Review: Dynasty Warriors 7 (Xbox 360)

Dynasty Warriors 7
Dynasty Warriors 7
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei
Genre: Action
Release Date: 3/29/2011

Dynasty Warriors 7 is the latest installment of Koei’s long-running action-based series based loosely on the Chinese epic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The action is over the top, as the snazzy opening sequence will show you. New characters have come to join the old, and the controls are easy to grasp. How well can all this hold the attention of gamers? That depends on whether or not you’re already a fan of the series: If you are, you’ll like it; if not, the action will either grab your attention or it won’t. Simple as that.

I admit that I’m reviewing this as someone who’s going into this fresh, so if it sounds like I’ve never played a Dynasty Warriors game before, it’s because I haven’t. All right, let’s get started.

Story / Modes

The game offers a few different modes. The ones of note include Story and Conquest Modes, which are the places where you’ll be spending most of your time, while the Tutorial mode offers some first-hand instruction on how to utilize the controls divided by their relative difficulty. The Gallery allows you to view the plethora of unlockable content you can find by playing through Story and Conquest modes, and the Encyclypedia gives an overview of the events depicted within the game. Put another way, you can familiarize yourself with the story before you jump into any of the action if you so choose.

Story Mode is the main part of the game wherein you choose to play as one of four factions: Shu, Wu, Wei, and Jin. The former three will be familiar to those who’ve played previous Dynasty Warriors games, as each tells the same tale they have before. Jin does not, but this is because that campaign doesn’t begin until well after the other three have spent much time beating on each other. A brief skim of the Encyclopedia will reveal this and, in doing so, imply you ought to play through Jin’s campaign after going through the other three. As you progress through each campaign, the action is occasionally interrupted by a cutscene that provides some transition between whole missions or in the middle of them. Who you play as is predetermined per mission or section; you don’t get to choose your character due to narrative reasons (e.g. a necessary POV shift). This makes the events a little more accurate to historical events and gives you a chance to sample how every character (officially called an officer) plays. I’ve found the balance between story scenes and gameplay sections to be good, but the actual delivery of the former comes off as more clichéd and over-dramatized than it should for something as epic as the source material. Don’t get me wrong; the story has its moments. The presentation is marred, though, by both the flaws I just mentioned and some spotty voice acting.

Which faction shall we follow?Conquest Mode is the other place where you’ll be spending most of your time. Here you can pick which officer you’d like to play as and progress through a series of maps overlaid on a hexagonal grid. While you start with only a few characters per faction, you can unlock more by completing Legendary Battles, which are distinguished by having a unique icon. Given enough time, you’ll have plenty of maps, officers, and weapons to choose from to play more or less how you want. Conquest Mode also offers cooperative multiplayer be it local or online, though the latter isn’t much to write home about.

The game’s two main modes will definitely keep players occupied thanks to the sheer number of unlockables, but only fans may stick around long enough to grab everything. Others will turn away either from a cliché-sounding story, despite being based on a fourteenth-century novel, or from the flow of the action.

Rating: Enjoyable

Graphics

In comparison to other games this generation, I’ve found Dynasty Warriors 7 to be somewhat lacking in comparison. To put it simply, the game looks good, but it’s a generic kind of good: nothing to write home about. As per an unwritten rule, the officers are distinguished by their flashy costumes, and I mean flashy in more than one sense of the word here, which stand out all the more when put against the hundreds of similar-looking NPCs and enemies. Even some of the opposing officers you run into will look the same, as I’ve run into quite a few guys with fans who sport tall hats. At least they’re distinguished by having their names written over their health bars like every other key figure on a given map. At times, when the number of people on screen become exceptionally numerous, the draw distance won’t be able to show all of whom are on the field. This isn’t so bad when you’re on foot, but when you’re manning the catapults and using them for something other than punching through walls or doors, aiming for enemies becomes tricky because they won’t be visible until the projectile gets within a certain distance of them.

Is that Tidus in Ancient China?It’s neat to see that the character models that appear in the cutscenes are the same as the ones that’ll be running around the battlefield during the gameplay sections, especially considering how detailed the costumes are. The four factions are associated with a different color: green for Shu, red for Wu, violet for Wei, and blue for Jin. Even the power ups are easy to see thanks both to their looks and the glow that surrounds them. Every weapon from the basic sword to the large ballistas have unique appearances, even if this you might not pay much attention to them while you’re in the middle of slicing through dozens of mooks. This is where the Gallery comes in handy because there, you can take all the time you want to view everything you’ve unlocked. These are all small things, though, so they don’t amount to a game that looks distinctly better than other current-generation games. At least the interface is clear and unintrusive.

