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This review came quite a bit later than expected, but considering all the work we’ve been doing to overhaul Game Bushido and the multiple rewrites involved, I think it’s certainly understandable. I’d like to start by thanking Tecmo Koei for being the first company to provide us with review copies; your support is greatly appreciated. If all goes well, more may be coming soon! With that all said and done, let’s get started with the first review on Game Bushido 2.0!

When Dynasty Warriors 7 was announced some time ago, I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t particularly interested in it. Actually, it’s not so much that I wasn’t interested in getting it, it’s just that I figured it would probably be just another Warriors game that I’d eventually check out. What I’m saying is, as much as I like those games, it didn’t really catch my attention beyond the fact that it was a new game in the franchise. Upon seeing a few screenshots, watching the first trailer and reading up on it a little though, something caught my eye: This wasn’t merely another Dynasty Warriors. Something very different was going on. Was I right to think so?

 

A little bit of history…

At first glance, DW7 is just like any other Warriors game, besides the massively improved graphics. What’s that mean, you ask? It’s a little complicated, but here’s the basic idea: The games are developed by Koei (now Tecmo Koei), a company known for its highly strategic games based around the rise of Sengoku-era Japanese warlord Nobunaga Oda (a franchise known as Nobunaga’s Ambitions) and the ancient semi-fictional Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms (the games retain the novel’s title). While those franchises are mostly unknown to the general public despite their age, their developer really took off when they took their 3D fighting game known as Dynasty Warriors on the original PlayStation and completely changed its gameplay (yet still retained the “Dynasty Warriors” title, enigmatically), creating a 3D beat ‘em up with emphasis on warfare strategy.

Over time, the series grew to feature dozens of characters and spawned multiple sequels and expansions (each one essentially a retelling of the same story), sub-series (such as Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce), new franchises based on the same basic gameplay (Samurai Warriors, Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage), not counting a whole slew of ports and editions. Today, the Warriors games have brought Koei much more attention and are enormously popular in their homeland of Japan, enough so to be considered system sellers. Yet, they remain largely ignored or even disliked in the west, establishing themselves as cult games. Why is that? Well, they’re considered simple button mashers that are easily beaten by constantly hitting a single button (according to people who can’t beat them) and they’re all mostly similar (kinda like first person shooters and sports games, except those get heralded for it).

To be fair, as much as I disagree with those people, I can’t fault them for thinking that the various Warriors games have never really tried going out of their way to reach new people. They have their own loyal audience they cater to, but generally don’t attract other crowds otherwise. However, if any game could change that, it would have to be this one.

Gameplay and modes

First of all, while the very core formula remains largely unchanged and most characters from previous incarnations make their return, virtually everything around them has been changed, removed or added. Select a character from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms universe, enter a battlefield, smash hundreds (or thousands) of soldiers and officers while making sure that you don’t die, sometimes while having to protect or even escort a commander, or preventing the enemy from escaping. That much stays the same, but everything else is different. Even the changes that DW6 brought, such as conquering forts, fighting duels and the Renbu combo system have largely been replaced.

Along with the much needed return of the original fighting system, which involves mix and matching normal attacks (Square button on PS3, X on 360) with special attacks (Triangle on PS3, Y on 360) to produce various combos with different properties, comes a complete overhaul of the story mode. While every previous game involved first selecting a character and playing through their personal perspective of the story, players now choose a faction and assume the roles of varying generals as dictated by the game, following the flow of the story. Fans of a certain blue hedgehog may recognize that as the “Sonic Adventure 2 effect”. To put things into perspective, fans of the Warriors games generally enjoy a certain degree of repetition, including having to complete a few dozen story modes with few levels each, so changing that was clearly a pretty big gamble. That said, it is my honest opinion that it worked out beautifully. Not only does it result in a more consistent narrative where characters play their appropriate roles instead of having stories forced around them, it also means that players get a taste of many that would otherwise likely be left untouched. This is also where one of the big additions of DW7 comes in: The Jin kingdom. While in the past, the games have always focused on the three eponymous kingdoms of Shu, Wei and Wu, the later Jin faction which unified China makes its introduction and expands the timeline covered by the story.

What if you wanted to enjoy more of a specific officer, though? Normally, this is where the franchise’s standard free mode would come in, allowing players to play through anyone’s story as whoever they want. This trademark feature has however been axed in favor of the all new Conquest mode. This new mode essentially consists of a large map of China made out of hexagons, each representing either towns or missions. The prior are areas where the player can discuss with NPCs to either buy new equipment or request help from generals, or simply learn more of the back story. The latter come in several categories, ranging from standard battles to arena duels, legendary battles used to unlock more playable officers and even missions that involve being a single man or woman army (even more so than usual) to obtain stronger weapons.

