Tactical RPGs are growing in number and popularity. Final Fantasy Tactics is being given a new lease of life on GameBoy Advance, and Capcom has plans to release an Onimusha Tactics title in the near future too. Now even Koei is looking to break into the genre with Dynasty Warriors/Kessen-inspired Dynasty Tactics, but after an hour or so with DT, we're not so sure they can manage it.
Like FFT, the core of the game takes place on a grid map, with, in this case, the leadership level of units on the battlefield determining the order of play. Players take turns with the AI to move pieces and attack if at all possible. However, instead of individual soldiers and cavalry losing hit points with each turn, each unit on the grid represents a number of units, and each attack reduces the number of soldiers in a unit.
The nub of the game is Koei's tactical premise. Your units (infantry, cavalry, archers, obstacle builders and medics) all have special tactical abilities which can be deployed in battle - for example, cavalry can charge enemy units - the idea being to daisy chain "tactics". To further the previous example, you can have a cavalry unit charge the opponent and push it back a couple of squares on the grid, allowing an infantry unit to pull off an ambush tactic, and so on. You can also set tactics to trigger simultaneously and sequentially in different positions - front and flank, etc.
Instead of levelling up, units unlock greater tactical abilities and increase in numbers. Generals, the most important units, have intelligence, power and leadership statistics which improve based on the direction they (you) offer. You can also boost unit morale by having generals meet on the battlefield, amongst other sundry extras. The game uses a full set of characters from the Dynasty Warriors/Kessen games from whence it spawned, and so you can use each of the principle Dynasty generals - Liu Bei, Cao-Cao and Sun Ce - whose missions are set out in three campaigns.
However, visually the game hasn't learnt much from the likes of Kessen. There's still a lot of interlace shimmer and although there are some nice animations which overlay the map to illustrate the cavalry charges, ambushes and other tactics, we can see these becoming repetitive and annoying. Otherwise, it's a fairly simple rotatable 3D grid with low-poly units and terrain.
Each campaign has a different plot, and you'll grow your forces with each battle, but the tactical combat and combinations are the game's mainstay. The question at this early stage is, quite simply, is that enough? Stringing combos together successfully is quite enjoyable, but it feels more like a Western hex-based strategy game than a Japanese tactical RPG. We'll have to see if the strength of the combat and tactics is enough in the long run, but to begin with, the game is quite unwieldy and it's difficult to say how much fun it will prove to be.
Look for our final thoughts on Dynasty Tactics in our review closer to the game's November 29th release date.