Musou Missives Episode 1: Ma Chao

Welcome to Musou Missives, where I will take an in depth look at a character from the game Warriors Orochi 3 and give them an analysis of their strengths and weakness.  The goal is to give a thorough understanding of the character and how one can expect them to perform at high level difficulty play, as well as provide thoughts on synergy with other characters in the game.

To start with we will be discussing one of the first available characters in the game — Ma Chao.

Ma Chao hails from the Three Kingdoms era of China, and has been featured in every Dynasty Warriors game since Dynasty Warriors 2, and naturally the entirety of the Orochi series. Often compared to Lu Bu for his ferocity, Ma Chao’s historical claim to fame was his leadership in an assault against Cao Cao’s capital. However, they were eventually defeated at Tong Gate. In his later years, Ma Chao would join the forces of Shu under Liu Bei and become one of the Five Tiger Generals of Shu.

In the history of Orochi, not much has changed for Ma Chao. It seems he has maintained both his fiery disposition and leadership capabilities, by being able to band together a small force under the chaos created by Orochi. Remaining too, are his hatred of Cao Cao and thirst for vengeance, things he may need to learn to overcome once the Hydra presents itself.

Ma Chao is one of the three “heroes” of this game, and one of three characters you can play as at the start. Naturally, you would expect Ma Chao to be a fairly balanced character given this position, and that’s true for the most part. So, without further ado, let’s see what makes Ma Chao the Splendid so splendid.

Normals and Charge attacks

To begin, I want to clarify a piece of terminology I will be using to save us some time when discussing combo chains in Musou Missives.  Since a combo chain is made up of only two basic moves — normal and charge — I will be referring to the chains based on where they end.  For instance, a normal combo is just normal attack times 6 (or X,X,X,X,X, and X).  A charge 2 combo is a two attack combo ending in charge (X,Y).  A charge 5 is a five attack combo that ends with a charge attack (X,X,X,X,Y).  I find this simplifies talking about these combo chains by eliminating having to explain the entire chain every time.

Now, without futher ado, We will take a look at Ma Chao’s combos and moveset.  Like most Dynasty characters in this installment, Ma Chao’s moveset is derived from a weapon moveset in Dynasty Warriors 7 – in particular the spear moveset. It has been modified however to include a couple different attacks.

Starting from the top, Ma Chao’s normal attacks hit primarily in a cone in front of him. This means that the further from Ma Chao and closer to the tip of his spear, the more enemies get caught in the attack. However, it means that enemies directly to either side or behind Ma Chao tend to get away unscathed.

To combat this, Ma Chao can use some of his charge attacks, but even those have limited use in that regard. Ma Chao’s regular charge attack seems like a decent area-of-effect attack, as he swings around on his planted spear,giving those near him the boot. The hit and attack blocks on this attack seem bit off, however,  as it’s very easy to get hit out of. Even pulling it off successfully leaves Ma Chao vulnerable afterward unless timed properly for a switch combo.

The other area-of-effect attack is Ma Chao’s charge 5 attack, which summons a wind gust about him, knocking everyone around him upward. Unfortunately, the range on this attack is extremely limited, at least compared to his other attacks, so while it may get people out of Ma Chao’s grill, it doesn’t clear the room very effectively.

This leaves his charge 6 which is the only really good AoE that he has. Ma Chao swings his spear about him, knocking away anyone in range. It has a bit of start-up, but the only real problem with this one is that it is too deep in his combo tree to spam at all. It’s best used as more of a preventative measure than trying to pull it off when you’re already wadding in minions.

The only attack I can recommend when surrounded is going for Ma Chao’s EX attack, which is performed by hitting the charge button just as his charge 3 finishes. Ma Chao’s charge 3 stabs an opponent with the spear before finishing with a swipe to dizzy anyone in range. Mashing the charge attack button adds more attacks to the stab portion of the attack before the EX is performed. The added attack portion, however, leaves Ma Chao well in the open for an attack. Therefore, it’s important to time charge button presses so that you don’t get the added attacks, but still get the EX afterward to get out of a messy situation.  The EX attack has Ma Chao leaping forward, hitting all enemies in a certain range in front of him, and to either side as he moves forward. This helps Ma Chao move out of the situation quickly, and get back into a more advantageous position.

As far as his other charge attacks, I use his charge 2 and 3 for enemy officers for the most part. The charge 2 is a throw that ends in a shockwave that will knock away minions which is good for block-crazy officers at higher difficulties. As stated before, his charge 3 attack can be mashed for added damage as well.

His charge 4 is a projectile that comes out of the tip of a spear thrust. This has limited use, but good for oncoming enemy hordes. In fact, that description is pretty much Ma Chao’s basic moveset in a nutshell. Ma Chao performs well against approaching or retreating enemy forces. He performs fairly well against most enemy types and officers. His major flaw is a lack of options when surrounded.

Special and Musou attack

Ma Chao uses his second Musou from Dynasty Warriors 7. The move has Ma Chao swipe his spear upwards, trapping a particular opponent and then performing a two-footed charge kick, dealing damage to his target and damage to anyone around him as well. This move is what I refer to as a ‘Throw Musou,’ which were introduced in Dynasty Warriors 7. Throw attacks and throw musous are basically attacks that go off, but will not complete the animation (and usually not deal damage) unless it latches onto an enemy during the start up animation. Ma Chao’s musou has the properties most other throw musous with notable differences.