Said weapons make a huge difference in the way that this particular entry is played. While generals always came with their own single weapon types and fighting styles tied to them, it’s now possible to equip virtually anything to anyone. The downside is that it makes characters feel less unique, that much is undeniable. The upside is that you can now play as whoever you want and still fight however you please; besides, everyone has different weapon affinities and innate abilities. What’s more, it’s possible to equip two weapons that can be switched to at will (they can also be changed at any time through the pause menu, even mid-battle) and each can be outfitted with various upgrades reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII’s materia. Powering up is also handled differently now, as levels have been dropped in favor of simple stats that increase based on items received from downed enemies.

Interestingly enough, the fact that the two modes of play have changed so much compared to previous incarnations results in there arguably being no real main mode. One would assume that the story mode would take the spotlight, and its vastly improved cinematic cut scenes would certainly make that a valid assumption, but the sheer scale of Conquest combined with it being the only mode that features multi-player support (both local and online, the latter being a first in the main DW series) means that it will likely take up at least as much playtime as the prior for most players. That said, I did find it sad that two players are only supported in Conquest and playing online tended to be a bit spotty. It took my friend and I a while to figure out how to join a game in the first place as that function wasn’t properly explained. Once past that, the actual gameplay was smooth and I didn’t notice any lag, but we did have odd synchronization issues at times, although they did not really affect the game. An example would be at the end of a mission as my friend and I were chasing the last key enemy, but while it looked to him like I was running in front of it, I was actually still in pursuit.

Visuals and audio

It’s generally pretty much assumed that the newest entry in a video game series will have better graphics than its predecessor. In fact, for all the flack that Dynasty Warriors 6 got (mostly due to its “Renbu” fighting system, which watered down combat and made combos infinite), it was by far the most impressive DW game yet, graphically speaking. However, while the character models looked nice, the environments didn’t look particularly any better than they had back on the PlayStation 2, safe for bloom effects and whatnot. DW7? Yeah, it blows number six right out of the water. Hard. It’s seriously amazing the amount of detail that’s featured on people and how well bump mapping is used to give depth to armors and such. The more “extreme” style given to officers in the previous game is back, although everyone has received a makeover and was given at least two costumes.

While your appreciation of the game’s music is obviously going to vary based on tastes, I’d argue that it features some of the best tracks in the series thus far. Most songs feature heavy use of electric guitars and action-enticing melodies and some, like the main theme, are particularly catchy. I did notice a lack of any background music on the main menu which, while not bad in and of itself, is a bit jarring compared to Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires’ beautiful and soothing sounds. Speaking of menus, they are splendidly designed and do a good job as interfaces. Again, my only gripe with them was the fact that playing online was left pretty unclear. As for voices, Dynasty Warriors has always had a reputation for dodgy or even downright laughable voice acting and oddly incorrect pronunciations, which you’d think would be weird for a series based entirely around Chinese mythos. This time around, while performances can still be very dramatic (which I’ll defend as it fits the style in place), actors have gotten significantly better and names are pronounced correctly… At least, as far as I can tell; I don’t really know much of the Chinese language. Thanks to a complete overhaul of the way that cutscenes are handled and the more story-focused main mode of play, they are now far more conductive to storytelling and actually carry emotion. Events are genuinely emotionally moving now, whether they portray deaths or long awaited peace.

Extras

Beyond the main modes of play, what else is there? Well, there’s actually a fair bit to be found in Dynasty Warriors 7. The extras menu features what is essentially a library of unlocked content, allowing players to see all the 3D models and animations of characters, weapons, mounts and other animals that have been found so far. Though that may serve as decent bait for completionist gamers out there, there are also treats for would-be historians; along with a condensed retelling of the main events in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel comes an amazingly detailed list of people, each with a small bio, regardless of if they were important figures like Cao Cao or practically unheard of. In a way, that reminds me of the Metal Gear Solid 4 encyclopedia and is sure to give a few hours worth of reading for those truly interested in the historical side of the franchise.

Additionally, downloadable content packs are expected to start popping up soon, starting with a nice give fans: Japanese voices and tons of alternate outfits, all for free. More missions should also be making their appearances, although those will have to be bought.

 

In conclusion…

Tecmo Koei made some interesting choices with Dynasty Warriors 7. The removal of virtually every one of the previous game’s key features results in something that is closer to the previous games in the series, yet the sheer amount of changes and additions make it stand out on its own. In that sense, DW7 is simultaneously a return to roots and a massive update, which this reviewer firmly believes in the best installment thus far. While the core experience remains faithful to what fans have come to love, the massive improvements in features and fighting mechanics mean that it is more approachable to those who’ve never played the Warriors games in the past. In short, this is the most polished Dynasty Warriors to date, period.

     
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