Dynasty Warriors 6
Developer: Omega Force
American Release: February 19, 2008
I knew going into this that reviewing Dynasty Warriors 6 would be tough. As a fan of the series, it’s hard for someone like me to articulate the game’s strengths and weaknesses to everyday gamers that don’t normally play the game, and avoid falling into the trap of just saying “if you’re a fan, you’ll like it anyway because only faggots like this game”. If anything, reading most reviews of Musou style games – Samurai Warriors and Gundam included – is fun if only because most of them read as if they were written the day the game was announced, as reviewers ignore the specifics of the game itself to rail against Koei’s cash cow, the company itself, and the gamers who will buy the game regardless of what he says, and how dare they! Then of course, they go back to masturbating over Halo.
While I had every intention of playing and reviewing a game that I’ve enjoyed for years, I didn’t know quite what was in store for me, and all of the changes that were made. Character redesigns? Weapons changes? Sun Shang Xiang… with a bow? I wasn’t sure how to take these changes, with the exception of the fact that they did make the very same SSX even more fetching than they did in prior games. But I did know that the deletion of seven characters (Jiang Wei, Xing Cai, Pang De, Da Qiao, Zuo Ci, Meng Huo and Zhu Rong) didn’t sit well with me, as it didn’t with the fanbase in general.
Were these the welcome changes that outsiders had been calling for for years? Or are they going to make a community allergic to change recoil in horror? And how has Koei’s money franchise made the transition to the next generation? Let’s find out…
Dynasty Warriors games are all based on the 14th century classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, an epic, 120 chapter story about the fall of the Han Dynasty, and the civil war between regional warlords that sprung up until the Jin Dynasty took over, meaning the book spans almost 100 years, from 184 A.D. to 280 A.D. (incidentally, the book is also available to read online). Historically, DW games read like a Cliff Notes version of the main book, with the big events – the Yellow Turban Rebellion, Battle of Chi Bi, etc. – chopped up and made more dramatic, with the characters changed into caricatures for effect. It makes purists cringe, but it works on it’s target audience.
Dynasty Warriors 6 takes the version of events put forth in the prior DW games, and chops them up even more, making the original story and it’s chief characters little more than suggestion pieces. Dynasty Warriors has literally become a canon all it’s own, and one can’t help but feel that with the bits of the original story becoming little more than pieces of scotch tape holding together the Musou Modes, the series is starting to, in the words of a former staffer at IP, “jump the shark”.
There are the standard play modes that Dynasty Warriors typically offers: Free Mode, Musou Mode, Challenge Mode, an Encyclopedia mode, and a “Camp” mode. Free Mode lets you take an officer into a stage, regardless of what side they fight for, and play as that officer in any stage, with difficulty depending on stage, and the benefit is that the officer gets to keep the experience, weapons and horses that they win. Challenge Mode lets you try to get high scores in different modes, such as Rampage (get the most KOs), Sudden Death (same, but one hit kills), and some other modes that suck so hard they don’t even warrant mention (seriously… a speed test?). You can post your scores online – which is shockingly the ONLY thing that this game supports in terms of XBox Live, but this is only for the most hardcore. There’s also a Camp mode to check on the status of all of the officers in the game, and an Encyclopedia that has information on all of the relevant officers in the game/book (with their real information), as well as a good, quick synopsis of the entire book. This mode would be a lot more impressive if it wasn’t completely cut-and-pasted out of DW5.
The meat and potatoes of Dynasty Warriors games since the very first Musou game (DW2) is Musou Mode. This is where your officers go through individual story modes, and fight in battles that come along in said stories. As mentioned before, the story has gotten weaker as the game veers farther from the source material, and it’s not particularly told well in the first place regardless, so essentially, the story aspects of the game are nothing more than ways to show you cut-scenes, and bring you to the next battle.