Let’s take Wang Yi’s Musou for an example on how most throw Musou attacks work. During and shortly after the musou flash showing her face, she has a short period of time where she can change her trajectory to pinpoint a particular target, or at least redirect herself to an area where she can grab a more important target. Most throw Musou’s have this attribute. Ma Chao’s does not. Instead, you must make sure before you hit the button to Musou attack that Ma Chao’s target is directly in front of him and within range of the attack. Being slight off center, or too far from Ma Chao will result in either grabbing the wrong target – which will still deal damage, just not as much – or completely ‘whiffing’ the attack – the attack not going off and leaving Ma Chao open to an attack from enemies. It’s a bit of a risk trying to pull off his Musou, and more often than not, I just prefer not to use it unless my options are low.

It would be a blessing then that all characters in Orochi 3 have a special attack which expends their musou meter as well, however, this too has limited use for Ma Chao. His special attack has him planting his spear into the ground and performing a thrust kick into a group of enemies – similar to his EX attack, but the range is much shorter. Damage from this is decent and moves Ma Chao forward. However, it has too much of a start up animation to combo into very well, and leaves Ma Chao with few follow-up options as the enemies are falling away from him afterward. It cost little of his Musou meter to perform, and does put him in a decent position for a tag-out to another teammate. If timed correctly, it can also be switch-canceled, one of it’s few saving graces.

Overall, Ma Chao doesn’t benefit much from his Musou based attacks, and will likely have a full bar and nothing to do with it more often than not.


Ma Chao is classified as a Speed character, and being the first of the lot that you obtain, he’s fairly representative of the idea. He is more mobile and his attacks come out quicker than some characters in the cast, though he doesn’t necessarily deal more damage. As a speed character, he can air dash while jumping by hitting the ‘jump’ button a second time. He can also press ‘jump’ to cancel the animation of an attack during a combo.

This is what makes Ma Chao so much more versatile and balanced in spite of the flaws in his normal and charge combos and otherwise lackluster Musou usage. While other characters just have to deal with it, Ma Chao can interrupt his combo with a jump to get out of a bad situation at a moments notice.

Recommended Weapon Fusion Abilities

Of the many abilities that you can equip to weapons, there are a few stand-outs for Ma Chao once you take his strengths and weaknesses into account. Any of the elemental abilities are helpful, but Wind makes charge attacks unblockable, in turn making some of Ma Chao’s weaker charge attacks far more dangerous. He also can benefit from Ice, even though it’s not totally reliable, it can help build more combos.

Brawn and Might can help Ma Chao’s normal and charge attack power respectively. Slay and Courage is also good to increase damage to officers. Destruction and Frenzy really don’t help Ma Chao much, as these only improve the damage to his otherwise poor Musou options.

Some other good options are Absorption, when paired with his Team ability Stamina is quite potent. Reach, Celerity, and Cavalier are good but dependent on playstyle. While Ma Chao’s attacks start out pretty fast, most any character benefits from Agility as well.

Recommended Teams

Ma Chao’s team skill is Stamina, which is interesting ability to build around. While technically a defensive skill, granting health restoration every 100 KO’s, it’s an ability that relies on there being some kind of offense. Much like a vampire, you can’t suck blood until you bite, so Ma Chao works very well as an addition to an otherwise offense and damage heavy team. There are other strategies to this build however, which I will get into below.

Ma Chao, Sima Zhao, Hanbei Takenaka – This team is the first one you are given, and after having played with it awhile, it serves as a good introductory team, as each covers each other’s weaknesses well. Bringing out Hanbei Takenaka to knock away surrounding hordes, or bringing Sima Zhao to cover all angles and blow enemies away with his Musou attack, which balances well with Ma Chao’s otherwise straight forward approach. While this team is not very creative, it was made as a default team for a reason.

Ma Chao, Pang De, and Ma Dai – Another team recommended in one of Ma Chao’s early stages, it serves him pretty well. Pang De has the reach and area-of-effect range that Ma Chao lacks, and as a power character can simply charge through archers without flinching. Ma Dai is a tricky character to learn, but good use of his brush can make a battlefield dangerous for just about any enemy type or officer. Ma Dai’s Trinity ability also helps to build your combo gauge so you can use your team triple attack move often.

Ma Chao, Sima Yi, and Mitsunari Ishida – This is a different take on the Stamina power by pairing it with Sima Yi’s Recovery power, making this a healing team. Since the premise of this team is being able not only to recover after dealing damage to foes, but allows you to recover while any character is inactive as well. Sima Yi and Ma Chao work surprisingly well together, with Sima Yi’s EX, charge 4, and Musou covering any and all area-of-effect needs. Mitsunari’s moveset is not as strong, however, and needs the other two for good long switch combos, and a chance to use his area-of-effect special attack.

Ma Chao, Wang Yi, and Zhou Tai – A modified version of a team I use already, Ma Chao actually works really well in combination with Wang Yi, who carries a lot of rush-down attacks and area-of-effect attacks in her arsenal. Zhou Tai serves as good backup against enemy officers or against Ogre type officers like Gyuki.

Ma Chao, while having some glaring flaws, is balanced out by having some strong EX, normals, and charge attacks and the ability to cancel out of a bad situation. He’s a character that, I admit, I wasn’t all that excited about, but came to enjoy through the course of this article.

Next time, I explore new territory as one of the leaders of the newest faction from Dynasty Warriors 7.

If you have any suggestions for future installments, or opinions on the format of this series let me know in the comments.

*I do not own Warriors Orochi or any other Tecmo-Koei product in this article, only the pleasure of playing with them.


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6 thoughts on “Musou Missives Episode 1: Ma Chao

  1. Adina Alfandre November 15, 2012 at 12:22 pm Reply

    Absorbing info and well written. Keep up the excellent stuff!

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