The Dynasty Continues

Some of you may remember the veritable discontent I expressed towards Samurai Warriors, Koei's Meiji Era based Dynasty Warriors spinoff. This is little if anything like that.

I've been playing Dynasty Warriors 5 recently. Actually it's Shin Sangoku Musou 4, but there was a fighting game that predated Shin Sangoku Musou that, upon entering America, was dubbed Dynasty Warriors. Since both were based off of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and had the same characters, and because there weren't any more fighting games made, they dubbed the similar series of hack'n'slash the same.

Anyway, the last game in the series I played was Dynasty Warriors 3. Samurai Warriors doesn't count because it was a spinoff (and a bad one at that if you read my opinions on it). Dynasty Warriors 3 was pretty incredible, 40 characters, cool items, a plethora of stages, and a large population of Chinese soldiers to slaughter. If you've played the game, you know how awesome (if repetitive) it was.

That brings the first major point into clarity. This series is repetitive. Levels pretty much consist of hitting one button on your controller an endless number of times to slaughter enemies. You occasionally hit another button, but not so much as the one. The game has progressed over time to be not so mindless if you want it to be, but can still be played without two brain cells rubbing together.

I think it's fun.

However, not everyone will agree with me on that point, and even I won't sometimes. Mindless and addictive (for some) as it is, it won't click with everyone. But be forewarned, if you like the series in the least it will eat your time away fast. So think of the poor Chinese you'll be slaughtering. I'm quite sure that between all the people who've played the series the entire population of China has been killed several times over.

Down to business.

Dynasty Warriors 5 has one major, and dead obvious, flaw in comparison to Dynasty Warriors 3. #4 will not be appearing here, because I never played it (I heard it wasn't so good anyway). Anyway, Dynasty Warriors 5 does not have and option for Japanese voice acting. If you've seen more than ten seconds of these games in English, you'll know just how bad the English voice actors are. They really are something else. "Butchering" doesn't even begin to describe what happens to the lines dispensed as battles progress. While #3's English acting is definitively worse that #5's, it was saved by the fact that you could switch the language track to Japanese in a flash, and since it's all subtitled anyway...

Samurai Warriors also had the Japanese language option. I say this because it was a very nice feature that managed to accomplish very little in helping the game to be more than mediocre. While the same option made #3 go from excellent to awesome, #5 does a very good job of being fun despite having to deal with some very bad lines and casting.

Pang Tong, a wizened advisor to one of the characters in the game, should never, ever be confused with a seventeen year old high school student. That's exactly what the people who cast voices for this game did. In his noble death scene during a particular scenario, he says in the most casual and disinterested way, "I'm sorry, but I'm moving on without you all." Somewhere I could hear echoes of a noble Japanese recital of the same lines, but that was merely my imagination.

The terrible acting is the first and foremost barrier to enjoying #5. I had some sound issues related to the TV I was using that made it harder for me at first, but that's hardly typical. If you skipped out on #4, there's enough of a difference between #3 and #5 that you don't feel like you're playing the exact same game again. In fact, there are a lot of awesome improvements I like very much.

The first improvements are in the basic battle system. #3 was plagued by an "auto-lock on" wherein your ability to control what direction you were attacking in was often compromised when you actually hit an enemy. Even after you killed a specific enemy, you couldn't turn to hit the enemies behind you, and simply continued attacking in the same direction the enemy had been regardless. Obviously, this could end up quite frustrating. #5 does away with that. While this means that the novice player will now have to aim their strikes for themselves, that's hardly difficult as the game's learning curve is about as difficult as breathing.

It is also nice to note that Koei did not add the craptacular "enemies get stronger as you do" system that was in Samurai Warriors.

Another asset to the battle system missing in #3 is that the Imperial Seal, a special in battle powerup that allows you to continuously do a very power Musou attack without stopping for a short period of time, is no longer found in crates and pots in random parts of the level. This was a point of frustration as there was rarely ever any enemies near it and, if there were, it was likely you'd kill them before opening the crate that housed the Seal. In #5, the Seal is now dropped randomly by enemies like all other powerups. While occasionally this happens on one of the last men standing, it happens just as often with the first few men you kill (leaving the rest ready for a lesson in pain).

Ironically, Koei did something that everyone had suggested for the Imperial Seal with a different, and brand new, powerup. Hidden in crates and rarely dropped by enemies is the Musou Token. Also attainable by killing one hundred enemies with the special Musou attack, this token is usable after pickup at the player's discretion. Upon activation, the player has super boosted attack and defense, attack speed, and their special Musou attack bar is filled. Additionally, if a special Musou attack is used it will be more powerful. Eventually the token wears off and things return to normal, minus a good number of enemy soldiers. Only one token can be held at a time, which makes sense given the visage of death you become when you use one. When a character has their ultimate weapon, a token is given every one hundred kills period, which is extremely fun.

