So it's finally here, the latest in a long line of Warriors games, and the first for the Nintendo DS. But is it worthy of the Dynasty Warriors name?
China In Your Handheld
Well, yes and no. To make it clear, I'm a huge fan of the Dynasty Warriors series and enjoy the subtle changes made between versions.This edition should be regarded as a spin-off more than a fully fledged sequel. gameplay revolves around a map, much like the GBA and PSP versions, where you have to move from area to area defeating set numbers of enemies to be allowed to progress. On some spaces there are bases belonging to each army, and these bases need to be conquered to allow access to the Main Camp, which must be taken for the familiar Dynasty Warriors "Victory Theme" to kick in. There are also optional bases that allow you to improve your attack power, or increase your maximum health. These bases, unlike your defence bases, can switch hands between sides.
The pace of the game has been increased by having a central opponent out trying to do the same thing to you - take out all your bases, followed by the Main Camp. This opponent will also try to take the optional power-up bases, which if you'd already captured them will weaken you whilst giving them, and their army, the advantage. Increasing the game difficulty makes this opponent more powerful, meaning he will take your bases faster and be better in combat if you should have to duel him - moving onto the same spae on the map triggers one-on-one combat. This can make battles a mad dash to capture bases, keeping an eye on your enemy in case he should get too close to your Main Camp.
It is here where one of the games most annoying flaws surfaces. When you defeat your opponent in a duel (or if he is killed any other way by your army), he is randomly sent to another location on the map. Not, as you would have thought, back to his own base, but a random place. This means that, more often than not, he'll be sent closer to your base. Killing the enemy gives him the advantage! this system can be especially fustrating on higher difficulty settings, where you go to defend a base, defeat the enemy in a hard fought duel, only to send him to another one of your bases. Although this system is flawed, it does work both ways, so it can be funny if you get defeated only to be closer to your destination.
The only way to be defeated is for your Main Camp to fall, so it's never a surprise, as the bottom screen lets you see where the enemy is and how many bases he has taken. You can even see his exact health and musou (magic power used for special attacks).
You may notice I keep refering to the character you use as a "he". This is because there are only 3 characters in this game, all male. Their gender is fairly irrelevant to gameplay, but the fact there are only 3 playable characters is shocking, considering even the GBA version has 9, with 4 unlockable. This hurts repaly value, as you can only complete it 3 times before having seen all there is. None of these characters are Dynasty Warriors either, instead being based on mythological beasts the Phoenix (the all rounder), the Dragon(the speedy fighter with a good range), and the Chimera(the heavy hitter). You'll probably try all 3 and settle with 1 quickly.
Not Playing With a Full Deck
Much has been made of the Card system used here, but this isn't a card game. The cards are the main source of variation in the game. After battle, you gain cards that can be equipped before the next battle. These cards are where the Dynasty Warriors feature, as they all represent characters from previous Warriors games. Equipping has 2 effects. The first is that the selected character will defend your bases from attack, so it is your best interest to make sure powerful characters are defending, buying you more time to take the opposing bases. You can equip more as the levels progress, with more bases requiring more defenders. The cards level up as they are used, giving an RPG aspect to the game that rewards extended play with a powerful defensive force.
The second effect is to either power up you character or add to the Obstacle Roulette. Red cards power up your playable character, giving attack, defence or health bonuses during the battle. Blue cards add icons to the Obstacle Roulette. The Obstacle Roulette is activated during battles by collecting 5 coins dropped by vanquished enemies, and can be triggered at will with the press of a button. These effects usually hinder the enemy, with weak cards throwing a fireball at the opponent, and good cards ranging from freezing the enemy, to teleporting them to another random location (handy if they're close to your bases). This adds a little something extra to the game, but not all that much until you take it into multiplayer.
The combat is fast paced, mainly reduced to button-bashing as each character has a normal powered 4 hit combo, that can be modified into a more powerful combo using the special attack button. this makes 4 special attacks and a 4 hit combo for each character, making it quite limited. like all other Warriors games, you also have a Musou bar that fills in combat and allows you to unleash a very powerful (almost game breakingly so) attack.
Romance of the Three Player Kingdoms
The multiplayer lifts everything up. Although all the players require a Game Card, this game is designed for multiplayer. In fact, it seems the focus has been on it so much the single-player is just a shallow imitation. It can be played with up to 3 players, all controlling an army represented by the deck they've collected, and can be a lot more fun than the single-player game. With 3 players going for the optional bases, making non-agression pacts then going back on them when convenient, everything is made more enjoyable, especially when you use the Obstacle Roulette to do something annoying, such as freeze them, and having a real person shouting in frustration.
Other things that I've not mentioned incluse the visuals, which are really nice. The sprites for the playable characters are vivid and colourful, as are the Dynasty Warriors defending the bases, making all the more a shame they're not playable. The 2D sprites on a 3D background approach keeps the game moving smoothly, and allows large groups of enemies to come after you. The sound is acceptable, keeping in with the musical themes of the rest of the series in a fairly unremarkable way.
This game sets out to deliver a new Dynasty Warriors experience, and does it with style, being the spiritual succesor to previous handheld iterations, but somethings still not right. As much as I love this game, it's even more repetitive than other Warriors games, which in a game series famed for its repetitiveness should set alarm bells ringing for some. With 12 levels, 3 characters and a lot of cards that you'll probably collect quickly, its lifespan is a real issue for the single-player. the lack of playable Dynasty Warriors hurts it too, making fell like it isn't really a Warriors game - I've had over 13 Warriors games with playable Guan Yu, why stop now?
I'd still recommend it to fans of the series, or people looking for a mindless button-basher, but mainly I'd recommend that you buy it only if you can get a group of friends to buy it too, as the multiplayer is where a lot of the enjoyment is. As for everyone else, I'd still say check it out as I really like this, but if you're expecting a proper Dynasty Warriors game get ready for a surprise.
7 / 10