Thursday, July 5, 2012

Dynasty Warriors: Next - Review

Dynasty Warriors: Next is the newest entry in the Warriors series, and is also the first Warriors game to be released on Sony's new Playstation Vita. Although other Warriors titles, including Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, and Warrriors Orochi, are up for download on the PSN store; this is the first Warriors game to actually be built to take full advantage of the system. Still either way, this is in fact a Dynasty Warriors, and most of you should already know what you're getting into. To make a long story short, if you're a Dynasty Warriors fan, chances are that you will love this game, and you most likely do not need to read this review; however there are in fact some core changes, so you might still want to stick around just to find out more. So anyway, how about we get started!

Entering the world of Dynasty Warriors:

When you first turn on Dynasty Warriors: Next you will find yourself watching a pretty flashy CGI opening, which simply shows off some of the main characters from the series, and you will then find yourself at the home menu. Here at the home menu a verity of game modes and extra options are already unlocked from the very start. If you're the type of person who wants to jump right in with the story, you can, but if you want to jump into the extra modes, they are already open as well. Although the choice is yours to make, I strongly recommend simply starting the story mode so you can begin unlocking new items and content.

If you're a series fan who would rather play with your custom character from the start, then by all means do so, but if you are a new comer, the story mode truly is the best place to start. It really is nice that the game gives you the option to choose, and that just isn't something you see in many games now days.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms:

Dynasty Warriors: Next, as with all other Dynasty Warriors games, tells the tale of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. For anyone who doesn't know what that is, let me explain it in the simplest terms possible. Dynasty Warriors' story is based on a novel called "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" which is based on actual historical events during the Three Kingdoms era in Chinese history (which took place from 169 to 280). Although the game is in fact based on history, or rather a novel which was based on history, the characters in game are based on real people, and most of the events in game are actual events that took place. However as all stories based on history are, Dynasty Warriors does in fact take things over the top.
No back then people didn't use magic to control the wind, they didn't fuse their weapons with the element of fire to burn whoever they attacked, and I'm pretty sure these guys didn't mow down millions of soldiers without gaining so much of a scratch. Yes there is a historical factor here, but this is a fictional version of the story with a few alternate story lines thrown in.

Basically the story tells a tale of the Three Kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu as they battle to take control of the land and unite it as one nation. Although all three kingdoms in fact share the goal of bringing piece to the land, each ruler has their own ambitions and views, which in the end leads to conflict. While earlier chapters of the game set up the story showing how these three kingdoms were formed, the later stories become "what if" type stories where each kingdom can win... Although if you want to go by history, the canon ending is in fact where the Jin Dynasty wins...

While earlier story chapters are set in stone, and basically take you from battle to battle, the Three Kingdom story arcs actually give you much more freedom (as they focus on slowly taking over the land as you play as your favorite kingdom). In these stories the game allows you to decide which pieces of land to conquer, and even what units you want to take control of, as you slowly lead your kingdom to victory. Sure at times the game will force you to play as different characters in key battles, just as it did in earlier chapters, but for the most part the final few stories actually do give you a lot of control over the game.

In the end, the game does have a "true" ending story to bring the game to a close, but in the end it really is up to you to decide who wins. If you're really into the whole history canon, then yeah, there truly is only one winner, but it still is nice to have an ending for your favorite kingdom as well.

Dynasty Warriors Gameplay with a new touch:

As I said before, if you've played a Dynasty Warriors game before, you know what to expect; however there are still some major changes which have been made to make this version a bit more unique. Still if you are in fact new to the series, this will be a completely different type of gameplay experience, and I can safely say that it is NOT for everyone.

One of the major drawbacks for all Dynasty Warriors games is the fact that you will find yourself doing the same thing over and over again for 100s of hours. If you love the gameplay this isn't a problem at all, but if you hate it, then the game will never get any better for you. It truly is a love or hate type of game, but it can take quite awhile before you can actually decide how you feel about it.

Dynasty Warriors is a real time hack and slash mixed with a real time strategy game. While you only play as one unit, you can actually give orders to your fellow teammates as you battle for control over the map. Before you actually start a battle you will be given the option to spend some cash, which you gain at the start of each turn based on how many areas you control, on officer cards which will give you different bonuses in the battle. For example one officer card may give you an attack and speed boost, while another may set fire to a random enemy base. Each officer has their own unique ability, but you are also only limited to buying four of these abilities per battle. So anyway, once you pick which officer cards you want to use, you can then pick your character, your allies, and then you can enter the battle.

