Thanks to its connection to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I’ve seen a lot of people jumping into Musou for the first time with Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Sometimes it’s reluctant, but the allure of new lore for such a beloved game is hard to resist. I don’t need any convincing personally, as I’ve been a fan of these games since Dynasty Warriors 3 on the PlayStation 2. I’ve always supported Omega Force’s efforts, even when the occasional misstep happens. Age of Calamity seems like a rare opportunity to get into the nuts and bolts, and show the people why I love what’s under the Musou hood.
When it comes to mastering Musou gameplay, there are a few pillars holding everything up. What those pillars are can vary from game to game, but you can usually count on some universal applications. It’s also important to note that your experience with a Musou game will vary significantly based on your own natural inclination to explore systems, and your difficulty choice. Basically, if you play on easy and just mash buttons, you won’t be having a good time.
If you’re familiar with Musou, you know the basic combat follows the light to heavy finisher model. You typically press light attack x number of times, then hit strong attack to end your string with a big move. Typically, the more you play the more options you’ll get. In most cases, you can expect the following to be true:
- One light, heavy - this one will vary based on character, but you’ll typically find launchers here. If you want to initiate air combat this is the fastest way. Some characters will just have a beefy attack instead, typically good for snagging quick KOs from basic mobs without stopping your momentum.
- Two light, heavy - Two hits almost always is a single unit-focused attack. This is where grab-like moves live, and they’re particularly useful when you’re up against an Officer unit. Can also be a traversal-style move, like Link's shield surf.
- Three light, heavy - Nine times out of ten this is gonna be your crowd clearer. If you’re trying to take over an outpost or just trying to rack up K.O.s, this move will be your best friend.
- Beyond - As you level your characters up or engage with your game’s progression systems, you’ll be able to go further with your combos. Heavy combo finishers from then on tend to have more individualized properties, the most common probably being multi-hit flourishes that are harder to use efficiently, but do tons more damage. In some games you can even get multiple heavy presses, which often have similar properties to the first hit.
Extending Your Combos
Hitting heavy attack generally means a “finisher,” but it doesn’t mean your combo is finished unless you want it to be. Depending on the game you’re playing there’s usually a way you can cancel whatever you’re doing and start over without losing things like juggles or your combo number. In Age of Calamity, for example, the “jump” button is a little dash you can use to rip yourself out of whatever animation you’re in and follow it up however you want.
Depending on your finisher, it’s also possible to just run up and continue your assault on your target without them getting the opportunity to defend. This applies to officers and bosses, natch. It can be tough to juggle without a cancel, but depending on what finisher you used you’ll have time to start a new combo while your enemy is on the ground.
Musou games also have special techniques, such as putting your character into a different kind of state, or those big moves that make the camera swing around dramatically. These are also cancel friendly, meaning once you hit that heavy button you can interrupt that move at any point with a special. Once you get the animations and timings down, you can make the most of cancel properties, transitioning from the last possible hit of one move to the next. In Age of Calamity in particular, this is a crucial part of the loop as officer enemies are much more powerful and sturdy compared to pretty much any other Musou. It’s also important to not worry about “wasting” any meters you have, as those things fill up fast.
This last combo extending tip is super game-oriented, with most games not really supporting this. But in something like Warriors Orochi 4, you can select a team of characters rather than just one. And because of that you can swap which character you’re controlling, and not just on the battlefield. So when you swap characters in the middle of a combo, it’s similar to the dash move in that it interrupts and extends combos. It’s rad, but very much a can or can’t kind of thing.
Wait, there’s defense in these games?? Yep, that’s right. As you may expect this isn’t as relevant depending on the circumstance, but there are important defensive aspects in Musou. First, if you do need to back off, the left bumper typically serves as both a block and camera reset. This is an actual frontal block, so attacks from behind will still hit you. Blocking is more important on higher difficulty of course, as Officer units give you more trouble.
If you’re taking damage, there are a few things you can do about it. One, you can use your special. Not only will that interrupt your own attacks, it’ll interrupt being caught in one as well. It’s an excellent get out of jail free card. If you get knocked down, you can usually press the block button as you’re landing to kip up and get back into the action.
Eventually you’re going to be in a bad spot no matter what. If you’re low on health and worried about dying, keep an eye out for breakable containers. They’re typically lined up around the walls of outposts, and grant special meter juice or health. Officers and (sometimes) grunts also drop heals, so it’s a good idea to look at your surroundings as much as you do your enemies.
Speaking of health, there’s also usually some mechanism that supplements all the pickups strewn about. In Age of Calamity, picking up food (more plentiful than other pickups) fills a food meter. Then with a press of a button you get to eat some of that food for an instant health bump. The original Hyrule Warriors puts a static number of potions in your inventory each level. It’s always different whenever it shows up.
There can be a lot of stuff going on in Musou games, especially if you’re a completionist or trophy hunter. There’s a lot more going on than it seems on the surface, from hidden collectibles to character building and accruing resources. But it’s important to note that it’s nearly impossible to do everything on your first run through, especially in the story mode.
Just focus on beating levels the first time through, then worry about nailing all the objectives, finding secrets, and anything else on the margins later. Free Mode is generally the best way to grind things out, since you don’t have to worry about being locked to certain characters or being interrupted by cutscenes. It’s the same with harder difficulties; things can ramp up pretty high, so there’s no shame in making sure your characters are beefed up.
Speaking of completion, there’s more going on in the middle of a Musou battle than just killin’ dudes. As you play you’ll see all kinds of dialogue happening around the bottom of the screen, sometimes flavor text, sometimes congratulations for big milestones. Other times something bigger will happen, and you’ll get an objective notification. Sometimes you have to chase down a specific enemy, sometimes you have to take a specific outpost, sometimes you have to rescue a friendly unit.
Some of these objectives are optional, while some of them will slap you with a game over if you don’t complete them. Either way, best practice in Musou is to try reacting to objectives as quickly as possible. Your minimap is super great at keeping up with objectives, but pausing will give you time to digest exactly what you need, where to go and the best route to get there. Sometimes it’s as easy as running from one spot to another, while other times it can be more of a challenge.
If you’re feeling stretched too thin, chances are you’ll have allied units running around too. Most games let you bark orders, directing major NPCs where to go or who to target. Issuing orders won’t help you passively clear objectives, but they can help you stall for time and better position yourself. If you can swap characters in battle, orders help you put playable characters at important locations, letting you zip from one part of the objective to the other. It’s also helpful if you have to rescue somebody, since you literally have to run up and touch them to do so.
There’s always some bit of extra nuance or mechanical depth in each, individual Musou game. From godlike magical abilities to a collection of different equipment, each game has its own identity beyond the basics. The best way to get the most out of a Musou is to try everything, and see what’s possible. Finding the ceiling of what the combo systems allow me to get away with is one of my favorite parts of playing a new Warriors experience. So above all else, the best piece of advice I can give is to play around. Don’t settle into what seems to work the best, and don’t just scrape by because you technically can. Musou games are like sandboxes, but instead of an open world you’re digging through the sand in your controller.
Is Age of Calamity your first Musou, or have you been around the block a few times? Was there a particular game or mechanic that changed your mind on the series, or are you still unconvinced? Let us know your stance on Musou over at the Prima Games Facebook or Twitter channels!