The only change to general purpose powerups in battle aside from the new treatment of the Imperial Seal and the addition of the Musou Token is the addition of a pair of shoes that make you run really fast. The speed boost even helps fast characters a bunch, and is quite fun.

Weapons follow a very similar system to #3. You can have four weapons, and there are four types of weapons, each more powerful than the last (and the last being a unique, ultimate weapon with killer attributes). Weapons can have anywhere between zero and six special attributes to make it stronger. There's the first difference there, as weapons in #3 never had more than five (and usually only three or four). Another significant difference is the addition of a weight attribute. Weapons can be light, medium, or heavy. Light weapons attack faster, but are weaker. Heavy weapons are slower but lay the punishment on thick. Medium weapons are in between. A weapon of X attack power will not do the same damage with a light weight as it will heavy, because weight is simply a modifier on damage.

Weapons have another new attribute in addition to weight. This attribute is a little squiggly symbol above its image that indicates it allows for what are termed "Evolution Combos". What this means is that if your special Musou attack bar is full, you can attack more than the typical maximum of six times. A total of nine attacks are possible, and they aren't anything to scoff at. While you can't finish with a charge up attack like you can in the first six strikes, they are still worthwhile. It also means there's more of a point to having a full Musou bar than simply saving it for when you need to really lay a pounding.

Also notable is a change in the elemental system. The element of a character is no longer whatever is tacked on to their ultimate weapon. Instead, one of four elemental orbs is equippable to add the desired effect. The four elements are fire, ice, light and shadow, each with their own unique effect.

Orbs are equipped in the item screen pre-battle. You can only have one orb equipped at a time. Koei enforces this through the best item system they've come up with yet. Instead of a set five item slots that cover everything, Koei divided it into an initial four slots, one for choosing a steed, one for an orb, and two for other items. In case you missed it, that's a downgrade of five to four items, and one has to be a steed, and another an orb. I'm sure there are plenty of people familiar with the series wondering how the heck it's a better system. Put down your weapons, here's where the awesome starts.

As your character grows stronger, you get additional item slot for other items. You never get another orb or steed slot, but as you fight you'll eventually get a full five item slots.

This covers for me one of the more silly aspects of #3. Why would anyone want to equip an item that gave them a horse when they could A) Probably prefer one of the stat boosting items B) Get knocked off of it in a jiffy and C) Get one from a random enemy general anyway? Now that's all in the past, and thankfully so. While one hit still typically knocks you off a horse, enemies in #5 are much worse at succeeding in doing so. In addition, you can really do some nasty damage on a horse, especially with the right items.

For all those miscellaneous items a few things have changed. In terms of stat boosting ones (and this applies to the bonuses that appear on weapons as well) instead of a direct +X, it's all done in levels between one and twenty. It simplifies things a bit, although I think I'd prefer the straight numbers. There's the addition of an item that increases the strength of charged up attacks, which can make them rather nasty in combination with the all around attack boost. What makes horseback really, really possible is that now mounted attack and defense have been condensed into one boost. This means that what once took two items (or weapon bonus slots) is now one.

As far as leveling a character's stats up, it's all pretty much the same. Kill a general or sub-general, he'll drop an item, a weapon, or a stat boost. Combo him enough, and you'll get a better item, weapon, or stat boost. The only difference here is that instead of having to comb the levels for the dim sum, generals now drop those life boosting items. However, you'll still need to scour the land for the Musou Wine. It is nice to know that on Hard mode they'll be likely to be +20 as opposed to +10. Regardless, comboing a life giving general should give you a +20 life bonus.

While the non-historical characters Fu Xi and Nu Wa have been scrapped, there's many new historical ones (although how much they participated in battle is up in the air) and one non-historical one. All of these new comers are pretty cool looking, but then again, so is everyone.

Koei has done an excellent job making all 48 characters as unique as possible. Considering that EA couldn't even make the four hobbits in the Return of the King movie tie-in game different save in appearance, it's rather astounding how well they do. I haven't played all 48 characters so I can't tell you how fun they all are, how balanced they all are, or how bad each of their voice actors are. I assure you that there are plenty of fun ones, balance is okay, and don't count on any past favorites sounding anything close to heroic, evil, or even intelligent.

Because I'm going to be in Japan in the fall, I'm toying with the idea of picking up a Japanese PS2 and copy of Shin Sangoku 4 while I'm there. That or just the game and I'll use those region defying utilities to allow me to play it.

I guess I'm hoping that in the destined to be made Xtreme Legends expansion, Koei adds some Japanese into the mix.

It may just be that after suffering through Samurai Warriors anything looks good, but I genuinely think that the only gaping flaw in Dynasty Warriors 5 is the English.

That all said, play the game.

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