Once you are in a battle you will find yourself in a huge open area with a few different key areas on the map. Each team will start out with a home base, and there will be a few other areas on the field that you will need to take control of if you want to win. Some areas will weaken the enemies base if controlled, other areas will make you stronger, and some areas will even allow you to command special troops such as the animal troops. Either way these areas are your primary goal and you MUST do everything you can to take control of them.

As you control your character on the map, you will also be leading allied forces. There will be 1000s of standard units fighting 1000s of standard enemy units, there will be allied officers fighting with enemy officers, and captains will be fighting to protect their land. The whole battle field is flat out crazy, and you will quickly find yourself in all out war. Although the standard troops really don't cause much of a problem, you can easily kill them by the dozens without taking a hit, the named units/officers will in fact cause problems, and they are key units that must be defeated if you want to win.

Each area has a life bar which slowly depletes as enemy soldiers are killed, but the only way to do any real damage to these areas is by taking out the named units in said area. Once the "health" of the area has reached 0, you will then take control of the area, the area will produce more allied troops, and you are then free to move onto the next. Still areas can be recaptured by enemy officers, so you really have to watch what's going on, on the battle field, and you really have to learn how to plan your attacks.
In the end, basically all battles will be the same. You have to plan your attacks and capture enemy bases, you have to manage and protect the areas you control, you have to take on enemy officers, and then, once you have built up your army enough, you can take on the enemy's HQ and win the battle. All of this is your standard Dynasty Warriors gameplay, but this time around there are a few new random events which can happen during battles, and there is a completely new "duel" system as well.

While for the most part combat in Dynasty Warriors: Next remains uncharged, some things have been altered to make use of the Vita's touch screen and motion censor. While X jumps, square is your normal attack, triangle is your strong attack, (square and triangle can also be pressed in different orders to preform different moves and combos) and O is one of your special attacks; all of the other moves are actually preformed by using the touch screen.

By tapping the touch screen with one finger you can pull off a special attack which normally is an area attack, such as one that brings down lightning that destroys everything around you, but by tapping the touch screen with both thumbs you can pull off a unique special which makes use of the Vita's new features. Some of these special attacks will require you to rapidly touch the back touch panel which causes explosions wherever you touch, others require you to flick the front touch screen to cut through mobs of enemies, and some even require you to shake the touch screen to a beat to do extra damage. Most of these specials are unique to the weapon the character is using, but sometimes there are characters that use different versions of the very same attacks.

Although some may actually be put off by these "attack mini games" as you might call it, these special moves can be a lot of fun to use, and it actually is a lot better than simply watching the screen as your characters preform a crazy strong attack like in other games of the series. Still these attacks aren't the only "touch mini games" you'll come across in Next, and THAT might be the real turn off for some series fans.

Touch based Mini Games make it to Dynasty Warriors:

Once in awhile as you run across the map the game will actually pause and require you to play some sort of mini game. Although these mini games normally only last about 5 to 10 seconds, they can slow the game down, and some people might find them to be flat out annoying. For example say you're walking down a narrow path with some archer units just ahead. Normally you would think you could just cut them down and move on right? Well you might soon find our you're wrong as the game switches to a first person view where you must swipe the touch screen to cut the flying arrows in half before they hit you. These type of mini games do appear quite often, and quickly become a love or hate type system.

When I first saw these mini games, I really didn't know how I felt about them. Some mini games required me to tap enemies as fat as I could before they reached me, others required me to flick the system to jump off of a falling bridge, and some I really had no idea what to do in so I failed. At first these mini games were actually pretty annoying, and I would sometimes find myself doing anything to avoid small groups since I figured they would trigger one of these events, but as time went on my opinion of them soon began to change. Really none of these mini games are really that bad, in fact some can be quite fun, and they only last a few seconds.

What it all comes down to is one simple fact. Would you rather hit square and one hit kill these guys like you have been for the past 10 or so minutes, or would you rather take a small little break and do something different for a change? Most people would prefer the latter, especially since all of these mini games actually give you a reward. Unlike with standard enemy officers, or even boxes, where you have no idea if you'll be rewarded or not for taking them down, with these mini games you know for a fact you'll be getting something, and that item is normally well worth it. Still these aren't the mini games I was talking about before. Sure some MAY be put off by them, but they are nothing compared to the pre and post battle mini games which seem to randomly pop up...

Once in awhile before a battle, or during a key story event, you will be forced to play TRUE mini games to continue on. These mini games normally last for a few minutes, and they can be quite a pain to complete; however these very same mini games can be played in the game's "Gala Mode" if you do end up liking them, and they do unlock special item rewards for playing them.