Also, Sun Jian has one bitchin’ cape. Seriously.

Rating: Enjoyable

Sound

The sound effects are easy to hear and don’t grate on the ears. For instance, a helpful little ping noise rings whenever your Musou gauge fills, letting you know that you can unleash your officer’s specialized attack at any time. Another distinct sound comes up whenever you acquire a power up that is just loud enough for you to hear it but quiet enough to not drown out anything else that may be clamouring nearby. The music is similar in that none of the tracks will make your ears bleed, but neither are they be addicting. If anything, they’re catchy for the first few minutes of play, but after a while, you won’t be paying attention to them.

The voice acting is consistently mediocre, but it’s not as laughable as it was in previous installments. Maybe they’re keeping some of the cheesiness on purpose? Regardless, I wasn’t impressed. Only a select few deliveries have any semblance of soul behind them while the rest just…don’t. They really take the teeth out of the scenes. In what may be good news to some, the options provide a volume adjuster for the voices in case one wants to turn them down or mute them altogether. For the most part, though, the voice acting could still use some work.

Rating: Enjoyable

Control / Gameplay

The controls are very simple, as you only have to worry about two attack buttons at any one time, occasionally a third to initiate a Musou attack, and a fourth that allows you to jump or use some on-field objects (e.g. ladders and ballistas). The instruction manual has a diagram that shows what button performs what action, and the in-game tutorial will allow new players to grow accustomed to using them very quickly. Then you pop yourself into one of the campaigns in Story Mode or a mission in Conquest Mode, at which point you’ll find the ensuing action to be either a fun adrenaline rush or a tedious bore fest. There seems to be no middle ground with this.

Speak of Cao Cao, and Cao Cao will comeBecause the game operates the two attack buttons, you’ll be mashing them like crazy until every foe has dropped. This is not to say that the game is easy, but it does mean there’s little variation to the action. Oh sure, you can find a catapult and use it to bust open a door or a wall, but such an opportunity comes about once per map. Most of the time, you’ll need to tear through hundreds of enemies in order to reach the boss, who’s packing a good chunk of hit points more often than not. What this boils down to is that you’re doing a huge amount of hacking, slashing, running, slashing, running, hacking, etc., all while grabbing the power ups, healing items, or health boosters that happen to appear along the way. Bigger breaks in the action occur when a cutscene plays, but the game drops you back into it soon enough. Is it repetitive? Yes. Is this the only series that can be accused of being repetitive? Of course not. So is this a bad thing? Not for fans of the series, at least, if that number seven in the game’s logo is any indication. It just means that Dynasty Warriors 7 will have a hard time attracting new fans.

As for the individual officers, everyone plays in a similar fashion thanks to the simple controls. While they each have a weapon with which they’re proficient, denoted by an EX next on the weapon icon. Officers can equip any two weapons you choose. Each officer’s skill with a weapon is denoted by a number of stars. One star means the officer has little skill with the weapon and will thus swing slower and be more vulnerable to interruptions by the enemy. Three stars means the opposite, of course, and thus is more beneficial to the officer. Before starting any mission, you can run around your allies’ base camp and find a dealer from whom you can by more weapons. Every officer can equip two sets of weapons at a time and switch between them at will while out on the battlefield; however, each one will automatically equip his or her EX weapon for the Musou attack. This gives every officer a few more offensive options to use in the midst of battle, as does riding and fighting on horseback, though this doesn’t break far from the inherent monotony of a hack-and-slash game.

Rating: Enjoyable

Replayability

The sheer number of unlockables alone are enough to keep players busy for hours on end. After clearing missions in both Story and Conquest Modes, you’re free to replay them at your leisure. The latter mode also allows you to pick and choose who you’d like to play as on any map you want either alone or with a friend. In other words, players will have plenty of reasons to replay the game. If nothing else, Dynasty Warriors 7 can provide a decent amount of stress relief for the player beleaguered by everyday frustrations. Even if you aren’t that invested in the game, the incentives to play a for a few more minutes are there. Honestly, the game is much more fun to play with friends than alone.

