effect on the gameplay, since the story is so short there’s a small number of stages, and while the game is able to increase its length with free missions since these free missions need to take place in areas from the story, they can end up all feeling the same after a point. The game is very short in general, too short considering its large price tag.

Haku’s life is pain

Utawarerumono Zan is a great musou game from a gameplay standpoint but falls at the storytelling hurdle and very short length. I can only really recommend it for fans of Mask of Deception and even then only on sale.

With the conditions I gave on how I would judge Musou Clones at the start, here’s how Utawarerumono Zan would grade. On a scale from F to S;

  • Base Gameplay: B (Grade would be S if not for the short length)
  • Roster: S (Perfect representation of Mask of Deception)
  • Storytelling ability: E (Saved from F by a strong opening)