Steeplechase is one of the first, and most common, mini games that you will come across in the story mode. In Steeplechase you must guide their horse through a long stretch of winding land as you dodge objects, jump over fences, plow through enemies, and hopefully make it to the goal within the time limit. Along the way you can pick up items that give you more time, but for the most part (unless you run into EVERYTHING) the game does give you enough time where you really don't have to worry about it. Basically this mini game ends up becoming a waiting game where you simply try to beat the level as fast as possible. Sure this mini game CAN be controlled with the tilt censor to move, and you can flick the system to jump, but it ends up being much easier to just use the analog stick and R button to jump.

Bastion is another mini game which shows up pretty early on, but it also requires a lot more skill than most of the others. In this mini game waves of enemies will run at you, and you have to slash across the screen as fast as you can to kill them before they hit you. Sometimes you have to deflect arrows, and other times you have to tap enemies to break their shield before you can take them out. Either way this becomes the most crazy mini game in the game, and it can actually be quite fun.

Marksman is a little bit more unique than the other mini games since it comes in two different versions. One version has you moving left and right in a 180 degrees area as you shoot enemies that are running towards you, while the other version has you controlling an arrow gattling gun as you defend a castle. Either way both versions are played the same, where you simply aim with either the analog stick or the motion controls, and you press the back touch pad to fire.

Calligrapher is the fourth and final mini game which you'll come across, and it actually ends up being the WORST one. In Calligrapher you must SLOWLY touch the back touch panel to burn a piece of paper to find the Chinese character that is hidden in it. Basically what this mini game becomes is you slowly sliding your finger around just HOPING to find the first "line" in the character, so you can hopefully uncover the entire thing before time runs out. Sure this really wouldn't be that big of an issue if you actually know Chinese, but if you're reading this review, that most likely isn't going to be the case. Once you find all hidden lines on the piece of paper, you can then "draw" the character with the front touch screen, and then move onto the next one. It really can be a pain, and it's one of them mini games not many people will enjoy.

The Dueling System:

The dueling system is the 3rd and final type of "mini" game you will come across in Dynasty Warriors: Next, and it really isn't that much of a mini game. Whenever you reach key bosses in a battle, or even sometimes during story events, a "duel" will be triggered. These duels are one on one melee based battles which make full use of the Vita's touch screen. By sliding your finger across the touch screen you can control where your character will slash/attack, and by touching/holding on the touch screen you can block and charge up a strong attack used to break your enemy's block. These duels actually take a bit more time and skill than your standard "hit square, block while enemy attacks, then hit square again" boss battles, and it adds quite a bit to the game.

At times you can also counter attack, which will allow you to score some extra hits, as well, and at times both characters swords will sometimes be locked which will bring up button prompts which you must hit as fast as you can to win. These extra little features help give duels a bit more depth, and it really tests your skills and reflexes (especially if you are facing another real player).

Once again, this new dueling system may not be for everyone out there, and it might also take a bit of getting used to if you are a series fan. Duels really do take time to master, and sometimes it just comes down to knowing when you should strike, and when you should just sit back and wait for the enemy to make their move. It can be a bit of a waiting game at times, but it's also a test of skill. The good news is if you fail you can actually restart the duel without losing any progress!

Custom Characters, Character Development and the Ranking System:
Dynasty Warriors: Next, like past entries in the series, is not only a game based on skill, but on powering up your characters as well. As you play through the game, beat officers, break boxes, and play mini games, items and weapons are unlocked. Some items increase your stats, others provide you with elemental attacks and other buffs. Either way, these items become key if you want to have any hopes of surviving later story chapters and harder modes.

When you first start a brand new story mode the game actually allows you to pick from quite a few different difficulty settings; however these difficulty settings actually aren't what you might think. In a normal game if you decide to start it on the hardest mode, you actually have a chance at beating it. The harder modes are just there to give you a challenge, and with some practice you can complete them. Well that is not the case with Dynasty Warriors.

Harder modes in Dynasty Warriors are actually the same levels but with stronger units and better item/weapon drops. In other words, if you think you can rush in at rank 1 with the base weapons, you'll soon find out the hard way that you just don't stand a chance. Now sure, it may be possible for you to manage to complete some earlier levels, but overall the harder modes really aren't meant to be played first. Like in most of the past games, the game is set up to where you should actually start on either beginner or easy, and then work your way up to the harder modes. As you kill officers and complete levels you will gain more EXP which will increase your overall rank, and in the end make you stronger. So although there are difficulty settings, they are simply there to help progress your characters, and get you ready for the highest setting, as well as help get you ready for the conquest "free play" mode.

