Hudda-dun-hudda-dun, dagga-dagga-dagga-dagga-dagga-dagga, dun dun DUN!
Select Mode: Cereal Mode; **Beverage Mode**; Toast Mode; Beverage Mode.
Milk Type: Skimmed; Semi-skimmed; Full Fat; **None**; Goat; Yak; Wolf.
Spoon Type: Long Handle; **Short Handle**; Deep Cup; Shallow Cup; Plastic; Metal; Rubidium.
OH PLEASE STOP! I’m just trying to make a cup of coffee! It doesn’t need to be this hard.
Seamless link to review: Dynasty Warriors Advance seems to believe that it can replicate the enormous volumes of action in its bigger brothers if it throws enough lists at you with as little explanation as possible. Present the player with enough choice, and surely she’ll feel involved? But no, of course not. In the end, you’re doing nothing more than frantically hitting the A and B buttons until all the enemies are dead. The frenetic RAWK music plaguing you throughout this does little to help.
The Dynasty Warriors series, now in its four-thousandth year, holds its place in people’s hearts for one thing alone: massive battles. While they purport to be historically accurate representations of Chinese history, this is of course nonsense, and really nothing more than pinning real-life battle names to their cartoon violence. You may as well label Bubble Bobble with "Invasion of Stalingrad", and claim it to be a historically accurate representation of the events of World War 2. (Which, come to think of it, is possibly the only gaming permutation of World War 2 yet to be pursued - I call dibs).
Take away the screaming madness of "7 X COMBO!!!", while dozens of enemies are purged by your mystical Musou lightning displays, and you’re left with, well, the background. Which is a generous way of describing the GBA incarnation.
Before we go any further, let’s get the "But the GBA isn’t capable of rendering dozens of enemies at once, or storing a wide variety of maps, so it’s not fair to complain," out of the way. A Lilo isn’t capable of surfing down a volcanic lava stream, and as such, is probably best NOT USED FOR SURFING DOWN VOLCANIC LAVA STREAMS. Inside a ping-pong ball would probably not be the ideal place to raise a family. SO DON’T RAISE A FAMILY INSIDE A PING-PONG BALL. If the GBA isn’t capable of running this game, then, well you can probably guess.
And it really isn’t. Where Dynasty Warriors CXVIII: Absnt Vwls provides you with a crazed cacophony of slaughter and vast battles of explosive intensity, DW: Advance has five sprites who stand still while you hit them.
Actually, that’s not quite true. They stand still until you hit them, and then slide madly across the ground, as if wearing casters made of ice. On an ice rink. On a particularly freezing cold day.
An extensive and bewildering series of tutorials explain the game’s structure, but frustratingly by a peculiarly detached means, not allowing you to participate in the barrage of instructions, but instead merely A buttoning your way through the pages and pages of illustrated text.
You’re told about how the game works in two sections: the RTS and the action, the movement and the combat. The former consists of a board game that makes Snakes & Ladders look rich with detail, in which you move your single character from blob to blob, advancing on enemies. This might possibly have offered a measure of tactics if there weren’t about twenty of them, and one of you. You have two other AI-controlled units on your side, but with no ability to dictate their path it’s hard to recognise them as a part of your game. They get on with their thing, independently and invisibly.
Your allies' movements, and in turn the enemy moves, happen out of your vision, occasionally perceptible on the mini-map, but with no ability to monitor their progress. Instead you’re sat staring at the small section of the map you’re currently in, while the screen generously informs you that it’s the "Enemy Move". Tap, tap, tap, wait your turn, bang your head to the JUGGA-JUGGA guitar that legendarily accompanied the second century Chinese into battle.
When your path crosses one of the enemy units, things switch over to the action screen in which, just like in real Chinese history I’m sure, your single character must defeat between about 20 and 50 enemies, with bonuses for finishing as quickly as possible. Unlike life. Fighting is conducted by mashing a very limited number of combos, built from alternately hitting A and B. Left shoulder offers a block, and, when your ‘Musou’ meter is full, combined with A unleashes an apparently super-attack mode, but only ever appeared to make the character even more slidey and uncontrollable, lasting for approximately two seconds. Right shoulder releases any of the six power-ups your frantic fighting might have earned, confusingly ranked and with minimal effect.
Battles with significant foes drop new weapons to add to your collection, and there really are an enormous number of these. Each has three pages of stats, categorised into about a dozen different classes, and augmented with one of six different coloured elements (such as lavender for "Blast" and purple for "Vorpal", apparently). This daunting level of detail translates into absolutely bugger all in the battle. So long as the metal stick you’re waving makes the baddies fall over, there’s little else to consider.
In order to attempt to replicate the scale of the series’ battles, the limited power of the GBA forces the enemies to appear in waves of five or six at a time. Any more and the poor thing would emit smoke and have a little cry. But this means there’s never any sense of an epic fight - which you’ll remember is the only thing the series has going for it. In fact, another wave of bads won’t be released until you’ve killed the last surviving member of the current squad, meaning the action comes in peculiar pulses, far more trough than peak. Success within various time limits rewards you with various meaningless bonuses (like a health boost - not the most fantastic gift when the battlefield is strewn with them. Talking of which, there are about two field maps per location, meaning that no matter where you are on the main map, it looks exactly the same, with the health and Musou bonuses in the exact same place each time).
There are 13 generals to play as, each with their own apparent roll of skills (some feel a bit slower than others, but of course detailed over pages and pages of lists), through the three different game modes. There’s Musou Mode, which is the game proper, telling the story. Then there’s Free Mode which is exactly the same as Musou, but you can tackle the missions in any order once they’ve been completed in Musou. And then there’s Challenge, which at least offers some variety - a sort of mix of mini-games, testing stamina, kill counts, and so forth. The score is somewhat rescued by this section, as it at least cuts out the pointless movement phase and lets you get on with challenging yourself against the limited potential of action. Trouble is, there’s only one save slot, and so much as playing a different mode will wipe out your current save.
Pages of information do not translate to in-depth play, especially when the apparent information has little perceivable bearing on your experience. And when that experience is as repetitive as that in Dynasty Warriors Advance, it appears to be simply mocking you. The game provides a fairly tough challenge, with high difficulty from the very beginning, and certainly there are lots of augmentations you can pretend you’re making to your character, and certainly thirteen different characters to do this with. But in the end, despite all the options, and all the pages and pages of stats, you’re doing little other than clicking through the gibberish story and hammering at A and B until everyone’s dead. Over and over.
I was trying to think of a similarly idiotic title to attempt to render on extremely limited hardware, and I was going with some sort of dancemat-based game. But then I realised, dancemat game for the DS, played with your fingers on the screen! It would be incredible. So while this review has now provided me with two brilliant new game ideas, and hence my future life of riches, that’s not enough to win me over. It wasn’t appropriate to make a GBA Dynasty Warriors, and the inevitable disappointment of an already extremely tired series has been fully realised.