Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei/Namco Bandai
Genre: Hack ‘n Slash
Release Date: 04/21/2009
There are two reasons I love seeing new Dynasty Warriors games come out. The first reason is simply because I like the franchise; I find the hack ‘n slash gameplay cathartic, and I’m one of those gamers that can appreciate the subtle yet effective changes that Koei has made to the franchise over the years. I don’t look for reinvented wheels, I look for refinement. It’s that last part that makes the second reason so enjoyable: the reviews for the games by commercial websites are absolutely awesome reads. Not that they’re enlightening or helpful for anyone buying the game; in actuality, they’re entertaining to read because they’re anything but helpful. Reviewers at sites such as Gamestop, IGN and the other “big” sites must love getting Dynasty Warriors games because they don’t even have to really play them at this point; they can just write a boiler plate review, talking about how this is a cash cow for Koei (but Halo isn’t a “cash cow” for Microsoft), and the gameplay’s exactly the same as before, and it becomes a rail against the franchise itself instead of paying attention to anything within the game.
Thankfully for fans of this series, I qualify for this review on two merits: 1) I actually like Dynasty Warriors, and 2) I actually like Gundam. The actual reason I like Gundam is BECAUSE of the first game; I liked the demo, took a chance on the finished product, and with very little prior knowledge of Gundam, got into the storylines and the characters. DW: Gundam 1 wasn’t perfect, however; it kept the spoilers, but didn’t really get into the storytelling aspects in Official Mode, while the mash-up of Original Mode basically took the entire Gundam universe, put it in a blender, and tossed in the combined ejaculate of every Gundam fanboy for flavour. It was insane. It didn’t make sense to outsiders. I loved every second of it, it got me into Gundam to the point where I’ve become VERY knowledgeable about the series, and it stands as one of my favourite 360 games of all time.
I heard the changes coming for DW: Gundam 2, and got excited, but never more excited than when one of my friends posted a YouTube video for me of everything that’s in the Japanese game with everything 100% unlocked. I stood in awe, as bits of my latest obsession flashed by, and just about giggled like a schoolgirl in the presence of a crush. “Oh my God! They made Yazan playable! And they added in Victory’s charac– they added in Char’s Counterattack! SQUEEEEEE~”. I must have been insufferable to even my anime-liking friends, but I was finally able to grab a copy of the game to see if it stood up to the expectations I had for it.
After playtesting the ever living hell out of it, I can say that Koei did a few things that hurt themselves more than anything, but most Gundam fans won’t care; this is everything they’ve wanted, and more.
Before I get to the meat of the gameplay, let me say this for non-Gundam fans: this game is not for you. I do not recommend using this game to break into the Gundam series the way I broke into the first one, because you WILL be spoiled, horribly, either by the storytelling in Official Mode, or with the character information in the Gallery. This is for serious Gundam fans; if you’re fine with being spoiled to almost the entire Gundam canon, then jump in, but this game is not for lightweights, and I will be weighting this review thusly. This is as far as you can expect to get without seeing spoilers; I can’t guarantee the rest of this review will be spoiler free.
With that said, one of the main complaints I, and other Gundam fans had about the first game in this series was that while there was a lot to it, there wasn’t enough; they only put in the main UC timeline, and the most popular, older spinoff series. That problem has been sufficiently rectified in this game, as just about every main series has been represented, save the OVAs like War in the Pocket or the non-canon manga such as Char’s Deleted Affair.
That is a LOT of anime to cover, and while it doesn’t seem like a big boost in terms of the series being covered, the jump in playable pilots, and especially playable mobile suits – from 19 to 62(!) – automatically makes this game worth a purchase for those that liked the first game enough. This is a simply amazing package for the true fan, though I have to state that non-Gundam fans won’t really understand what the big deal is; to them, a suit’s a suit, and some suits suck more than others. To actual Gundam fans, even using the lesser suits like the GM and even the Zaku Tank (which looks like it was put together from the spare parts of a Nintendo R.O.B., Johnny Five from Short Circuit and Wall-E) is going to be a tremendous mark-out moment, even if the suits suck.