Custom Characters also play a major role in Dynasty Warriors: Next and they become your main officer for use in the conquest mode. When you first go to create an officer you can pick any of the 100 free spaces to save them in, and you are then able to set some basic features for your officer. You can name your officer, you can select your officers gender, you can change your officers hair style, hair color, skin color, shape of face, eyes, nose, mouth, and head accessories, and you can also change your officers body type/how tall and how heavy your officer is. Although customization is a little bit limited, with only a few dozen options by default, the rest of the settings are a bit more detailed.

Armor allows you to mix and match the different types of clothing your officer wears. You can change your head armor, your torso armor, your gloves, your hips (or pants), and your leg armor, and you can also select different colors for each piece of armor as well. As you play more items do become unlocked over time, but when you first start the game your selection is in fact limited.

As you play the main story mode, more officers for you to play as become unlocked; however that isn't their only purpose. The "motion" option in "Create Officer" allows you to change the fighting style of your custom character to that of one of the officers you have already unlocked. For example if you're a fan of Wang Yi's duel blades, you can use them without actually playing as her. Like Xiahou Yuan's bow? Well why not use it? Every single officers fighting style can be used, and you can easily open up the edit mode to change these fighting styles at any time. Your custom characters are NOT set in stone, so it really gives you a lot of room to play around in.

The final two custom options actually determine what type of character your officer is. By setting your officers voice you are not only just picking what sounds he or she makes, but you are also picking your officers personality as well. Just like normal officers, custom officers will make comments about how the battle is going, and they will also talk to other officers from time to time as well. Really it can be a bit hard to tell just what type of character you'll be getting since there's really no way to tell what the voices personality is without actually hearing it in battle, but if you find that you don't like it, you can always just come back and change it. It might take a bit of playing around, but it's not really too big of an issue.

The final option is actually an option which effects a lot, and that's the abilities option. In the abilities option you can customize your characters strong points, for example if they're better at defending or attacking, and you can also customize the officer type. Different types of officers have different strong points on the battle field, and it is completely up to you what type of unit your character will be. If your officer is a military type, they'll be better at fighting other enemy officers, if they're an Intellectual type they'll be well balanced, and if they are a leader type, they'll be better at fighting mobs of enemies. Although there are only three types to select from, it is a key feature for you to set, and it really does help out in the battle field. You can also set which type of standard units will follow you in battle (swordsmen, spearmen, pikemen, shield troop, archers, cavalry, elephant troop, sorcerers, bombardiers, juggernauts, tigers, pandas, or bears), and you can also set what type of ability you want for your officer card as well.

After all of that is said and done, you will then be ready to take your character into the conquest mode.

Conquest Mode and the Network:

As I said before, Conquest Mode is a type of free play mode which allows you to play as your custom character and take over the land; however there is much more to it than that. When you first start up custom mode the game will ask you which faction you would like to be a member of, and who will be your factions leader. Although you can in fact pick any of the characters to be your faction's leader, this is the main use for your custom character so you really don't have much of a reason not to pick them.

In Conquest Mode kingdoms take turns starting battles to take control of the map, and as they do so their land levels up. At the start of each turn the game will shuffle through your land and ask you to stop it. Once you stop the shuffle, the piece of land it lands on will then be leveled up, and you will then be able to control units from that section of land. Whenever you attack a piece of land the game will play out like it does in the story mode, but there is a few key differences. First of all, land has a set level. Instead of being on even grounds with every piece of land from the very start, some pieces will have stronger troops that others, and they will require much more skill for you to take down; however once you do so that piece of land will then become your piece of land and it will be leveled up to the level the land you were originally on was. Does that sound confusing? Well... I'm not going to lie, it can be, but at the same time it is pretty simple. Basically, you attack land, you take control of the land, the land is then changed to your last piece of land's level.

Another big change in the Conquest Mode is the fact that it almost COMPLETELY runs off of the network. Although in the story mode you will randomly be pulled into a duel, or get some free items from towns people just by being connected to the network, Conquest Mode takes this to the next level. Other characters that have been created WILL begin showing up in your game, and because of this you never know what to expect. While you're in a battle you may come across a rank 1 with beginner items that you can kill in one hit, but then the next officer may be a rank 78 with strong equipment who can just completely destroy you. There are millions of custom characters out there in the world, and you just never know who is going to show up in your game, and when they are going to do it. The game will also tell you how many other peoples games your current custom character is in as well, but you have no control over what your character does, and it really doesn't effect you at all. Still it's kind of nice knowing your guy is out there killing other people and making their life harder!

