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5/21/2013

REVIEW: Dynasty Warriors Next (Vita)


The Dynasty Warriors franchise and the Musou genre in general are something really big in the gaming industry in Japan. There are dozens of games in the genre that keep on being some of the best-selling titles in the country to the point where many popular Anime franchises like One Piece, Saint Seiya and even Gundam have been used for Musou games. While the western popularity of the genre isn’t even close to the Japanese one, we’ve been lucky enough to see most of the important titles get localized and fortunately, the PS Vita’s first Dynasty Warriors game is available to us.

Dynasty Warriors Next is a very simple Musou game with several nice and pretty touches of motion sensing and touch-screen gameplay to take advantage of the PS Vita’s capabilities. For the players out there not familiar with the Musou term, it’s the name of a gaming genre that focuses entirely on large-scale beat-em-up battles where the player takes control of a character and kills hundreds of enemies in a single battle, usually against innumerable hordes of enemies and many times accompanied by large groups of AI-controlled allies.

The game takes place in a fictional version of China from many centuries ago where different dynasties and kingdoms are in constant war to claim control over the entire territory. There are dozens of different characters but the main story focuses on three of them named Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. Each of them controls a different part of the country, have different ideologies, objectives, allies and personalities. We get to alternate between each of their campaigns and in general terms, we end up getting a fairly interesting storyline that is better that we might think at first.

It’s going to be easy to notice that graphically, the game is mostly good. For a portable Dynasty Warriors game, it looks pretty, especially on the playable characters, the ones with names, specific animations, dialogs and so on. The rest of the units, that can appear in the hundreds in a single map, are usually generic models of a Chinese man wearing some random outfit or armor that is present at all times and is used as either an enemy soldier or ally unit and that honestly, don’t look as cool as the important characters.

Still, these soldiers tend to spawn out of nowhere when the player gets near to the areas. This is one of the most criticized aspects of the Musou genre, they simply can’t have that many characters on screen at the same time so, while the Vita is a very powerful portable console, it still can’t do this part of the genre the right way. But at the same time, it’s going to be really easy to get used to this and to be honest; it doesn’t really hinder the experience with the game at all.

Most of the maps are similar in looks but have different layouts and tons of objects scattered around them like forts, rivers, small hills, random debris and things like that. Besides, some of them have effects like rain or snow that while they don’t look that good, add some necessary variety to the environments in the game. In general, the game looks pretty and feels like a much better-looking version of the DW games that were available on the PSP, especially on some excellent pre-rendered cutscenes that sometimes play in the Campaign.

The soundtrack is not bad, but nothing special either. It mostly consists of a random generic rock beats for both the menus and the battles. There aren’t many songs so you should get used to listening to the same group of songs over and over. Don’t get me wrong, the soundtrack isn’t really bad, much less annoying but when I think of the immense popularity this genre and especially this franchise has, I suppose the guys at Koei could do a better job at this. I guess not.

The voice acting is pretty nice for the story-telling, it comes in English only but it seems to have been dubbed in a good way. The story conversations and narrative are nice and help you keep in track to what is happening in the plot. Most characters sound pretty good too except two or three that you won’t be seeing much. The crappy part about this is that, like in most Musou games, characters tend to say random lines during battle that sometimes specify something that is happening on it. There aren’t many of these lines so they’ll get very repetitive, very fast. This is possibly the worst aspect of the game and one of the most annoying ones.

When it comes to gameplay, Dynasty Warriors Next is actually a very fun game. I’m personally not a fan of the series and only own a couple of games of the genre including this one but surprisingly, each time I played this, I was normally planning on doing just a couple battles and usually ended up glued to the game for a couple hours or more. As I explained before, DW Next features huge battles with literally hundreds and hundreds of enemies controlled by the AI that we can kill with the many combos the playable characters have.

There are many of these, dozens of them in fact, each with their own weapons and play-styles that go from the normal sword or spear wielders like Cao Cao and Zhao Yun to others that fight with bows or crossbows like Xiahou Yuan and even some strange girls that fight their enemies by playing a flute or even an giant harp like Zhenji and Cai Wenji. Yes, some of the characters use musical instruments to create magical waves that damage enemy hordes, it’s pretty cool. Each character will have to gather weapons and items during battle to equip them later and of course, they’ll have to upgrade their equipment to guarantee a better performance in the harder fights.

The battles don’t only consist of committing mass murder of course, the actual objective of the game is to capture different bases the fill the entire map. There are many types of these and by capturing them, you can get bonuses like extra attack power for your allies, animal units like wolves, tigers and panda bears to fight for you, catapult attacks to enemy bases and of course, many more allied units to your army. Usually, the main objective in each battle is to capture the main enemy base that most times will be completely sealed off until the smaller enemy camps are yours.

During the battles, you’ll encounter several nice minigames that use some of the PS Vita’s cool features like the motion sensor to look for soldiers who ambush you, touch-screen to stop incoming arrows from distant archers and some one-on-one duels with enemy officers that require good reflexes to stop their attacks and counter them via touch screen. The rear touch pad is also used for some special attacks several of your characters will have. These minigames are nothing special to be honest but they’re nice, add tons of variety to the pace of the game and usually don’t take more than a few seconds to complete and go back to the normal battle.

Besides the main Campaign Mode that features the stories of Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan, there’s a Conquest Mode that allows you to play a conquering game against the AI where you’ll try to capture as many territories that belong to it while it tries to do the same with yours. Coalition Mode lets you play the game with friends via Ad-hoc, which is very nice, Gala Mode will let you play any of the minigames I mentioned before at any time and Edit Mode will allow you to create a character from scratch, using several costumes, weapons and things like that. Finally, there’s an Encyclopedia that gives detailed explanations on the many characters, territories and events. This one is an excellent addition to players who are unfamiliar with the series’ universe.

In short, I can say that while it’s definitely not one of the best Vita titles, Dynasty Warriors Next is a very cool and fun game that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone. Being a Musou game will make many players out there think it’s short on content and variety but in all honesty, Next is all the contrary to that. There are dozens of characters to use and many minigames, missions, events and modes to enjoy. I personally enjoyed it quite a bit and while I’m sure it’s not even close to being one of the gems in the console, I consider it a strong Vita title.


Pros:

-          Dozens of different characters to use.
-          Several modes to try out.
-          The story is interesting.
-          Thousands of enemies to kill.
-          For a Musou game, it’s varied and has tons of content.
-          Takes advantage of most of the Vita’s features.

Cons:

-          Battle dialogs are way too repetitive.
-          Not very strong graphically or in sound.
-          Online features aren’t very good.


-          Graphics and Visuals………....7
-          Music and Sound Effects…......6
-          Gameplay……………………8
-          Replay Value………………...8

-          Overall Score……………….. 7 / 10

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