However, the most infuriating part of thie whole exercise – maybe of the game in general – is the fact that not every character gets a Musou Mode, which wasn’t the case in any other game. Even in DW4, every officer could compete in their land’s Musou Mode, but here, only seventeen officers out of the forty-one in the game get a full story mode. That means the only reason whatsoever you have to play as the other twenty-four people is either personal preference, to unlock other officers, or if you’re an achievement whore. That is a completely inexcusable oversight.
Nothing – repeat, nothing – has changed since Dynasty Warriors 5 in terms of what this game offers. Oh, except the lack of seven characters, a total (counting the missing seven) of thirty-one missing story modes. And the $20 price increase to an already-absurd $60. Can’t forget that.
STORY/PLAY MODES RATING: VERY BAD
The big deal that was made about Dynasty Warrriors 6 was that more objects could be on the screen, therefore increasing the frantic pace of the action as there would be more people to kill. That’s all well and good, but the game and the people in said game still look like ass. As a matter of fact, 90% of the time, you would have to remind me that this isn’t being played on a PS2, and in addition to underpowered graphics, there are some legitimate issues on the technical side. Polygon clipping, faces and limbs “disappearing” within textures, pop-up syndrome, and the fact that in her victory pose, Sun Shang Xiang’s face appears to be peeling off… someone in charge of quality control was asleep.
And even after all that shit, the game STILL slows down when a lot of people are on screen! That’s made worse by the fact that oftentimes, downed enemies leave a corpse. That would be fine, but those bodies are still taking up room that is obviously needed by the CPU to process the rest of the bodies. And then they eventually disappear, on top of that. Someone needs to tell Koei to shit or get off the pot in this regard.
Cut-scenes are a little bit better than they were on the PS2 in that there are better facial expressions, smoother animation and they’re longer, but they suffer from the same graphical issues that the rest of the game suffers from. Low quality graphics I can accept, as I really don’t need good graphics unless I’m playing Rez. But glitchy graphics and stuff that could have been caught by a simple beta-tester are not something that can be taken lightly.
GRAPHICS RATING: BAD
Second verse, same as the first. Almost nothing is different from an audible standpoint from prior games. Pseudo guitar rock playing during stages? Check. Terrible voice acting? Check. Non-descript sound effects? Check. Thankfully, none of this really affects how you play the game, but if you’re looking for something ear-pleasing, look somewhere else.
SOUND RATING: POOR
While so far, this review has been virtually negative the entire time, I will state here that Koei’s done some things right in the gameplay department… but even THAT needs to be qualified.
The most notable change the game made is the Renbu system. In prior iterations of DW, you would have a tier system of sorts, where you have your basic attacks and your power attacks, with your basic attacks being able to chain into power attacks; for example, W-W-W-P would give you three regular slices in a chain, finished by a swooping power move. It worked well, and is what one would call “tried-and-tested”. However, the Renbu system is meant for chained attacks; this means you can have chains of hundreds, even thousands of hits in a row if you’re good enough, and the higher your Renbu level goes (brought up by higher chains, more hits and not getting hit yourself), the better and stronger moves you can do. However, the way it works is that there is no “end” to chains; the weak and power buttons are unlinked, and you can swing your weapon forever. Want to do the same weak slashes endlessly? Go ahead! Want to link power moves together by mashing the power button? Go ahead! The ideal is nice, but it unbalances the gameplay a little bit; you can literally just pick at an enemy officer once you get an opening, and slice him to death with no let-up. And it turns a game who’s very premise is on hack-and-slash gameplay into more of a hack-and-slash game, and eliminates most of the minuscule strategy that used to go into fighting. That’s not a good thing.
However, it’s not all bad, either. The power button is a lot deeper now. If you jab it, you will do more powerful charge moves that will hurt your opponent more than they would normally, and even better, it breaks their guard. By holding power, you can do a circular power move (example: Sun Shang Xiang – henceforth known as SSX – shoots her arrows in a circular, 180 degree motion), and if you press power while holding guard, your character will do a grapple move. It adds some depth back that the Renbu system inadvertently got rid of. You can also use a
barrel roll to get out of a jam and hopefully position around someone’s block, but since the camera doesn’t move with you, you’re left essentially swinging blind. One more bit about the camera: it tends to pan down at the worst times. In a game where you want the camera to be a bit above the character’s shoulder, it tends to go behind it at bad times. It’s wonky, and usually requires manual adjustment with the right analogue stick.
