Should I Buy? – Dynasty Warriors 5

Some days you don’t want to dine on fine cuisine, or even on on your regular culinary fare. You just want junk. It’s cheap, quick, tasty and satisying in its own way. And that’s pretty much how I view the Dynasty Warriors franchise. It’s my gaming junk food.

Despite this review being for number five, there’s no need to have ever played the previous entries as each game is set in the same conflict with the same characters, with each game adding in a new fighters and redesigning the maps. The conflict in question is the Three Kingdoms Era of Ancient China, both the actual history and the popular historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Basically, the previous Imperial Dynasty, the Han, fell out of power due to internal corruption and the lack of a strong successor to the line and China pretty much fell apart into a giant, bloody civil war.

And so the game places you in the shoes of one of 48 different fighters who you then lead through a series of historical battles. Exactly which ones is dedicated by the character you pick, with five for your average character and eight if the guy lead a kingdom. The intention was to give each character a storyline based on their historical actions but all too often a character’s actual goals are either so damn vague or gets completely forgotten that ‘uniting the land’ becomes their big ending.

A few characters avert this and almost forge credible storylines. Sun Ce’s story only goes as far as he historically lives, and then hints at the illness which killed him for example, and Zhang Fei’s stops after he rescues his sworn brother from what was historically his death. It’s ones like these that make for the better storylines, as they feel a lot more credible and almost manage something resembling a narrative arc.

Still, with characterisation so broad and voice acting so hammy plot was obviously not a major concern. Instead, this game is all about the battles. And yeah, these work. The maps are well refined and uncomplicated, each one will be teeming with enemies to fight and an effort is made to insert reasonably historically accurate events into each map like fire attacks, betrayals and ambushes.

A lot of these events require player intervention to turn out positively as the people necessary to accomplish them tend to die or fail to reach the required area in time if left to their own devices. While this can be annoying when playing the battle for the damn hundredth time, you’re pretty much doing all the work on every map anyway. If you go out of your way to activate the events that lower enemy morale your allies will start to eat through the enemy forces and kill the generals, but never while you’re onscreen and 99.9% of the time you’ll be the one killing the enemy commander.

The fighting itself is simple. Square is attack. You can mix this up with Charge attacks by pressing triangle. When your Musuo bar is full, press circle to do a really big attack. There are other things like archery and horseback riding that can mix things up, but not enough to ever be important.

The amount of attacks you can string together is determined by your weapon. The only way to acquire new ones is to pick them up from certain crates or defeated officers. Whether or not this weapon will be useful is random, you can get an awesome top tier weapon on your first battle or never encounter anything beyond your base weapon in your entire playthrough. This rarely happens, but it can be incredibly frustrating and really cripple your performance.

For the most part the characters are unique enough for the game to get away with its ridiculous roster size. A few like Xiahou Yuan and Huang Zhong are a bit too similar, and some like Diao Chan feel unbalanced or just plain bad. Their personalities are pretty much all one note as well. Ma Chao is ‘angry honour guy’, Cao Ren is ‘doesn’t like war guy’ and Sun Shang Xiang is ‘tomboy’ etc. Characterisation isn’t too much of a concern, but the game constantly tries to make you care throughout their storylines. At least you can laugh at the bad voice acting.

Despite the fact I’ve spent pretty much the whole review finding flaws with this game, I still recommend it. Like I said, it’s junk food. The gameplay is solid enough to play this for hours and even the battles you’ll see dozens of times like Chi Bi and Hu Lao Gate never get truly annoying. Plus, through playing these games and reading the in-game encyclopaedia I’ve learnt a lot about what is a really fascinating period of Chinese history and that’s always a plus.

Price: PS2 – £3.50 (CEX)
XBOX – £7 (CEX)


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