Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: April 28, 2009
A lot of people are down on Koei's Dynasty Warriors series for relying on particularly repetitive and non-evolving combat systems, and I find myself agreeing with that assessment. Certain games in the series haven't seen much change, especially for those of us on the outside looking in at the series, and while there might be some improvements under the hood, there's not enough to warrant the $40 purchase every few months or so for the next installment. It doesn't help that the series has the occasional quality control issue, like Dynasty Warriors 6 and its notable slowdown problems, but there are also a few gems that are worth checking out.
This is my first time playing a portable Dynasty Warriors title, Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce for the PSP. It still bears a striking resemblance to other titles in the series, as you're still looking at a Romance of the Three Kingdoms setting and using historical figures with fantastical abilities and fighting prowess against enemies who don't have a whole lot going on in the brains department. One key difference I've noticed between this PSP iteration and the home console titles is that everything is pretty scaled back. Whereas the games are pretty well noted for having a lot of enemies and allies on-screen at once, you start off with a single character to control in Strikeforce, and there's not much in the way of friendly generals or forces to help you out. Likewise, the enemy groups are pretty small, and while the maps seem to be on par with the other games in the series, you can definitely tell that they're not as densely populated as they are in the other titles.
To a certain degree, this takes away from the fun I typically find in this series because there's a certain amount of satisfaction to be had in realizing that you're immensely overpowered against the regular units, and you can't cut a swath through large enemy groups because they can't really be found within the game. You'll usually run into three for four enemies at a time, and the game requires you to be a bit more precise with your swings and attacks; since the groups are so small, you're not guaranteed to hit something with each sword stroke. To help you out a bit, there is a "lock on" feature that's relegated to the L shoulder button, and you'll initially find this to a be a really useful tool because the game doesn't really do a good job of auto-locking you onto a foe. This is particularly useful for the boss and general fights, which can be infinitely frustrating without it.
Aside from the lack of on-screen enemies and friends, Strikeforce plays pretty much like the other DW titles that I've tried. You control your character, who is chosen from a few selectable groups of allies with their own rosters, so there are quite a few characters to pick from and story lines to see. The main story is pretty short, so you can easily play through the game multiple times to see the different endings, and this adds quite a bit of replay value to the game for those who don't mind the repetitive battles. There are some RPG elements in play, particularly with the city element, which is your starting hub after you finish off the various levels. Within the city, you can create new weapons, access your storehouse, take on side-quests and gain new abilities to assign to your character.
The creation system also adds a lot to the replay value, since just about everything you need to advance your character's skills are tied to it. On the playing field, enemies, chests and other objects will sometimes leave behind small crystals, which designate some type of crafting material. You can use these materials in town to create new weapons, orbs that add bonuses to your weapons, or to learn new skills for your warrior. There are three different fighting types you can outfit your warrior with, including Musou and Fury, with a variety of skills and abilities to learn within those disciplines. Musou is like an overpowered form of your character and features some devastating abilities for limited use, while the other two groups are more basic, featuring things like added dashing abilities or a double jump. The skills you learn can be equipped to four different body parts on your character, and you'll see these skills in place while you're running around, usually in the form of a glowing effect that looks pretty cool on-screen.
Along with the crafting system, you'll occasionally see random friendly units in town that you can speak to, and they'll grant you special player cards. These cards are used to benefit your town, and you can upgrade the city by slotting your cards into specific areas, like shops, warehouses, and so on. After you clear each mission, whether it's story-related or a bonus mission, any areas into which you've already slotted cards will gain experience, allowing them to upgrade their levels and gain new stock, items or abilities for you to learn. You'll want to make sure that you take the time to do this after every mission, as it's easily the best way to gain better equipment later on in the game.
While I enjoyed Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce on the PSP, I can't say it's my favorite DW experience so far. It's a pretty solid portable title, but it's definitely lacking that extra factor that the console titles have, where I feel like a complete powerhouse in the game and can mash buttons and mow down enemies until I get to a boss encounter. Hardcore players will probably appreciate seeing another DW game on the handheld system, but this isn't going to be the game that will change the minds of the series' naysayers. The addition of the city and upgrade aspects are pretty cool to see, and I would like to see that expanded upon in the series' upcoming console and portable versions, but beyond that, the combat doesn't add enough interesting factors to differentiate it from the rest of the franchise.
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