Developer: Omega Force | Publisher: Koei | Release Date: 2004 | Genre: Hack & Slash | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
The Dynasty Warriors series has already made a name for itself on PS2, but handheld consoles is still uncharted territory for this franchise. Now a hack and slash title that pits you against hundreds of enemies set against the backdrop of ancient China might sound like an overly ambitious launch title for portable hardware and sadly in many ways it is.
The formula for Dynasty Warriors is pretty simple; you pick your hero and then proceed to beat the living daylights out of hordes of generic enemy soldiers. On PS2 the battlefields were enormous, but for the PSP everything has been divided into smaller, more manageable chunks. The game is single player only, but you’ll eventually have your pick of 42 different characters with which to mow down the enemy hordes. They are all unlocked in the “Musou Mode” which is the main story mode. After selecting your character you are given some background info for the task that lies ahead, but the goal is always the same, conquer the main enemy camp to win the level.
It’s not as easy as just storming the main enemy encampment either. Your character always starts out as a level one weakling and have to build up their skills by fighting in battles. You can add “officers” to your party as well, which not only gives you some bodyguards in battle, but upgrades your skill and bestows special abilities as well. Some may grant you a horse in battle while others provide healing and more life. You can only have a maximum of four and the more powerful they are, the more “points” they require to appoint so there is a welcome element of strategy. Your maximum level is ten, but don’t think you can just continue leveling up before maxing it out and attacking the main enemy camp. The game has one major resource, “supplies” which is basically time in disguise. Once this runs out so does your chances of winning.
That is about as far as the strategy elements of the game go. For the rest it is pure hacking and slashing. Each new square you enter on the over-world map places you in a small enclosed area where enemy soldiers constantly spawn.
The idea is to hack away at them until they lose all morale (as indicated by a bar on the right-hand side of the screen) after which they’ll stop appearing and the area is yours. Repeat this process until the final camp falls and victory is yours. Each area only takes a few minutes to clear and the levels themselves rarely last longer than twenty minutes in total. It’s perfect for quick bursts of play, which is welcome on a portable device, but loses some of that “epic” feel in the process.
Launch titles are rarely without flaws and I commend Koei for what they tried with this one, but unfortunately it has its fair share of problems. Cutting down hordes of enemies is fun, especially watching them fly through the air like leaves scattering in the wind but the novelty wears off very quickly. The empty, repetitive levels doesn’t help either and the short draw distance makes it feel like you are fighting in a fog bank. Enemies also randomly fade into existence which looks a bit shoddy. Then there is the camera which is never where you need it and by the time you have wrestled it into place a new horde of enemies have teleported in behind you. There is also some dreaded slowdown, which comes and goes with no rhyme or reason. The first time it happened, I thought I somehow triggered a special move, but sadly it was just the frame-rate that took a hit. It is definitely very noticeable and obtrusive in battle.
The game looks good on the PSPs widescreen and while there is less detail than on the PS2 it’s still a good effort. It’s a pity that the battlefields are so bland. The presentation feels a bit cut-down as beyond the intro there’s no cut-scenes and instead the story is conveyed through a few lines of text before each round. I guess this is to streamline the game for the portable, but it doesn’t do much to endear you to the rather dry storyline. There’s a noticeable lack of voice-acting in the game as well further adding to the “rushed” feel it has. If you’ve played any of the previous Dynasty Warriors titles you’ll know what to expect from the soundtrack. Lots of heavy metal guitar riffs mixed with the sounds of metal clashing and screams. You’d expect to see buckets of blood to accompany this cacophony, but oddly enough, there isn’t a drop in sight. The controls work reasonably well apart from the unruly camera that has to be constantly wrestled back into place with the left trigger. You have your main attack which you’ll be spamming most of the time as well as a special attack which is tied to a meter that slowly fills as you kill enemies. A handy counter will display exactly how many hundreds you’ve sent to their maker. Each character also has a “charged” attack which is useful for dispersing groups of foes and a ranged attack which is fairly useless thanks to the short draw distance.
While Dynasty Warriors is not a complete disaster it’s also not the game it could have been. There’s plenty of fun to be had here, but your enjoyment of it will depend solely on your ability to stomach doing the same thing over and over. The “free play” mode allows you to replay any previously completed level with any of the Warlords you have unlocked. This is nice since in Musou mode you can’t change your character without restarting. This is strange seeing as your character reverts back to level one at the start of each new level in any case. If you are a fan of the franchise or only plan to play it in short bursts, then you’ll get your money’s worth here, but everyone else might want to think twice.
*Review originally published 2004.