In addition to regular attacks, your character also gets special moves which are acquired by getting tomes, which are dropped by enemies. Depending on the move, different effects happen; for example, Volley rains arrows down around you that hit and kill enemies as if you were being followed by a dark cloud that was raining death, swift attack makes your attacks faster and more powerful, etc. Not only do these help you out, but a lot of the enemies you kill leave EXP lying around in small clumps, and any officers you beat get you 200 EXP (vice the normal 50), so it’s a good thing to have when things get hectic.
Another major aspect that was added to this game is the fact that you can swim. You can jump into any body of water, and swim to wherever you need to go. It’s very useful in a lot of situations, but not as useful as it can be due to the limitations put on where you can come back ashore; you can only climb up a gradual incline, as if you were a ship mooring to port. You cannot climb up any steep inclines at all, so if you jump down the wrong place, you could end up having to blow up to five minutes just getting back to where you were because you had to go to some far-off climbing point to get back to land. When this is combined with the fact you could get knocked off a high-up area just by being juggled in the air (still a problem in this game, but not nearly as bad as it was in older games), one simple fall could be the difference between winning and losing a stage.
Horse fighting is touched up a bit, with most characters now only attacking one side of the horse (like Samurai Warriors, and Ma Chao in older DW games), which makes things a little easier to manage, in my opinion. Furthermore, your character won’t get knocked off the horse every time they get hit, which is great for those that like fighting on a horse. Also, it should be noted that horses are rated as separate characters in their own right in this game; they gain experience based on the amount of kills you make while on the horse, as well as other factors, and the more levels they get, the better stats they get as well as their own skills. Some horses are better than others, so if you have a nag, you can just release him. Furthermore, you can call your horse to you with a press of the D-pad; a great move. It’s almost cut-and-pasted from the Bodyguard system from DW5, but it works infinitely better here.
Duels make a comeback this time around, but instead of being challenged and going to a separate, timed area, you and the opponent square off while both armies circle you, and become the lumberjacks in a Lumberjack wrestling match. It’s a great idea in theory, but the problem is that the rest of the battle is still going on, and in a lot of cases, you’re already behind the eight ball going into the stage, so all that time spent duelling is time you’re falling further behind… and you will spend time duelling, because the officers get stronger in a duel. And yes, that’s plural; you could be duelling against two or three charged up officers at one time, whereas no one’s there to help you. The only benefit is that if you win, you get more experience than normal. There’s also the problem that with jacked up officers that can theoretically use as many hits as they want, you’re in serious trouble if you’ve got a slower officer.
There’s a new way to build up experience and levels in Dynasty Warriors, and it’s the only unqualified successful change in the whole game. When you defeat officers, they leave little gold bags that can get you anywhere from 50 to 200 EXP, with a 25-50% increase depending on if you’re on Hard of Master, and as you get more experience, you gain levels, up to 50 levels. In addition, every level up gains you a skill point, which you can use on a Chinese Checkers like skill board that will be familiar to those that played Final Fantasy X. Along with stat-up bonuses, you can also gain skills exclusive to your character, anything from increasing the maximum Renbu level to skills that make tomes more effective, increase speed, etc. It makes each officer you use that much more different than every other officer, and adds some motivation to get them all the way to Lv. 50. If there’s one negative about this setup, it’s that every officer more or less has their own statistical cap; no more having Diao Chan be as strong as Lu Bu at the highest level.
Finally, the biggest change to how the game plays is the changes to the officers themselves. Just about every officer saw some change, some minor, and some are completely different. For example, while SSX (one can tell I’m a Lady Sun fan) is essentially the same character with her bow that she was with Chakrams, Xiahou Dun goes from a scimitar with a relatively quick attack to this long, spiky staff that makes him slower than he used to be. Furthermore, some characters have the same move sets as others. I’m not talking similar as in how Sima Yi and Zhuge Liang used to have the same weapon, I’m talking the exact fucking moves. For a game that already cut out seven characters, it shows an immense amount of laziness, though learning how to use everyone again should prove entertaining to most veterans of the series, though there’s sure to be a contingent that wants things the old way.
