It's been a couple years but Utawarerumono is back and this time, it's full of Musou-style action so get ready to brawl with Haku.
Considering I was mildly disappointed with Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Mask of Truth which released a couple of years back and the fact that Tamsoft has made a few shabby games, I didn't have high expectations for Utawarerumono: ZAN. However, I love the gorgeous game world and I can't resist a decent Dynasty Warriors clone so I had to give it a go. Thankfully, I'm glad that I did as it offers some unique mechanics and party growth options that had me hooked until I completed the campaign. Watching my massive collection of characters gradually become stronger only to topple tough bosses and work through clever optional missions was nothing short of satisfying and I plan on playing it more, especially after it releases as I hope to see some folks in the co-op online multiplayer component.
The core gameplay of Utawarerumono: ZAN involves normal, special, and chain attacks; the latter of which prompts you with a simple quick-time event where you have to tap the button again to increase your ability's power and regain some lost Zeal points. While you play, you often have a party of 4 characters that you can swap to on the fly and also revive each other. Learning each character's most effective attack combos is quite rewarding and I enjoyed watching the little warriors unleash a fury of blows on their enemies after perfectly executing a huge chain of attacks. On top of this, each character has a special Final Strike move that you can activate later in the game by maxing out your Zeal gauge, entering Overzeal mode, then initiating the move. It's awesome stuff for sure.
Overall, the gameplay is tight and intuitive and there are also lots of ways to strengthen your characters. As you play, you'll earn in-game achievements which grant rewards via Military Medals as well as purchase packs of equipment upgrades which are key to providing huge stat boosts and other enhancements. Additionally, there are different elemental Sigils that are specialized in specific stats and you can spend earned Bonus Points to increase each character's base stats. In the end, it's great to see so many aspects to customize.
Once you're ready to fight, you can tackle different missions within Hakuou Arena. First, Story mode contains 18 chapters with plenty of cutscenes although the actual gameplay probably only adds up to a couple hours of gameplay which is fairly disappointing. Next, Battle Recollections are the 13 playable story missions but with sub-objectives to master across 2 difficulty settings. Plus, there are 5 difficulty levels of Free Missions to tackle which include travel, gathering, destruction, and survival mission types. Finally, the Battle Arena mode features solo trials for each of the 12 playable characters. Needless to say, mastering all of this will take a long time.
As I've already touched upon, I love the graphical style of Utawarerumono: ZAN. The character models and animations are gorgeous, fluid, and a joy to watch. As you fight, you'll hear some great tunes that always fit the situation and I especially enjoyed the energetic rock pieces that amplified the action. There are also gratifying sound effects and character vocalizations constantly triggering around you as you play which makes combat feel much more visceral. In other words, Utawarerumono: ZAN looks and sounds fantastic.
Aside from the short story mode, there are a few other downsides to Utawarerumono: ZAN. The biggest issue is that the gameplay may be solid and fun at first but it certainly doesn't evolve or change much throughout. Even after you learn new abilities and unlock Final Strikes, everything's still all too samey. The only other major complaint that I have is with the story and characters. Although I wasn't thoroughly engaged with these aspects in the SRPG games, the plot and personalities featured here are surprisingly even flatter thus making the entire story feel unappealing and ultimately rather pointless which is quite disheartening.
If you're a fan of Utawarerumono and like the idea of a Dynasty Warriors spin-off then you're sure to love what ZAN has to offer. Between the rewarding gameplay and the vast amount of content to work through, there's a lot to enjoy.
- + Intuitive and tight Musou-style gameplay
- + Lovely visuals, animation, and audio
- + Rewarding progression systems plus loads of content to master
- - Gameplay doesn't do much to stay exciting
- - Story campaign is disappointingly short
- - Characters and plot aren't as interesting as they are in the SRPG games