Dynasty Warriors II
Review - a scrolling beat 'em up for the 21st Century?
What is it with game developers these days? Are they just out to make my job more difficult? With every new release it's some bizarre new behemoth of a concept that requires press briefings, extensive playtest sessions and ultimately more time to review than it takes to translate Tolstoy into Cantonese using a pocket calculator. Why has the gaming industry denied its roots so? Every other new release that ends up on my desk is some sort of 'incredible breakthrough' in how we'll see and interpret gaming for the next fifteen years. If I had my way there'd be far more Dynasty Warriors to this world and far less pantomime shoot 'em ups. In a sense then, it's quite pleasant to discover that although Final Fight-clone Dynasty Warriors II isn't quite the game we had hoped it would have been, its shortcomings are more to do with longevity and bad design than with the genre itself showing its age. In fact, if we're lucky, overzealous developers KOEI will flash back to the drawing board and bedazzle us with the coming of DWIII. However, in the meantime, lets put down our collective glass of Christmas sherry and trade our mince pies for broadswords. It's time for battle. Dynasty Warriors II is like playing Golden Axe with crossed eyes. You are fighting in a truly 3D setting, with a third person 'over the shoulder' approach and more assailants to overcome than could be drummed up on a scouring mission through Greater London. Whereas titles like Final Fight and Golden Axe obliged you to trade blows with only a token force, DWII is literally swarming with enemies. You start out by selecting a burly fellow from one of the historically compiled Warlords available, and almost immediately you are swamped by attackers. Thankfully the learning curve is less of a curve and more of a straight.
The backdrop to the carnage upon which you are forcing yourself is feudal Japan, a rather violent place if truth be told. This particular period is full of brave, honourable warriors fighting for a multitude of causes, and yours is to unite the troubled region of China and avoid it becoming the subject of a gross civil war. The plot is a rather cunning simplification of the goings-on in the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" RPG series also developed by KOEI, but ultimately you're there for the fighting, not for the view. As you start your noble mission you are immediately set upon by some nasty chaps, hell-bent on doing you a mischief. Each of the enemies in DWII has a specific attack pattern based on their weaponry, so it's often pretty easy to deal with them. Thanks to the shear quantity of oppressors, your task doesn't lose its charm for quite some time, not at least until the repetition kicks in. Your own attack consists of a few token slashes as well as a chargeable combination move, which is operated by holding down the secondary attack button for a few seconds and then letting rip. As you gradually downsize your opponents, the energy bars that waft conspicuously above their heads decrease until they are completely drained, at which point, in long-established fashion, your opponent flops down and fades away from view. The control system, incidentally, is as responsive and faultless as can be, with functions allocated logically and unlike some third person titles, no lapse between press and action.
Rather like your average side-scrolling beat 'em up, the world of DWII is covered with fruitful scenery. Crates, jugs, and other elements of the décor can be smashed to pieces revealing bonus items inside. This is something worth doing too, because occasionally it reveals a mid-battle save point, something of a Godsend. These items are not the only things to reveal surprise bonuses - many of your opposition are worth bumping off just for the reward factor. The higher ranked enemies in particular, often yield some exciting new item in their wake. The rank of the chap you are fighting is often displayed in the top right of the screen, allowing you to work out if he's really worth it. If you spot a Captain or a General, it's usually worth seeing to them just for the extra armour or weapons you will get out of it. They make dealing with the rest of the on-screen protagonists much easier. You may feel duty-bound at this point to inquire, nay, demand what the problem is with such a simple, yet entertaining concept, and to be frank, there isn't one. Dynasty Warriors II is fast, furious and enjoyable. It's one of those games that pulls you in with its mindless simplicity and fails to let go. But unfortunately, at some point along the way, and it's difficult to say when it happens, you lose interest. The engaging nature of the early levels gives way to tedium, and eventually frustration as you yearn for something else to happen.
Granted, there's a fair bit to do and see before the boredom sets in. You get to ride a horse and such (the graphics for which are a spectacular indication of what the PS2 is capable of in the future), chat to other Warlords to find out how the battle for China is progressing and such, but all things considered there is so little to do once you've played the game for a couple of hours that it just begs the question of whether or not it's worth bothering with, especially at the price of current PS2 games. One of DWII's strongest traits though is its graphical engine. As mentioned above, the horse-riding scenes are breathtaking, and general combat smacks more of Tekken Tag Tournament and of Soul Calibur than something like Final Fight. Watching yourself battle several foes at once is definitely quite captivating, but thanks mainly to your scant array of attacking manoeuvres, this too becomes fairly boring after a while. Another gripe is that aurally DWII is more like elevator music for beat 'em ups than anything else. It's got crashing war themes and the like, but they are nothing special - nothing like Final Fantasy VII's battle theme, nothing that gets the blood boiling.
At the end of the day, although Dynasty Warriors II is a competent and entertaining game which does well to take advantage of the PlayStation 2's graphical hardware, any game that becomes tedious through repetition deserves more than a raised eyebrow. Although there's some fun to be had here, for what we dole out for PlayStation 2 games it should last beyond a first day's worth of play, and that's why we have to be so harsh on it.