When Koei decided to port its mega-successful (in Japan) Dynasty Warriors series to the PSP, the company had an utter masterstroke of genius. Instead of undertaking a straightforward port that would have imposed technical limitations on the hallmark huge battlefields and constrained the free-roaming action and multitudes of combatants, the game was broken down into more manageable bite-sized chunks. Each battlefield was divided into a series of smaller areas, and the action itself was divided across turn-based movement over a map of these areas, and real-time combat whenever you moved into an area held by enemy forces. What's more, you could save your progress between each area.
Not only did this make the epic scale of the series possible on a handheld, it also made it superbly suited to portable play, and added a new strategic emphasis to the original game. Now, in addition to sashaying across the battlefield and destroying thousands of hapless enemies, players actually had to think harder about how to navigate the battlefield, and had to give more thought to how they would manage various resources, from the time taken to move to new areas, to the defensive bonuses granted by controlling forts, or health benefits of entering a supply depot. Not to mention the hard thinking they had to do at the start of each battle, choosing four officers who offer assistance in battle as well as granting stat upgrades and various support skills.
Unfortunately, of course, nobody reviewing the game outside of Japan liked it. But then no reviewers outside of Japan seem to like any of the Dynasty Warriors series much in any case (or Samurai Warriors for that matter), even though all of the games are utterly brilliant. So if, like the majority of reviewers, you see the Dynasty Warriors games as a standard third-person action game with the sheer number of soldiers masking their limited AI, you can probably stop reading now because you're not going to like Vol 2. any more than the other games. If, however, you're one of the initiated few, who enjoy the unique blend of third-person action and real-time strategy, and find it sublime to swagger through the rank and file to strategically important locations or incidents, or to epic showdowns with enemy officers, read on.
The game hasn't actually changed very much since its first outing on the PSP. It still features that brilliant blend of turn-based strategy and real-time action-strategy. It's still set in the bewilderingly complicated Three Kingdoms era (which seems to make no more sense now than it did umpteen Dynasty Warriors games ago). And it still allows you to perform hundreds and thousands of kills in the name of epic heroism - though obviously these are divided across the game's smaller battle areas.
But there are one or two tweaks. Chief of these is an improved game engine, which now has the battlefield map restricted to one corner, instead of taking up what feels like half the screen. Another is that it's now possible to choose your own horse from a stable of up to eight. And there are more officers to unlock - in fact the 300 officers in the game can all be traded with other players if you like. Oh, and obviously there's a multiplayer mode, consisting of a few gimmicky mini-games, but as usual, the chances of finding a game will probably be slim to none.
Nevertheless, there are definitely niggles. The bizarrely inappropriate heavy rock soundtrack makes an unedifying return. The eye-bogglingly beautiful cut-scenes that characterise the console versions of Dynasty Warriors aren't present, and are instead replaced by boring swathes of text before each battle. There's also a certain scope for confusion given the sheer number of support officers and statistics and weapons and enemy commanders, which can result in frustrating difficulty spikes. Most seriously, though, the camera feels more wayward than usual, and seems to end up facing the wrong way more often than not (not helped by the fact that the only way to centre the camera is by using the block button - not always the wisest course of action if you're surrounded). And anyone who can't cope with the pop-up on the console versions will get apoplexy at the suddenly materialising soldiers here.
It's because of these niggles that Koei's masterstroke of design hasn't produced an outright masterpiece to play. But even with these grumbles, Dynasty Warriors Vol 2. is another solid instalment in a brilliant series of games, and with the single-player campaign's branching structure providing about a million campaigns and battles, there's certainly enough to keep you going till Vol 3. By which time maybe those idiot reviewers will have shut up.
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