Although the network feature doesn't actually allow you to play with others out there, all characters are in fact AI controlled, the game does actually allow you to register whoever you meet to a built in friends list, which will also then allow you to contact the people you've met via PSN. It is still too bad that they weren't able to pull off a true multiplayer mode, but at least you can make some new friends if you really want to.

The Encyclopedia, and the Gallery:

For anyone who is a fan of history, Dynasty Warriors: Next has you covered. In the main menu there are two extra options which simply allow you to check up on information about both the game, and the history of the three kingdoms. These two options are called the Encyclopedia, and the Gallery. While the Gallery allows you to check the officer cards you've gained, the weapons you've picked up, the items you've picked up, the friends you've met online, and even rewatch the cutscenes from the story, the Encyclopedia is a full encyclopedia. Here you can read up on the history of the three kingdoms, you can find out just about everything about each officer, including nonplayable officers who really have no part in the main story, you can read up on the key battles that took place, and there is even a complete glossary that allows you to read up on terms/phrases you may not be familiar with (such as the phrase "A dead Zhuge..."). Finally to top all of that off there is a timeline which allows you to follow all of the events, from the birth of the main characters, up till their death.

What's really nice about the encyclopedia is that by hitting the triangle button you can bring up a "see also" which lists all other related pages depending on what subject you are reading about. For example if you are reading up on Cao Cao, you can hit see also which will then direct you to the Dong Zhuo page. It really helps make finding out what you need to know easy, and you can easily spend hours upon hours reading up on the full history of the game... If you are into that kind of thing that is.

Gala Mode:

Gala Mode is the final option on the main menu and it also offers a few different options to play around with. In Gala Mode all of the mini games, which I listed above, can be replayed, but this time with the option to upload your records to the leader boards. If you are a fan of playing these mini games, you could easily spend a lot of time trying to get your rank up on the leader boards, but if you're one of the people out there who actually hates these mini games, you're only going to play them here once to get the extra items and trophies, and never come back here again. Still it is a nice little extra mode, and its also a pretty good way to help practice the mini games so you'll be ready for them in the story.

The only new option here in Gala Mode is actually the "Musou Snapshots" section which is simply a camera app that's built into the game. Here you can take pictures with the camera, draw on said pictures, and post stickers of officers which you can then play around with. In a lot of ways this mode is a lot like the last page on them Pico games which were made for kids. Once you've finished your picture you can then actually save it to your Vita's memory card, but for the most part, this mode is pointless. Now sure, if you're an artist you could actually have a LOT of fun with this mode, but if you have no artistic talent what so ever, this is one of them modes you'll avoid and never even bother loading up.

Dynasty Warriors Next may be the game you've been waiting for:

The Warriors series has shown up on quite a few handhelds over the past few years, but not many of them were truly able to pull off the full Warriors experience. Handhelds have always been limited, and that has always been a problem for Dynasty Warriors in the past. Only so many enemies can show up on screen at a time, the games have always been filled with frame rate problems, and most of the games just couldn't include everything a standard Warriors game would include. Well, it's safe to say, that isn't the case with Dynasty Warriors: Next.

Dynasty Warriors: Next is in fact a full fledged Dynasty Warriors game and it truly does bring the console experience to a handheld. Sure once in awhile enemies will just appear and disappear, and you may also notice a slight lag during some of the more hectic battles, but really that's about it. The game is easily one of the best looking Vita games out there, it is packed full of content, and it really is a game that will last you a long time. Give or take 20 hours for the story the first time through, add on a few more playthroughs on harder difficulties, and then add in the conquest mode which is made to play over and over again. If you were to go for every single trophy in this game, you are looking at over 100 hours worth of playtime. It's not going to be an easy task collecting all of them items, and getting married/forming a friendship with every single officer in the game in Conquest Mode, but at least you know the game will last you for quite awhile.
Next truly is a great Dynasty Warriors game, and it is a perfect game for both series fans and newcomers alike. Sure some may find the mini games to be a bit annoying, but others will actually enjoy them and feel that they were a much needed change to the standard formula. The game's story is nice and worth at least one more play through even if you've seen it before, and the network based Conquest Mode is just outstanding. It is too bad that the game lacks any real multiplayer mode, an online mode would have been very nice for a handheld title, but overall it really isn't a necessary so it really doesn't hurt the game in a long run.

This game is a great single player based game, and it is a must have game for your Vita collection. Even so hack and slash style games may not be your thing, so before picking this one up, make sure you fully understand what you're getting into. Hours and hours of hacking and slashing. It can be mindless at times, but it sure can be fun!

I give Dynasty Warriors: Next for the Playstation Vita, a 9/10. A great game with only a few minor flaws holding it back.