To boot, the Official Mode has been spruced up a bit. You have the ability to choose – from the outset – either Amuro Ray, Char Aznable, Kamile Bidan or Judau Ashta, but you don’t get to play as Haman or Scirocco in this mode, which is fine, as their involvement in the last game’s story mode was pretty forced to begin with. Here, you play as the main protagonists in the series as you go through their timeline; in the case of Amuro and Char, you go through multiple timelines, starting with the very first stage during the One Year War, and ending with their defining duel at the end of Char’s Counterattack. The story isn’t just told through the battles this time around; in addition to having more stages than before, there’s also little information tidbits, broken down into chronological order, that fill in the actual story of the times between fighting. This is tremendous for people coming in that aren’t Gundam fans. When it comes to the first two series, it’s still insufficient in terms of telling the whole story, but ironically, it’s actually perfect for the inferior Gundam ZZ and the truly atrocious Char’s Counterattack; the games get the good stuff told, while cutting out the bullcrap. I enjoyed about twenty minutes of Char’s Counterattack but hated the rest, and this game basically focuses on those hot twenty minutes. Unfortunately, in a few stages, veterans of the first game are going to get a sense of déjÃƒÂ -vu; some stages are very similar to their counterparts in the first game, and some, like Operation Malestrom and Gryps 2, are almost exactly the same, with the same voices, the same statements being made, the same level progression, etc.; this was disappointing, as at the very least, the dialogue wasn’t close enough to it’s source material to have to rehash it for accuracy’s sake.
With that established, Official Mode is a warm-up for Mission Mode. Simply put, Mission Mode is immense, and a tremendous improvement over the similar mode that was found in the first DW:G game. The amount of characters that have been opened up, as mentioned before, is immense, with a lot of characters selectable from the start, and even more of them unlockable from either Official Mode, or by finishing stages in Mission Mode as other characters. In the last game, Official Mode was just five story stages; after that, if you wanted to max out your character, you did those exact stages, over and over and over again. This time around, you get story stages that get progressively harder, just like last time, but now you have other aims. The main difference is your friendship meter; this shows your relationship with the other characters in the game on a seven-level scale with the middle level being ambivalence, and depending on the pilot’s normal interactions during their respective shows, it can start out higher or lower. One of the ways to bring friendship up is to perform friendship stages; these are either available almost from the start or unlocked later in that character’s mode. Friendship can be gained – or lost – by fighting with or against other pilots, respectively, which is the justification for easier stages where you get to fight with sets of pilots; pilots you don’t get along with, female pilots, older pilots, younger pilots, etc., in a way to build up friendship. There’s also the messages that you can get in your terminal – basically a messaging system – that can be used to join specific groups such as the AEUG, White Base crew, Moonrace, etc. and do missions for them. As you complete these missions, your friendships with the people involved in them will improve. As relationships improve, certain other items are unlockable, from license missions to other friendship missions to the ability to fly as other pilots in Mission Mode.
The friend system, overall, is well intended but needs work to become fully useable. The whole gist of the mode is to fly with people to become friends with them, and fly against people to become their enemies, but the problem is that you don’t have much of a choice who you fly with or against. Furthermore, you usually have many more opponents in these stages than friends, and it’s noticeably hard to get people that dislike you to like you again – often taking tens of stages fought with someone – whereas it’s very easy to get on someone’s bad side unless they’re a specific friend of yours; fighting most friendship missions, therefore, is often counterproductive. I also had an issue with fighting the same six or seven pilots over and over again, eventually getting pilots I would normally like to be my friend to hate me, with absolutely no choice for me in this matter; I have to beat them to finish the stage, which means they’ll hate me either way. Since I can’t just say “I want to increase my friendship with X”, it makes certain perks – such as unlocking certain suits – nearly impossible.
Mission mode also contains license missions. These are specific missions that have to be beaten in order to have the character you’re using use a particular mobile suit. The days of unlocking every suit upon beating the story mode are over. This is a nice touch, in my eyes; it adds a hurdle before you can use the really good suits, and discourages players from just taking their favourite suit for everyone as soon as they possibly can. The problem with this is that you have to have at least some level of friendship with someone before you can take the license test to gain access to their suit. Again, I can’t stress how much this game needs some ability for the player to make a choice in how they’re going about their game.
