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Musou’s “Shazam” Characters

So I mentioned that before Fire Emblem Warriors, Musou characters tended to be homogeneous in capability and differentiated mainly by various trade-offs. One interesting trade-off is demonstrated by what I like to call the Shazam character - one who is normally weak, but has a transformation that makes them very powerful.

Musou games commonly have three levels of attacks. First are the combos triggered by hitting the weak and strong attack buttons in various patterns. Next are the special attacks - you gradually earn charges for these as you deal and receive damage but can only store a few. They vary between characters but are usually short-range high-damage area attacks. Finally, there’s Rage mode (that’s its name in mainline Dynasty Warriors; it gets called other things in other games). A meter fills as you perform critical hits or successful combos or similar, and when it’s full you can enter Rage, which causes the meter to drain but makes you significantly more powerful until it runs out (and it’s usually capped off with a special attack). So, you might use normal combos on fodder enemies, special attacks on officers, and Rage mode on heroes.

Young Link in Hyrule Warriors and Tiki in Fire Emblem Warriors have comparatively weak combos, but have especially powerful Rage modes - Young Link puts on the Fierce Deity Mask and Tiki transforms into a dragon. So the primary way to maximize these characters’ effectiveness is to spend as much time in Rage mode as possible - and to help with that, these characters (and only these characters, I believe) have the ability to spend special attack charges to refill the Rage meter.

They’re still fairly awkward to use in the early-to-mid-game, but if you invest in them and get the right upgrades and weapon skills, by the late game they can basically spend entire missions in Rage mode, making them extremely powerful.

This is hardly the first game to make characters with this sort of dynamic, but it occurred to me that this is very much the sort of thing you can only do in non-competitive games. If these games had versus modes, you’d basically have to ban Young Link and Tiki or they would dominate high-level play. But in single-player or even cooperative games, it’s actually okay to have this kind of imbalance. It creates interesting experiences, giving players a chance to invest in characters that then “break” the game - which in that context can be satisfying and fun.