You’ve gotta admire Omega Force and Tecmo Koei. After seven main-series Dynasty Warriors titles, plus more than 20 spin-offs, it’s safe to bet that the series is going to stick around for a while. Entries in the Musou series (as the overarching template is known) all feature enormous battles, huge body counts, some basic customization and RPG features and so much content that most players will likely grow tired of the game before they see it all. Dynasty Warriors Next doesn’t change up the formula, but it does make full use of the Vita’s features while capturing the experience of playing on a home console.
The games are often criticized for repetitive combat and corny voice acting, but once you peel back the surface, there is a lot to enjoy for strategy and beat ‘em up fans, alike. If you’ve ever played a Musou game, you already know exactly what to expect, so it’s unlikely that Dynasty Warriors Next will change your mind. However, if you’ve been on the fence, or have never tried on before, this is an absolutely wonderful starting point.
It still astounds me how much of a niche gem this series is. The Dynasty Warriors games’ campaign modes are pretty much identical, starting you off in battle against the Yellow Turban Rebellion and progressing through four additional scenarios before your Kingdom is victorious. Before each battle, you’ll have the opportunity to cash in your gold to enable up to four stratagem. These largely have positive influences on your controlled character, your bases and more. Some, though, may require a tradeoff, like being weakened for the first eight minutes of battle before becoming a powerhouse later on. The cost of these varies based on the condition of the stratagem’s related officer, making every battle a carefully planned endeavor.
Once you’ve purchased your enhancements, it’s time to choose your equipped items, which include saddles (to enhance your horse, always available with a downward tap on the D-pad), orbs that add effects to your melee attacks and items that have a variety of stat-boosting effects. At any time, you can equip one saddle, one orb and five items. These, along with more powerful weapons, can be picked up on the battlefield.
It’s important to take a look at the move screen, because each character has a different combo attack pattern and two different Musou attacks. These are powered by a meter, which fills up as you slash through the opposing enemy. The standard Musou can be triggered with the circle button, but Next also features a “Speed Musou” attack. This is triggered by tapping the left and right sides of the front touch screen, and then powered with one of a multitude of different gestures, including shaking the Vita, tapping the back panel, swiping left and right on the front panel and more. The final type of special attack is the Direct Break, which devastates enemy forces and is designed to both capture and permanently secure enemy encampments. You won’t use this more than once or twice in any battle, so careful planning (or intense desperation) is required.
Officers also come in three flavors, exhibiting strength against regular soldiers, enemy officers or bases. Each also has one of the thirteen designated subordinate types assigned, including basic swordsmen and spearmen and the more exotic pandas and sorcerers (historical accuracy!).
When you’ve tired of historical accuracy and want to open things up a bit, you can take on one of four different Conquest scenarios. This is where you’ll earn new officer cards (65 in all, which enable both usable characters and their related stratagem), and play a Risk-type game to dominate the entire map. Each of your territories will have a strength level. You can only invade a connected territory with a lower value. After you play your battle out, the computer opponent will invade one of your regions. This mode also uses the Vita’s online functionality to populate the field with other players. Conquer their territories and they’ll get a message with a challenge. The game ends when you’ve conquered the entire field. This is made easier by conquering the area with the force’s leader. Do that, and you’ll assume control over all of his/her lands. Once you unlock scenarios for more than two forces, though, things get trickier, of course.
Conquest mode is also where you can use the unlockable character creation items you’ll earn from leveling up your profile. In the Edit menu, you can tailor-make your own Officer, customizing appearance, subordinate type and related stratagem. Instead of choosing a weapon specialty, though, you’ll pick an existing Officer to mimic. From there, just select your created character as either your Officer or a subordinate in the Conquest menu.
Regardless of whether you’re taking on the Campaign, Conquest or co-op Coalition mode, the battles play out similarly. Your mini-map shows allied and enemy bases, with the primary goal to rout the enemy by capturing their stronghold. The best bet is to weapon the opposing army by taking their bases, which confer reinforcements, attack boosts for your Officer, defense boosts for allied encampments and more. Rushing headlong into the enemy’s keep is a surefire way to meet your quick, bloodless end.
Along the way, you’ll make use of a variety of unique Vita functions that are mostly implemented well. The Ambushes that pop up from time to time require you to use the accelerometer and touch controls to fend off rushing enemy soldiers, arrows, bombs and more. Usually, succeeded awards a new weapon that you can sock away in your inventory after the battle. The map is also touch-enabled. By enlarging it with a single swipe, you can direct subordinatesThe one gimmicky feature that I found myself dreading were the one-on-one duels with enemy officers. These require swiping the screen, breaking guards and frantic tapping, but never feel strategic or, frankly, fun. Additionally, there are calligraphy challenges that you’ll be tasked with that just don’t seem to fit with the rest of the game experience.
Beyond the traditional gameplay, there are a few mini games like the Steeplechase horseback races, Bastion defensive fights and the silly augmented reality camera feature that are interesting diversions, but won’t likely hold your interest for very long.
Visually, the game is absolutely gorgeous, handling the large numbers of enemy forces, fairly detailed landscapes and different effects rather well. There was pop-in, but those familiar with the series won’t be shocked when a large contingent of soldiers pops up in the distance. The rendered cutscenes look good and the animations in-game are smooth. I felt like I got into fewer endless death-juggles this time out, which either means that my game is improving or that Omega Force tweaked the formula (likely the latter).
The audio will be jarring to newcomers, with heavy electric guitar rock permeating the battles in place of anything even close to traditional Chinese sounds. Returning players will feel right at home, though. The voiceovers are a mixed bag, with some decent performances standing out among the delightfully cheesy dialog. This is just one of those series that makes its melodramatic script work for it, eliciting laughter rather than eye rolls.
Dynasty Warriors Next is a great first entry for the series on the PlayStation Vita. For the most part, it smartly takes advantage of the touch, motion and NEAR features of the handheld, while providing an experience that fans of the console iterations will love. For those that haven’t yet dipped their toe in the waters of the Three Kingdoms, there are few better starting points. As for the series’ detractors, well, you won’t be won over, unfortunately. Next doesn’t deviate from the formula, but does do its best to adapt to the new hardware and innovate in smart ways. If you are at all interested in the hack and slash gameplay, Chinese history or tons of unlockable content that will keep you busy for hours on end, you could do much worse than the latest in the Musou series.
The score below reflects my experience as someone who enjoys the series, but is not a diehard. For those that simply don’t care for previous entries, no score or review narrative is likely to change your mind for Dynasty Warriors Next.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Tons of content will keep you coming back for more
+ Smart refinement of formula
+ Largely intelligent use of Vita’s unique features
+ Battles play out more quickly than console versions, which is great for portability
- The hack and slash gameplay can get repetitive
- Co-op Coalition mode is ad-hoc only
- Calligraphy challenges don’t fit with the rest of the package
8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.
Dynasty Warriors Next was developed by Omega Force and published by Tecmo Koei for the PlayStation Vita. It was released on February 22, 2012 at the MSRP of $39.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.
Michael mows down countless unnamed foes every day before his first cup of coffee. Ask him about it on Twitter (@mmmfutter).