There are other modes, such as training modes for new players and collection modes for collecting parts for the lesser mobile suits, but the last main playable part of Mission Mode are the special missions. These missions have a high cost of entry – usually this involves a lot of stages beaten, a lot of kills in a specific suit, a high level of friendship with a specific pilot, etc. – and a great prize – Lv. 4 parts for a suit – if they’re beaten; in short, these are just like the tasks that were necessary in the older Dynasty Warriors games to get Lv. 4 weapons. Unfortunately, just like those old stages, the difficulty is ramped up for these; the bar’s set as high as it can go, and you have to win the stages on Hard, which is about impossible in this game as you’re always getting hit hard from a distance. If you can get these, great on you, but for me, I’m happy enough with Lv. 3 parts.
When not playing actual missions, there’s Astonage’s Lab to worry about. This is where you can go to have parts for your unlocked mobile suits improved, have bonuses added onto them, or have them taken out altogether to develop a part you don’t have (I’ll go into the specifics of the parts in a bit). Anything you don’t have or don’t want to put in, you can request to have changed, all changes take a mission’s length to finish, and it doesn’t matter who you’re playing as, the Lab’s the same no matter what. As you put more parts in, the Lab improves in level, and gains more capabilities. This is a great addition to Mission Mode, and carries no negatives, unless you don’t like to spend time managing stats.
As great as Mission Mode is, one common complaint is going to come up from all players playing the game, and that is the fact that just about every mission is very, very samey. There are a few mission archetypes, such as killing all commanders, taking all fields, protecting your allies, or even getting X amount of kills in Y amount of time, but they all play out the same; you’re dropped into a random stage (either from Official Mode, or brought in from DW:G1), with a few random allies, and random enemies, and you run around conquering bases and taking out enemy officers. After awhile, the set pieces begin to repeat themselves, and while fans won’t mind this, the less dedicated are going to roll their eyes and put the game down very quickly. Add in the fact that you have to go through a lot of stages to unlock things for the immense amount of pilots in the game, and unlocking all achievements in this game is an exceptionally daunting task, especially compared to the first game. While it’s nice to have more things added to this game, there’s not a whole lot of variety in the stages themselves, and unlocking everything is more a test of patience than anything.
The core gameplay is the same as in every other Musou game; slash, slash, power slash, musou, rocks fall everyone dies. However, Koei made some subtle changes that improve the playability greatly. Depending on your pilot’s level, you can do six slash moves, with a charge attack linked to each one of varying effectiveness. There’s different musou moves as well, depending on the situation; there’s one for when you’re walking normally, one for when you’re in the air, and a third one for combination attacks, with the power of each move dependant on the level musou move you’re using. Moves are specific to the suits themselves, with each suit being able to be powered up by the parts that are dropped by downed enemies and compiled after successful stages; the harder the stage, the better the parts, generally, and since you’re guaranteed to get a part for your suit and usually a part for bosses you beat, you can compile parts – and build the front-line suits like GMs, Zakus and Gazas – very quickly. There are no more suit levels; the suit’s power is entirely dependent on its parts, including the maximum musou level. A lot of work went into balancing out the suits this time around; in the first game, beam attacks were immensely overpowered, turning Heero Yui into an archangel of death. This time around, the beams have been nerfed, and while there are still a few moves that act as kill switches like the Turn A’s combination musou, each suit generally has its strong and week points. Furthermore, projectile moves – a must for a Gundam game – have been dramatically improved. Suits can now fire anywhere from three to five straight shots in a row, and are stronger than they used to be; this takes them from being almost useless to being very useful in tough boss fights. The downside to this is that enemies use them often as well – there are times in harder stages when your life will go into yellow and you have almost no idea why, and if you’re fighting DOMs, you’re going to get knocked down a lot – but everything balances out in the end.
If I could stop here, I’d spend the next paragraph and my SASS proclaiming this the best thing to happen since the combination of porn and broadband internet. However, there are three major kickers that really hurt things more than they should:
- Super bosses are simply too damn strong. This was an issue in the first game, and really every Dynasty Warriors game ever, but it’s exceptionally bad now. How bad is it? It took me ten minutes – literally – to kill Jerid (one of the super bosses) in one level, after which I had to just about pray I made it out of that stage alive, considering the fact that…
- Interim saves have been made useless. In every Dynasty Warriors game I can remember, there’s been a tier system; easy, you get five interim saves, which you can use to place a marker in a stage in case you die. Normal mode gives you three saves, while hard gives you one. This game gives you infinite interim saves, but that’s a misnomer; if you die in a stage, your save is automatically deleted. It doesn’t matter if you choose to save your data or not, your save is immediately wiped. That is a HORRIBLE design decision! This is one of those games where you can make one mistake, get caught, and end up losing a stage; to have to begin that stage from the very beginning when most stages take twenty to thirty minutes apiece is plain stupid. If I’d have died at some time in that stage I just mentioned, I’d have had to redo the 10 minute Jerid fight. I’m not sure I’d have had a controller left to play with.
