There have been nearly 30 Dynasty Warriors games, and I hadn’t played a single one of them. Most of the criticism of the series seemed to be that they keep making the exact same game over and over again. That being said, there are quite a few people I know, whose opinions I respect, that love the franchise. When I set out to review Dynasty Warriors Next on the Playstation Vita, I didn’t really have any idea what I would be in for.
For those as uninformed as I was, at its core, Dynasty Warriors is a hack and slash action game that has you playing as the general of an army as he mows down hundreds, if not thousands of enemies. The game juxtaposes the “Three Kingdoms” era of medieval China with (in my opinion) a hideous cock-rock soundtrack. You take on literal hordes of enemies, killing dozens of them with each swing of your weapon as a guitar solo continuously squib-a-dee-dos in the background. Combined with the silly and fully voiced character dialog, it gives you the sense that this experience would never, ever be made by a western developer. The extra strange thing is that when you combine these seemingly bizarre elements, you actually get something very cool.
Besides murdering scores and scores of enemies on the field, there is also a higher level of strategy going on. It starts before the battle begins. You are presented with a map of China which is split into territories. Sometimes there is only one option, but often you are given the choice of which surrounding territory to invade. You also get a choose a “stratagem” before each battle in the form of cards representing each of your generals. The lands you control give you a certain amount of income, which you can spend on these cards. The cards can give you bonuses like boosting your attack or defence, or even having additional bases under your control when the battle starts.
For the sake of historical accuracy (I guess?), you are stuck with a specific general for some battles, but other battles will have you picking your general, along with several other characters you can bring along with you. You also have the chance to equip your general before you start. There is a reasonably deep loot system that will have you finding upgraded weapons and items to customize your character.
Once you are on the field of battle, you need to take over enemy bases, while making sure that the bases you have conquered aren’t reclaimed by the enemy. To take over a base, you need to be within its boarders, and kill a certain number of enemies. Once the counter goes down to zero, the base is yours.
The order in which you tackle these bases is important since the bases themselves will give your army, or the enemy army, different bonuses. Bonuses can be everything from giving you additional troops to supplies to having packs of tigers and pandas fighting by your side. In my experience, it was pretty pointless to try to take over the main enemy bases before you had taken over all of the supporting bases. You can also order your companions to take over bases or defend your bases that are under attack from enemy generals. This is all done with the touch screen on the mini map, which ended up being very intuitive.
Dynasty Warriors Next takes advantage of all of the Vita’s bells and whistles. You will be using the front touch screen and the rear touch screen. You will use the gyroscope to swing the Vita around to spot enemies (which is especially fun to do in public).
Most of the touch functionality takes place in mini-games that happen either between, or in the middle of battles. In battles, the mini-games tended to be things like ambushes, where you would need to quickly swipe at a handful of enemies in time or take damage. These ambushes seem pretty shallow, but aren’t offensive in any way. Typically each battle has you “dueling” the main enemy general, where you need to swipe across your screen at varying intervals, or tap to block attacks. These encounters didn’t ruin the experience, but they were so different from the core gameplay that they seemed really out of place.
The mini-games that showed up between battles were the ones that I dreaded. There were several horse races that I found a bit awkward, and also a handful of variations on a mini-game where you are swarmed by hundreds of enemy troops that you would have to slash, or tap then slash to defeat. These encounters didn’t seem to add to the experience, other than adding feature bullet points to the back of the game box.
If you have a Vita, and you are looking for a hack and slash action game, then Dynasty Warriors Next should do the trick. Being new to the series, I had a pretty darn good time with it. As a handheld game, what they have accomplished is truly remarkable. The game is beautiful, it’s fully voiced, and the combo-based action is more than a little satisfying. The only problem is that if Dynasty Warriors has already worn out its welcome for you, then Next isn’t going to do a single thing to change your mind.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PS Vita version of Dynasty Warriors Next provided by Tecmo Koei. It is a PS Vita exclusive.