Rating: Great

Balance

Breaking an entry the old-fashioned wayThe game offers five levels of difficulty for players to choose from: Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Very Hard. The most immediate difference between them is in how fast enemies die to your string of increasingly crazy attacks. None of them show a decrease or increase in enemy numbers, though the AI seems slower on the uptake and less inclined to unleash their own Musou attacks on the lower difficulties. This said, some of the more distinguishable officers are either very easy or unusually frustrating to beat regardless, but they don’t appear often enough to make this a major issue. To top it off, your allies are competent enough to take care of themselves most of the time, though it’s still important to keep an eye on them and assist them when necessary. If you’re not sure who you’re supposed to help or where you need to go next, you can look for blinking green circles on the map which highlight important spots of interest. Combined, this makes for a surprisingly well-balanced game, even if all the kinks haven’t been worked out yet.

Rating: Good

Originality

The Dynasty Warriors games all retell the same story in a fashion that may or may not be worthy of the original epic novel. Moreover, this isn’t the only game series or piece of media based on said novel. It thus goes without saying that Dynasty Warriors 7 doesn’t win many points in the originality department, and the addition of the Jin faction isn’t enough to contribute any. Fanservice-y costumes also aren’t anything special in this day and age because, frankly, they’re everywhere. Granted, having a large number of different designs means at least one is bound to appeal to some people, but to say they’re original is stretching it. But if you’re already a fan of the series, I doubt any of this will be a significant detraction.

Rating: Bad

Addictiveness

Oddly enough, the same mechanics that can make this game a tedious grind fest are the same ones that can make it ridiculously fun. Really, there is a certain appeal to throwing yourself into the middle of literally dozens of enemies and emerging victorious despite the odds. Even a player who thinks the game is just okay may find some fun with this. Fans of the series or just hack-and-slash in general will find many, many, many instances where they can beat the crap out of a myriad of random mooks without growing bored of it as quickly as a non-fan. In the end, though, they’re the only ones who’ll be investing big chunks of time into this.

Rating: Above Average

Appeal Factor

'So what are the odds I'll appear in a sequel?'I’ve already mentioned this earlier, but Dynasty Warriors 7 will have a hard time attracting new players. The hack and slash nature of the game is a serious hit or miss spot, and so are the designs of the characters. Said designs are very clearly made on the rules of cool and sexy, which isn’t inherently bad, but people will still likely raise eyebrows at a few of them anyway before turning away. Fans of the series will find plenty to enjoy, if not just flatout indulge on everything, and the game itself seems to have been built with only the fans in mind.

Not as bad as it sounds in this case, though non-fans probably won’t see what all the fuss is about.

Rating: Decent

Miscellaneous

The game offers an autosave feature as well as the ability to save in the middle of a mission. This triggers the continue option to appear on the main menu, and choosing it will allow you to resume your game at the cost of your save. That’s not a big deal, though, because you can just save again once you’re playing again. This gives you a chance to be flexible with your time as, rather than having to go through a really long mission from start to finish, you can break it up to suit your schedule. Maybe you’ll make slow and steady progress this way. The point is, you’re free to play the game on your own terms, which is always a good plus.

On one final but random note, the game has a skill tree vaguely reminiscent of the Diablo series that lets you unlock longer combos for a given officer, an additional Musou gauge, and the like. It’s a very small skill tree that’s identical in structure for every officer, but it provides a way to strengthen everyone for the road ahead. I’m not surprised by its small size given the large cast, but it’d be neat to see something like this in the future with more unique traits per character. The problem is that if they can’t implement it well, then it ought to stay as it is. Better safe than sorry, right?

Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Enjoyable
Control/Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Rating: Above Average Game

Short-Attention Span Summary
Dynasty Warriors 7 brings its own set of tweaks to the series and some additional characters, including a few who were cut from the last installment, but this is ultimately the same game as the past six. The Jin faction has been added, but it’d be best to play through that campaign after you’ve played through the stories of Shu, Wu, and Wei. Dynasty Warriors 7 allows players to choose between five levels of difficulty, customize officer weapon sets, and perform a myriad of combos amidst the rest of the over-the-top action. However, the sheer amount of hack-and-slash involved every step of the way will either make or break the game for players. Fans and non-fans will be able to have some fun with this, but the former group is more likely to stick around for the next iteration. If you’re in doubt, rent it and judge whether or not you want to buy it after that.

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