Review: Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce (Sony PSP)

Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Koei
Genre: Hack ‘n Slash
Release Date: 5/1/2009

The Musou style of Dynasty Warriors games have been around for nine years now, which is amazing once you consider the fact that this series, for the most part, has had very few fundamental changes. Oh sure, they’ve stuck in Sengoku-era characters in Samurai Warriors, threw both sets of characters into a blender to create Orochi, and even gave us Dynasty Warriors In Space (Gundam), but the series fundamentals have remained the same, for better or worse. For fans of the Musou series, this has been a good thing; we’ve appreciated the subtle changes for the most part, and the last time Koei made significant changes to the formula, they got their asses kicked. With that said, it’s getting harder to do new things with the series; they’ve fallen into a comfortable trap, with the main games in the series having core gameplay, and their options spread out over three expensive titles (the main games, Xtreme Legends and Empires), doing little but screwing over their fans and raking in the money. Due to this, it’s getting harder to really bring in new gamers, and it’s going to get harder to keep older ones if this pattern keeps up. In short, Dynasty Warriors needs a kick in the ass.

Koei picked an interesting place to attempt to get the juices flowing; they’ve released Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce on the PSP, a system that hasn’t had a single really good DW game yet, and made the focus cooperative play, something that has been used as a nearly forgotten throwaway with every other game in the system. This decision is notable because Koei has never done multiplayer modes of any kind, either local, local Wi-Fi or over the internet, with any level of success; put in plain English, they’re horrible at it.

Would Strikeforce buck the trend? Does the PSP finally have a good DW game? Would a game that necessitates multiplayer work well on a system that requires Wi-Fi? I went in asking these questions in my head. The answers to all of my questions were an ambiguous “both”. Allow me to spend some time explaining why.

There’s only one mode to Strikeforce, that being the regular story mode. No matter who you pick – unlike past games, everyone’s unlocked from the start this time around – you enter into the same story, which more or less sticks to the standard established by Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Anyone expecting the standard free and Musou modes, or expecting alternative universe-type stories like past games is going to be disappointed. In addition to the main story modes, there’s side quests you can have your character do, which is the closest Strikeforce comes to free mode. The major difference is what happens when you enter the story mode and get past the cinematics (which, for what they’re worth, look very nice). You are dropped into a town, where you’re able to buy and forge items, weapons, accesories and gain officer cards that increase the production of said town. When fighting in stages, enemies drop materials which can be used in the forging of the weapons and accessories from the vendors in the town, meaning it’s possible to go thorugh finished stages to get new materials. There’s also a trading post where you can trade things you have for things you need, though it’s a bit random for my tastes.

Stages are also broken up a bit differently than standard DW games; instead of one streaming world, stages are broken up into smaller, arena-like bits, and going from one to another requires loading; this is likely due to the PSP’s hardware limitations, and though loading times can be a bit annoying, it works well for the most part. Thankfully, the game allows itself to be installed to the PSP’s memory stick (if you have 300MB to spare), which helps, but doesn’t eliminate the loading times, which range from reasonable (going between stage parts) to ridiculous (loading the initial stage).

Fighting is more or less the same as it’s been for nine years; slash, powerslash, Musou attack, say goodnight Irene. With that said, there are some changes to the formula in order here. The first one is the fact that characters aren’t limited to their normal weapons anymore; they can use any weapon they want so long as they’ve purchased it with money and materials. Each character has different experience growths for different weapons, but that doesn’t really matter much; the weapons themselves are unbalanced in terms of effectiveness, so the best weapons are going to be the best weapons regardless of who’s weilding them. You can also both jump really high into the air, and do a dash, both on the ground and in the air. When fighting against bosses, this adds a Dragonball Z-like atmosphere to the fights, as everyone’s jumping around and zipping. This can be a bit problematic, as the camera sucks; in fact, you have to use the D-pad to move the camera back into shape, which means you have to take your thumb off of the anlaogue nub, breaking the flow of the gameplay. Another issue I had with this was that the R button is the dash, and X jumps; it makes better sense to me to have those reversed, and it screwed me up a bit, especially as I went back and forth between this game and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2. You can use the L button to centre the camera, which also shows off another change made to gameplay: the auto-lockon targeting system, which lets you focus in on one enemy at a time. This is a good idea, but got in the way more often than not, as I often focused on someone on their arse, while I got knocked about by other enemies. I personally would have had an easier time toggling with the L button like I do in every other DW game when I need to focus on a person, though with some work, this feature could be a good one over time.

