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Xbox Review - 'Dynasty Warriors 5'

by Kris Graft on Sept. 23, 2005 @ 3:45 a.m. PDT

Based on Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Dynasty Warriors series of action games takes players back in time and onto the battlefields of Ancient China. In the games, players experience the thrill of fighting single-handedly against nearly endless legions of enemy soldiers in historical battles that shaped an empire.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Koei
Developer: Omega Force
Release Date: September 13, 2005

Buy 'DYNASTY WARRIORS 5': Xbox | PlayStation 2

When the original Dynasty Warriors arrived for the PlayStation in 1997, it bore little resemblance to the ancient Chinese brawler that it is today. It was a one-on-one weapons-based fighting game in the vein of your typical fighters, such as Soul Blade or Battle Arena Toshinden, albeit slightly more realistic. Dynasty Warriors 2 didn't emerge until three years later on the newfangled PS2. Koei took the series in a completely new direction with the first sequel, turning the one-on-one fighter into a 3D Fatal Fury, except instead of Terry Bogard, you got a third century Chinese warlord. Since the original, we've seen numerous spin-offs (Dynasty Warriors 4 alone had three iterations), sequels, and even a couple of respectable turn-based strategy games in the form of Dynasty Tactics and its own sequel.

Now we have Dynasty Warriors 5, and it continues the series' tradition of playing it safe. No great evolutionary steps have been made in this franchise since the first sequel, as it sticks close to what has been working for it for the past five years. What we're getting at here is that DW5 is more of the same, but that is not to say that there are no updates at all. The visuals have been tuned-up in terms of the number of enemies on screen at once, the bodyguard system is enhanced, the weapons system is tweaked, more attacks have been added, and a stronghold system has been implemented. It's just too bad that Koei did little to update the core gameplay mechanics. Smacking around endless hordes of enemies can be extremely satisfying, but if you've played earlier DW games, you've basically played this one.

Those of you who are familiar with Koei know that the developer has a thing for creating games based in ancient China during a time of feuding warlords and weak A.I. ... er, we'll get to the A.I. later. There are 48 warriors to choose from, although not all of them are available right off the bat. Most of the roster is made up of familiar faces, such as Lu Bu, Cao Cao, Zhang Fei, and Yue Ying. Each warrior has unique attributes, and they wield a decent array of weapons. Warriors such as Zhao Yu attack using a spear-like weapon, Sun Xhang Xiang uses circular blades, and Xu Zhu uses what is pretty much a giant wooden ball on the end of a stick. Their various and unique fighting styles help salvage the variation that the gameplay doesn't particularly provide.

DW5 has a few modes available: Bridge Melee, Time Attack, Sudden Death, Rampage, and Musou Mode. Musou Mode is the primary mode, where you'll guide your character through larger battlefields and his or her unique storyline. At the beginning of Musou Mode, your story is established, and you'll be briefed on the upcoming battle. A prep screen gives you the option to check out an overhead map of the battlefield, which shows your starting point the location of enemies, bases, and other points of interest. Here, you can also change your weapon, equip items, and select bodyguards.

In past DW games, you would increase your weapon's ability as you progressed. Now, you'll find weapons on the battlefield when you defeat high-ranking enemies, or in containers that you can break open. Weapons have a few characteristics that can affect performance. The main three categories are power, attacks and weight. Power dictates how much energy you'll take away from an enemy with each strike, attacks dictates how many hits you can dish out during a combo, and weight seems to determine the speed of the swing. Some weapons have special attributes that increase your life meter, your chances of finding special items and power-ups on the field, your speed, defense, attack power, bow skills, or the speed that your Musou meter fills up.

The Musou meter should be familiar to Dynasty Warriors fans. As you fight your way through squad after squad of enemies, the meter builds up. When it's full, you can execute a powerful Musou attack that can thin out oncoming enemies in a Shanghai minute.

Attacks are dealt by using three attacks of varying strengths. You have a normal attack, charge attack, and the powerful Musou attack. Combos are usually executed by mashing the normal and charge attack buttons, and the Musou attack is generally used to get yourself out of hairy situations or to completely spank a high ranking officer.

Speaking of spanking, you can do some real damage using the new bodyguard system in DW5. As you progress, new bodyguards, each unique, will become available to accompany you into battle. These sidekicks are actually pretty helpful in combat, especially when both of you are charged up and in close proximity. When you see a bolt of lightning connecting you and your bodyguard, you can trigger a devastating dual attack. Other useful tools of battle include horses, tigers and elephants (oh my).

Free mode is useful when you just can't cut it in Musou mode. Here, you can choose from a variety of stages and jump right into them. Any level-ups, items or weapons you acquire in this mode are transferred to Musou mode so you can have a bit of an edge. Sudden Death puts you up against legions of enemies, but your game is over after one hit. Time Attack pits you against the clock for a level, and in Rampage, you try to dispatch as many enemies as possible. Then there is the Bridge Melee, which places you on a series of bridges and drop offs. The goal here is to knock as many foes off the bridges as possible. The Free mode is definitely the most functional, and the other modes serve as small distractions.

So everything sounds pretty hunky-dory, right? There are some issues. Mainly, things get very repetitive, and not just like, "Hey, I've been button mashing for the past two hours," but more like, "Hey, I've been button mashing this series for the past five years." There are still moments where you feel a slight sense of awe when sending a dozen enemies spinning through the air, but if you've played a single Dynasty Warriors game, you'll have a case of déjà vu. It'd be nice to see some major advances in gameplay, and while all of the tweaks are certainly appreciated, it's still mostly about mashing a couple of buttons. On top of that, the A.I. is still ridiculously inept – sure, you battle against countless hordes of Chinese grunts, but most of them stand around waiting for you to send them into the afterlife.

Graphically, things are fairly nice. Although enemy animations are repetitive as you send them through the atmosphere, the individual warrior animations are pretty unique, depending on which weapon they are using. Pop-up does occur in the distance at times, but there are so many foes coming at you, you don't have much of a chance to notice. There was one instance where a horse disappeared after a cut scene, but I suppose some would call that nitpicking. There is no Xbox Live compatibility, but there is two-player split-screen mode that can be a brawling good time.

Sound-wise, you can expect the typical, cheesy Koei dialog, with warlords spouting outrageously over-acted lines. Luckily, this Xbox version sports the option to switch over to Japanese dialog, with English subtitles. Sounds of the battlefield are standard fare, and this Xbox version allows for Dolby 5.1 surround sound.

DW5 is not a bad game, by any means, and it will definitely satiate your need for a brawler. Certain developers have tried to fill the gap that games like Streets of Rage have left behind, but Koei has consistently brought some of the best brawling in the form of the Dynasty Warriors series. The aspect that should pain gamers the most is the unfulfilled potential that the series has had since the first sequel.

Score: 7.0/10

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