In short, for every step forward DW6 took, it took a step back, and though there are a lot of things right, and more that have potential, I’m not grading potential, and what we’re left with, overall, is a shallow system with little depth made even more shallow and less deep, and though it has it’s perks and it’s fans, it’s not a system that endears itself to everyone, and camera issues do make the experience a little worse for those not accustomed to the series.
NOTE: There are also reports that the PS3 version suffers from some severe performance issues. I cannot collaborate this, but take this into consideration.
CONTROL/GAMEPLAY RATING: BELOW AVERAGE
If there’s one area where Koei took care of it’s fans, it’s in the area of unlockables and reasons to play the game again and again. It requires solid patience to unlock everything in this game, and even more patience to unlock the game’s myriad of achievements (for 360 owners), so anyone wanting to get the most of out of their purchase will have ample opportunities. However, I found it strange that I had to look up all of this game’s achievements at a third party site, as they’re all hidden from the game until you unlock them. Granted, most of them are “unlock character __________”, but it’s still a silly thing to do. In addition to unlocking all of the characters and stages, there’s also the act of getting them all of their requisite skills, and all of the targets in a stage.
However, this rating is hurt a bit by the lack of Musou Modes for everyone, as there’s no incentive to play through as everyone in Free Mode to get them to Lv. 50, unless you really, really like a character, or are OCD-levels of dedicated.
REPLAYABILITY RATING: ABOVE AVERAGE
Ahahahahahahahahaha… oh wow. Musou games have never been made with balance in mind, but this game is the worst of the lot.
Let’s look at using your officers at first. There are simply too many officers that don’t cut mustard compared to those at the top end of the usability scale. This game favours quicker officers to slower, more powerful ones simply because the stats are so similar – especially while starting out – that slower officers have to start out in Easy mode for awhile until they’re strong enough to legitimately hold their own at the higher levels, mainly because they’re not doing enough damage to compensate for their lack of speed and complete inability to get past anyone’s guard. So that means that as a user, you are either going to destroy everything with faster officers, or struggle with the bigger, slower ones. There’s no ifs, ands or buts around that.
However, a quick peek onto the online leaderboards in challenge mode shows that even among the top tier, there’s one or two officers that are completely and utterly invincible compared to their peers, as evidenced by the fact that these officers are all over the place on the boards. While it’s great to see “my” character finally showing herself as a highly desirable character, the difference between Sun Shang Xiang and everyone else I’ve tried in this game is mind-blowing. She shoots five arrows with every weak attack, and every arrow is as damaging as someone else’s normal move; that means if you go up to someone and shoot them up close, that enemy is getting hit five times, and with the Renbu system, you can pretty much shatter everything around you with little effort. It’s borderline unfair, which sucks for most gamers… but not for me. All welcome Lady Sun, Bringer of Heavenly Death!
As for who you’re fighting, regular enemies are virtually useless, as usual, and most of the generic enemy officers – that is, those that don’t have the honour of being playable now or in the past – are very easy to beat. However, when you run into someone that’s either a selectable character, or goosed up to be strong, you notice by the fact that if you’re unprepared, they’re going to wipe the floor with you. Naturally, you usually end up in duels with these officers.
And then, there’s Lu Bu.
Lu Bu is meant to be stronger than everyone else. Granted, in the book he had his weaknesses that led to his demise, and even in the ROTK games he’s made to be worse simply because he’s dumber than a rock, but in a game like Dynasty Warriors, I can understand him being stronger than everyone else. But it took him literally 3 hits to kill a full-life Guan Yu at Hu Lao Gate, and since Hu Lao Gate is an early chapter in the game for everyone – meaning, you’re in the chapter at a low level – it’s almost unfair to come across him, because there’s no chance in hell you’re going to survive. You have to plan around him, and hope for the best.