- Mobile Armour battles. This almost ruined the game.
Gundam just isn’t Gundam without it’s larger than life mobile armours; between the Big Zam, Psycho Gunda, Alpha Azieru and others, these huge suits have been a defining feature of Gundam from the very first series on. They had to be included in this game; it was only natural. However, the way they’re incorporated is troubling. Armour battles are different from regular boss battles in that your focus is directed to the armour itself. You have to look for the armour to open itself up and attack it when it’s open, using either regular attacks, or a new smash attack, which can temporarily immobilize the armour. After awhile, hitting the same spot can take out a part of the armour’s body and keep certain attacks from being done. As the armour’s life goes down, it gets stronger and does better attacks.
Under normal circumstances, this would be a solid setup. However, there are two major problems with this approach:
1) In certain stages, you have to set the game to Easy to get past the fact that your partners’ AI is pitiful. The sad thing is that you don’t have the option of telling your partners to back off and let you fight; this would have been nice in Kamille’s Official Mode, or any fight where you’re fighting mobile armours, and having a partner get shot down is an automatic loss.
2) Dynasty Warriors itself just isn’t equipped for this style of hit-and-run gameplay. The game itself is designed for taking out large groups of enemies with multiple hits; to add in these type of fights, and expect you to do them while also being hit by other enemies and sometimes taking on regular bosses while taking into account DW’s regular control scheme, is a bit much to ask. Simply put, this is a well intended game mechanic that falls flat, and I haven’t enjoyed one mobile armour fight in over thirty hours of gameplay. If the next iteration of this game is going to improve upon this one, these fights desperately need to be fixed; that should be priority #1, as it’s the top thing that went wrong in what is otherwise a very solid game.
And finally, the #1 thing that hurt my enjoyment of this game:
Going back to the positives, DW:G2 looks much better than its predecessor. The environments look much better than they did in the first game, especially the stages that came back for this go-around, and there’s also a noticeable shine on the suits themselves. The mobile armours show damage visually, which is a great touch. Most noticeable to me, the character art, both in the Library (Gallery) and in-game, is much better than last time; the characters themselves show emotion, even if it’s in static art, and characters from the older UC timeline shows have full art, instead of the dumb looking shots of them in their normal suits. It’s not a visual masterpiece on par with the better looking 360 games on the market, but it’s more than enough to make a Gundam fan happy in his no-no place.
On the other hand, sound is disappointing; many people complain about the voice work, but most of the voice actors are the same ones that did their characters in their respective shows, and those actors, by the standards of other English-dubbed anime, are pretty good. Most of the characters that did get different voices are not as good as the originals, and if you’re familiar with the shows, it’s often a noticeable difference, like with Haman. The in-game music is highly unimpressive; most of it is returned from DW:G1, and what’s new isn’t much different. I don’t understand why Bandai – which owns the Gundam license, and also owns Sunrise – doesn’t use some of the licensed music from the actual shows; would you rather lead into the big battle between Judau and Haman with Silent Voice, or Generic Game Song #3248?
Control and Gameplay: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary:
With the exception of the mobile armour fights, Koei took everything good about the first game, put more of it into this game, and made what was there better. This is not only the best Musou game on the market currently, it’s also the best Gundam game, which is quite a feat until you realize that most Gundam games – at least in America – suck. Where is Gihren’s Greed again?
That said, I think this game could have been better. For the next generation of this title, the Mobile Armours and presentation have to be fixed, as does the completely irrelevant online mode. Furthermore, they can stuff a few more characters in here from the spin-off movies like War in the Pocket and Stardust Memory, and by then, Gundam 00 and possibly even Gundam Unicorn will be finished. The series is looking up for the future, but until then, I can recommend this game somewhat strongly for Dynasty Warriors fans that don’t mind being spoiled, and can’t recommend it strongly enough for Gundam fans.