Dynasty Warriors 8 Xbox 360 Review
Have you been looking for an education in fictionalized Chinese history? Are you curious about what happened after the Han dynasty ended in the late second century? Or do you just want to participate as an officer in gigantic medieval-style combat scenarios? Well, luckily for you, Toei and Omega Force have once again teamed up to bring you the latest installment of the game series based upon the 14th century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dynasty Warriors 8. Is it necessary? How much more can you possibly explore the same history over and over again in a beat-em-up environment with swords, clubs, axes, and militarized instruments (e.g. a flute and a harp)? Hopefully, this review will answer those questions satisfactorily.
Similar to pretty much every game in the series after they decided to make these games based upon large-scale military campaigns in China during a specific period, Dynasty Warriors 8 focuses on the main dynasties present during this time of turmoil. More specifically, as in previous titles, you have the option to go through stories about the kingdoms of Shu, Wei, Wu, and Jin. There is also the option to play an unaligned campaign. In Story Mode, the way that the kingdoms are ordered in the menu is the most chronologically accurate progression. However, players can actually play all four main kingdoms at the same time, if one wishes to jump from one dynasty to the next. Unlike many hack-and-slash games of this nature, the missions give players the option of choosing from one of multiple playable characters for each mission (all of which, at least on initial play-through, were present at these conflicts). Some characters are only available for one mission, while other characters may be usable throughout an entire dynasty’s campaign. This is one time where a player who has played other games in the series may have an advantage, since they can choose a single warrior and basically level that warrior throughout an entire campaign, turning him or her in to an unstoppable force. Of course, with some of the battles, gaining levels with characters is a fairly easy task, as you’ll be facing down hundreds of enemies, and it is in fact possible to take down a thousand or more opponents in a single battle. The maps involved are quite varied, and though some repeat across campaigns due to being militarily significant in the true history, each battle still has a flavor of its own. Of course, some battles seem more impossible than others, especially when boogeymen like Lu Bu (apparently a choice in the Other campaign, which explains why it’s locked when you first start playing) are present on the field of battle.
The other play modes in the game are Free Mode and Ambition Mode. In Free Mode, players can choose to re-play levels that they have already cleared. They can choose a different difficulty than the one on which they cleared it, they can use a different warrior, and if they turn on a hypothetical mode, they also have the option of fighting on the side of the battle that opposed them, going against what history says actually happened. It is a way to get experience for officers that a player did not use the first time around, and also allows for quite a bit of replay, especially for newcomers to the series. As for Ambition Mode, it allows a player to truly diverge from history, embarking on a quest to create a true empire. Players start out choosing an officer around which to focus their efforts, and then build up a village in to a thriving and bustling second/third century town. Because the point of the campaign in Ambition Mode is to attract the attention of the man seen as the emperor at the time so that he will choose the town as his headquarters, the player must expand in three ways. First, the player needs to gain allies, both non-playable officers and playable characters, which occurs both when there is a spot for said ally, and when you defeat that officer in a successful battle. Secondly, the player needs to build up the facilities in the town using materials. These facilities all serve to help the player improve the chances of achieving the intended goal, since they either help a player in the battles, or allow the player to get resources without actually entering battle. Finally, in order to be able to gain more allies so that more facilities can be constructed, a player needs to gain Fame. Although winning any battle will gain some measure of fame, there are also unconventional missions that allow for large gains of fame in one battle. Finally, along with the Great Battles (for allies), Skirmishes (for materials), and Unconventional Battles (for fame), there are instances after certain conditions are met during a chain of battles called Duels, wherein a player takes on playable officers and is therefore guaranteed to gain at least one playable ally if the player achieves victory. With all of these characters, a player can develop bonds, either by fighting by their side, or assigning them to posts that suit their capabilities.
The major advantage to playing all of these modes is that experience transfers from one mode to the next. Let’s say, for example, that you can’t seem to finish a story mission with any officer at their current level. Simply go to Ambition Mode or Free Mode, play as that officer, and you’ll have your experience in no time. Similarly, money and weaponry are available between game modes, so if you happen to get a new weapon in one mode, it is available elsewhere.
As for the actual combat, it’s quite a good thing that each of the 70+ warriors (yeah, it’s a pretty wide field) has a different favorite weapon, or else fighting would get pretty dull fairly fast. Because each warrior has a favorite weapon, they also have a unique combo called an EX attack, which unleashes their own stylistic preferences. Such is the variation that while one individual may simply unleash a flurry of slashes, another could beat up a large crowd and then surf on an opponent’s body to keep attacking other enemies. Other than these special attacks (and therefore altered regular attacks with the favorite weapon of choice), when a weapon is not a favorite, its use is fairly standard across the board. Of course, with over 70 different types of weapons to use, that isn’t exactly a gigantic issue. Along with these EX attacks, players have two different gauges that fill as they attack and defeat more enemies. One, the Musou gauge, will be familiar to long-time fans, and is basically allows a player to use a single-shot special attack directly related to the character’s favorite weapon. The other, the Rage gauge, lets players unleash a flurry of attacks without any resistance, and when combined with a Musou attack, lets players basically juggle a gigantic number of enemies until either the secondary Musou gauge that the Rage meter activates empties, or if the player runs out of Rage. Returning mechanics include the weapon affinity system (Earth, Heaven, and Man) and switch attacks. The weapon advantage and disadvantage actually play heavily in to the way that combat is executed, as a player could use a weapon at an advantage to take on an officer and eventually use a juggle attack against said officer and surrounding allies, whereas a disadvantage would allow a player to unleash a powerful counter-attack. Ultimately, while this is truly a beat-em-up, there is some strategy involved, because otherwise, what would be the point of basing it on a military campaign?
Of course, there are some major downsides, especially to returning fans. The battles, especially in Ambition mode, can begin to feel repetitive if you don’t vary up your officer choice that often. If you’ve played through another Dynasty Warriors game, the story is going to be fairly familiar, and as all of the games are based in the same basic time line, it may even feel like a retread of things. The attack system isn’t always the most accurate, and sometimes, EX and Musou attacks will miss when you’re looking right at an enemy because the attack itself changes position or direction because of its nature. Also, changing from different heights within a battle is a little odd, because while you can choose to jump from one level to another, you can not do the same when riding a mount. Finally, the cavalry attacks seem a little forced, and although they have to be available both because of available skills and because of the need to travel long distances quickly, you mostly have to dismount to be effective against opponents.
Ultimately, while the game itself is fun to play, and the different modes allow for multiple ways to experience Dynasty Warriors, Dynasty Warriors 8 is simply playable because at a certain point, the only thing to do is to keep playing because it’s addictive. There is replay value there, but unless this is your first Dynasty Warriors game, you may want to just leave this alone and actually read Romance of the Three Kingdoms.