BALANCE RATING: WORTHLESS
Normally, this would be an easy thing to rate DW on; they essentially did the same thing for years, after all, and even got silly with the spin-offs and expansion packs that brought nothing new to the game or series in most cases. However, Koei did go out of their way to make things relatively different for veterans, with the new characters, new redesigns, and the core gameplay being different as well. Not everyone’s going to like it, but give Koei credit for trying, at least.
That said, those changes don’t mask the fact that Koei’s released essentially the same style of game for a good six, seven years now, and that’s never going to change. Put a coat of paint on a whore house, and you still have a whore house.
ORIGINALITY RATING: POOR
Those that choose to get into Dynasty Warriors tend to stick around, simply because it’s incredibly addicting to reduce China’s population by a thousand people singlehandedly. It’s one of those games that make you want to play one more stage… one more stage… one more stage… oh shit it’s 4AM. That, and the lure of unlocking and finishing everything lends itself well to the cocaine-like effect that DW has over it’s players.
Best way to put it: I might not like a lot of what they did this time around, but damned if I haven’t been playing the fuck out of it.
ADDICTIVENESS RATING: VERY GOOD
You either love or hate Dynasty Warriors; there’s not a lot of middle ground. Those that love it are probably already about to burn me at the stake for what’s turning out to be a poor-scoring review so far, and those that don’t like it are celebrating as if they fucking won something. Still, even those veterans that have faithfully bought all of the games, spin-offs and shitty handheld versions are going to be put-off by some of the changes, especially if a change negatively affects a character they liked… or if said character got waxed altogether.
APPEAL FACTOR RATING: MEDIOCRE
Let’s talk about the character redesigns. I’m on record as being down on the JRPG genre a bit lately due to the fact that most of the characters are androgynous, long haired nancy-boys who look like they take it from their female counterparts’ strap-ons. Koei seems to have noticed the trends, as they took a story already heavy with innuendo for those that look for it – I have a friend who jokes with me about the heavy homosexual undertones in the relationships between Zhou Yu and Sun Ce, Zhang Liao and Guan Yu, Liu Bei and just about everyone, etc. – and characters from games that already bordered on “enlightened”, and gayed them up to the point where my ass hurts just from looking at them. I mean, look at this shit! (thanks to Insp. Chin at Koei Warriors forum for posting the images) With apologies to Patton Oswalt, there’s a difference between “handsome” and “fifty cocks in his ass like the tail of a peacock”, and some of the redesigns go over that line. Some of them are better (did you expect me to go another section without bringing up Lady Sun?), but most of them are frivolous at best.
Still, that’s a personal preference, and I don’t find it fair to judge the game because I’m a closet homophobe, so…
MISCELLANEOUS RATING: MEDIOCRE
Story/Play Modes: Very Bad
Control/Gameplay: Below Average
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL RATING: POOR
SHORT ATTENTION SPAN SUMMARY
The apologist could say that this is a period of transition for the series, as Koei gets used to next generation hardware and takes the opportunity to move the series in another direction. However, the dickhead – myself, namely – could say that if they’re going to experiment, to do it on their own time, and not on my sixty fucking dollars. At best, this game shows that DW7 has potential. At worst, it’s a rush-job that shows how little respect Koei has for it’s customers. I’m not what it is in the end, but I know that the fact I have to think about the answer to that conundrum is bad.
At $60 USD, I have a hard time recommending this to anyone sight unseen, even hardcore DW fans, due to the changes made. Essentially, if you’re a hardcore fan of the series, you’ve likely spent your money already, but if not, rent it first and see if you like it. If you hate Dynasty Warriors games, then don’t worry, this won’t change your mind. If you’re curious to see what all the fuss is about, I recommend trying either Warriors Orochi (which has the characters from both Dynasty and Samurai warriors, as well as a blissfully stupid story), or the superior Dynasty Warriors: Gundam.