The last major change to gameplay is the Fury mode. Circle switches between primary and secondary weapons, so now, when your Musou mode fills up, you have to press Circle + Triangle in order to bring yourself into Fury mode, which changes your character’s model – already ridiculous in almost every case – into some sort of Super Sayian-type thing, buffing up his or her attacks, and allowing you to use the Musou attack with another hit of Triangle + Circle. In the end, it’s not really worth much, and serves to be anticlimatic. The fury moves aren’t that much more powerful than regular attacks – not enough to justify how much longer it takes to build up the Musou meter in this game than past games – and the musou attack isn’t any better than those we’ve seen in other DW games. It’s colourful, it’s shiny, but it’s ultimately worthless, though I’d like to see this become a super-duper charged up extra, the way Musou Rage was in DW6.

As stated, the town feels like an online lobby of sorts; this is because it essentially is one. You’re given the option – while in your one-player town – of entering a Wi-Fi town. You’re given multiple towns to try, and your friends can join you in these towns, allowing you to take on stages with up to four players. Setting up everything is fast and easy, and gameplay is lag-free.

Unfortunately, my personal situation exposed a problem with this: it took me a LOT to find out that online play was lag-free. See, I know two friends that are PSP players: myself and Aileen. Aileen’s stuck in Brooklyn, getting ready for Finals. That left me with no options to try a game that requires multiplayer to get the most out of it. I literally had to do the following steps in order to fully review this game, on a weekend when I really didn’t have this kind of time:

1) Rent a second copy of this game via Gamefly
2) Beg around at work to see who had a PSP to borrow
3) Hijack my 17 year old little brother, who lives a half hour away, having to work around HIS work schedule.

In short, I’m definitely not the kind of gamer that should be buying games that require online participation, especially when said online play requires local Wi-Fi. To put this out for everyone, to get the most out of this game, you need four copies of the game, four PSPs, and four friends that really, really like Musou games. This game DESPERATELY needed a full online mode, and didn’t get it, though even if it did, I’d have been stuck as I have a fully wired LAN at home; I would have had to go to Starbucks. This is problematic as the difficulty curve of this game is intense; you’ll start off with the first few stages having no problems, but before you know it, you’re being juggled by four enemy officers all zipping around you like gnats, in addition to bow users, mages and ballistae dinging you from afar, and a life gauge that never seems to be long enough. You can use items in the middle of the stage that do everything from increase life to adding elemental damage to your attacks, but if you’re alone, it’s not going to make much of a difference; you’re going to get hit hard, and even having the option to lose three lives before losing the stage isn’t often enough.

What’s disappointing to me most of all is that the game’s insane difficulty doesn’t adjust itself at all. This is the first Dynasty Warriors game I’ve ever seen that doesn’t have an adjustable difficulty level, which is a very bad thing considering the difficulty level is so high on later levels, with even regular enemies messing you up significantly. What’s even worse is that there’s no difference between a one-player stage and a four player stage; the difficulty, enemies, traps and everything else are all the same no matter what. It makes Wi-Fi play almost a necessity. Another annoyance of this is that you have to do all pause-menu acts while the game is live; you can be attacked while changing in-game settings and character attributes. I can see that being necessary online, but it’s absolutely pants in one player mode. More attention needed to be paid to the single player experience, because as it stands, I’m not sure if Koei was being sadistic, or if they released an incomplete game. This is sad because if they would have put this game on a console, fleshed it out, kept the action elements from typical console DW games, and allowed full online play, this would have been an amazing experience, especially if they stuffed it in with one of the other expansions like Empires. That game would have been incredible.

Jesus, I just had the thought of a Dynasty Warriors-like MMO. I just went dizzy. Koei, are you listening!?

To the credit of Koei, they put a lot of game on a UMD that doesn’t slow down or lag, but that comes at the cost of graphical detail; to put it bluntly, Strikeforce is not an attractive game, with pixelation and jagged polygons the order of the day. It’s to the point where it affects draw distance, as enemies zoom poorly. Sound-wise, it’s typical Dynasty Warriors; same voices, same hard-rock soundtrack, just more of the same. It’s not broke, so Koei sees no need to fix it; I agree, though it doesn’t score well.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Bad
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons between Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce and Monster Hunter, and though I don’t know the latter enough to say anything about it definitively, I can almost guarantee that there’s more worth to any of those games than there is to this title. Simply put, the PSP doesn’t have the kind of power that is necessary to make this a good game, making this an overly ambitious effort. I can only recommend this to people that have a lot of local friends that also have the game; it’s not worth a purchase at any price otherwise, as it’s too frustrating for all but the most hardcore of players, and doesn’t have enough modes for the others.

Koei should be commended for aiming high, but unless a game this ambitious is on a system that can get the most out of it, it’s just not going to work, and this didn’t.



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One response to “Review: Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce (Sony PSP)”

  1. […] Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce. I haven’t been able to try this yet, but when I reviewed the PSP version, I stated that it was a game that was mostly limited by the PSP’s natural limitations. A […]

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