Koei's popular action-strategy franchise, Dynasty Warriors, is now also available for the PSP. For the most part, it's a decent melee combat game that should appeal to anyone that enjoys button-mashers like Gauntlet Legends or Onimusha… especially those people who also think that Chinese history is super cool.
The player's role is that of a general in one of the three major dynasties that co-existed in China roughly 2,000 years ago. There are more than 20 different generals to pick from, many of which actually lived and fought on the battlefield during that hectic period. Each general has his or her own unique look and weapon, as well as attributes in areas such as health, power, defense, and growth. The ultimate goal is to guide your general through all of the missions in the "musou" mode, so that his emperor and dynasty will overcome the others and obtain the prime spot in China's historical record. And yes, that also means there are three different story paths and three different endings to see.
If you're not keen on strategy games, don't worry–Dynasty Warriors doesn't bog the player down in stats and charts. Before each mission, you have to select up to four lieutenants to accompany you into battle. They have their own attributes in the basic skill areas, but they also bring varying numbers of additional troops into battle, as well as give your general access to certain magical abilities that can really come in handy. During battle, the CPU controls all of the other lieutenants and troops, leaving you to concentrate on your own one-man badass. The different areas on the battlefield are represented by squares on a "game board." You move between areas one square at a time, like you would if you were playing a board game, but the actual combat takes place in large 3D environments just like those you've traversed in traditional beat 'em ups. The only overtly strategic aspect that you really need to keep track of is supplies, which are measured quite simply as time. You have to rout the enemy and capture their home base on the game board before you run out of time. Luckily, there are depot areas that can give you an extra 5 or 10 minutes on the clock when you need them.
Otherwise, this game is an action game like any other. The battles are probably larger in scale than you're used too, but the general idea is still the same–stab, stab, stab, repeat. The analog stick and main buttons let you move around, jump, and block, of course, as well as use your melee weapon, a multi-shot bow, or your general's musou attack (which is just fancy talk for a flashy multi-attack combo). Most enemies only take a few hits to kill, although some units, such as captains and generals, can absorb loads of damage. The opposing generals are basically the bosses of the game. They're pretty powerful, just like you, and they often have special abilities, just like you do. Each enemy you kill takes away from the opposing army's morale. When their morale drops to nothing, they'll retreat and leave you in control of that particular patch of land. Your own army's morale isn't necessarily as important, since it decreases at such a slow pace, but it is very possible to end up at the "game over" screen anyway if your character dies or you run out of time.
Unlike the PS2 Dynasty Warriors games, the PSP game doesn't make players hunt around for food items in order to reclaim health. Supply forts situated on the game board let you heal your troops at the cost of a little bit of time. The PSP game also implements experience-based leveling in much the same manner as role-playing games do. For every enemy you kill, you'll earn a few points that will accrue until your general reaches the next level, which in turn will make him stronger, give him more health, augment his defense, and so forth.
The battles in Dynasty Warriors are large-scale. We're talking massive. It's not uncommon to round a corner and see upwards of 50 soldiers just going at it with their swords and poles. The best part is that you can just run into the middle of the group and use your musou attack to lay waste to a dozen or more of the enemy in one fell swoop. Late in the game, you'll end up fighting against enemies on horseback and elephants, and sometimes you'll come across tank-like wooden vehicles that spew flame. If ever there was a video game version of Braveheart , this is it.
Unfortunately, the PSP doesn't handle all of those visible bodies as well as the PS2 does. It's understandable that the dev team had to simplify the backgrounds and characters a little. They were in a hurry to ship the game in time for the system's launch, and, actually, the character models are still fairly intricate and there are still plenty of different attack animations. But, dear lord, the sight distance is horrible. And there's so much slowdown too. The sight distance is so short that troops, buildings, and scenery just "pop" into view as you move. Meanwhile, the slowdown–it's crazy. The game bogs down when there are more than a dozen bodies visible. It's so bad at times that landing in a dogpile can literally slow the game down to a slideshow.
I also have a personal gripe with the status and map displays–which occupy a large portion of the right side of the screen. The PSP has a nice, big wide-screen display, but, for whatever reason, Koei's devs decided to eat up the additional screen real estate with overlays that most people won't glance at more than once per play.
The audio was also scaled back, but only in that the majority of voice comments were removed. All the other trademark Dynasty Warriors sounds (the clang-clang sound effects, the thunderous explosions, the rock music intercut with Asian singers) are here.
All in all, Dynasty Warriors for the PSP offers a friendly mixture of hands-on fighting and strategy. Certainly the game's portable nature and multiple story paths ensure ample bang for your buck. The game's graphical problems are bad enough, however, that you really ought to rent before you buy, if possible, just to see if they're a deal breaker for you.