Matt Keller
12 Jul, 2005

Dynasty Warriors 5 Review

PS2 Review | The warriors from the Three Kingdoms return for another year, with some much needed improvements.
After 4 years, and eight Dynasty Warriors titles (2, 3, 3XL, 4, 4XL, Samurai Warriors, SWXL, 4 Empires and those are just the ones available in PAL), one would be inclined to think that Koei has milked the battlefield beat 'em up for all it is worth, and that further evolution of the series is probably nigh on impossible on current hardware. And yet here we are, with yet another Dynasty Warriors review - this being the 6th official game in the series (assuming you count the original Dynasty Warriors head to head fighter on the PSOne and Samurai Warriors), once again asking the question - is there anything new in this particular Dynasty Warriors game, or is it just a repetitive, square-bashing, thumb-injuring romp?

The series returns to China (after taking a year off in Japan), to the era of the Three Kingdoms, (for about the 5178th time in Koei's history, but who's counting?). For those of you who don't know, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was an attempt to novelise the verbal stories of the events surrounding the fall of the Han Dynasty, and the events that followed. These stories were exaggerated and romanticised, with the characters often taking on supernatural abilities and mythical powers. It is also believed that the times in which the stories were first written, the Ming Dynasty, had a drastic effect on the end product. Dynasty Warriors 5 is only really a loose adaptation of the story, with several liberties taken to make the plot open ended, and with several major themes from the book (such as karmic retribution) have been omitted.

The first thing that veterans of the Dynasty Warriors series will notice is that Koei have done a lot of chopping, changing and tweaking in the fifth version of the title. In the fourth title, Musou Mode's storylines were dependent on which side you chose - this has reverted to the way things were in the third title, with each general having his or her own story. This time, however, you only fight in the battles which are relevant to that officer, and you get to see the story directly from his or her perspective, with a degree of commentary on their thoughts and feelings on each situation before and after each battle. This change tends to give the stories better clarity, and generally provides us with a better view of the personality of each of the officers in the game.

Mythical elements seem to form a bigger part of Dynasty Warriors 5 than previous games

Mythical elements seem to form a bigger part of Dynasty Warriors 5 than previous games
Dynasty Warriors 4 introduced creation modes for bodyguards and officers - these have been scrapped. This is not a bad thing at all - the characters creation modes had serious limitations, leaving most of your creations looking quite samey. Elimination of the bodyguard creation mode has made way for one of the best and most needed improvements for Dynasty Warriors 5 - a serious overhaul of the bodyguards. Instead of a range of generic looking bodyguards who simply act as human shields in the middle of a pummeling at the hands of Lu Bu, your bodyguard is now a single unique character (from a selection of 4, based on the settings of the internal clock) with his or her own weapon type and special abilities, much like the officers. As you fight more battles, your bodyguard will gain experiences and abilities - getting Superior S-Rank bodyguards takes a while, but they make a significant difference to any campaign. Perhaps the handiest feature of the bodyguard overhaul is that you can now execute combined attacks that were only previously available in co-operative play, such as the devastating combined Musou attack. Bodyguards aren't just limited to humans, either, as certain battles in the game will allow you to have tigers as your protectors.

Tigers can also serve as bodyguards, and cannot be defeated as easily

Tigers can also serve as bodyguards, and cannot be defeated as easily
General battlefield play has not drastically changed since Dynasty Warriors 4, but series veterans are going to notice the minor differences. Everyone still has the same types of combos, starting off with the square button combos, which can be mixed up with charge attacks from the triangle button. The number of hits you can execute in a combo are set by the weapon which your character carries - there are four for each character, which are found laying about the battlefield, rather than being upgraded by experience points as they were in the previous game. Some characters are packing magical attacks now, adding to the mythical element already present in the overlying plot. It can be quite satisfying seeing 50 men fly up into the air after your officer has just unleashed a ground pounding attack. Another noticeable change is that battles feature points which you can capture and hold, adding morale to your team, as well as supply and reinforcement advantages. This is a hold-over from Dynasty Warriors 4 Empires, and it's a shame they decided to omit most of the content from that add-on - which will inevitably mean Dynasty Warriors 5 Empires will follow the already announced Xtreme Legends add-on.

Lasting factor has always been one of the main strengths of the Dynasty Warriors series, and this game is no exception, offering campaigns for 48 different generals, plus the opportunity to level them up, gain their fourth weapons, get the most powerful bodyguards possible, and so on. Difficulty has been ramped up, so some veteran players may notice themselves losing their earlier battles, until they regroup and re-evaluate their tried and true strategies. Co-operative play has always added greatly to the long term value of the game if you have friends or family to play along with you, provided they're still keen for this time of game, and they can survive with only half a screen. Finally, the challenge mode has returned, offering all sorts of silly challenges from a survival mode to seeing how many soldiers you can belt off a bridge without being knocked from your perch.

Dynasty Warriors has always put substance over style since it first appeared on the PlayStation 2 at its launch in 2000. The 5th game in the series has improved certain aspects of the presentation, such as increasing the number of enemies on screen by somewhere in the order of about 30-50%, and increasing the size of the maps and the game's highly criticized draw distance all while maintaining a solid frame rate. Despite these noticeable enhancements, Dynasty Warriors 5 still looks very rough. With the launch of new consoles looming, and every Tom, Dick and Harry with a games development studio wishing to do 2000+ enemies on screen, Koei is going to have to pull out all the stops on the inevitable next generation version of Dynasty Warriors. Requests for more traditional music and better voice actors seem to have fallen on deaf ears once again, with the same level of quality (if you can call it that) being maintained in the series' audio department. It's unfortunate that Koei decided to hold of the option for the original Japanese language track until the later Xbox release of the game, seeing that the core audience remains firmly entrenched on the PlayStation 2.

After 5 years, Dynasty Warriors still looks pretty rough

After 5 years, Dynasty Warriors still looks pretty rough
With each Dynasty Warriors release, it always seems like we're going to be in for more of the same, but Koei comes out with just enough changes and little extras to keep the game fresh, though this freshness is only short lived. Sometimes the series feels like an abusive girlfriend/boyfriend - they appear to have changed in some respects, but they're essentially the same person inside. This reviewer realizes he said that the series would need a serious overhaul for the next game for it to not be penalized, and yet here I am with another positive review. Dynasty Warriors 5 is a fairly significant improvement over the fourth game - Koei have trimmed the fat, removed the unnecessary features, given the game a fine tune, and added some really great elements to the game, though there's still more stuff we'd have liked to have see, such as more features from the Empires add on incorporated into the main game. They cannot go on like this forever though; we'd expect that this would be the last main entry in the series on this generation of consoles, and that Koei will come out swinging on the PlayStation 3.
The Score
Dynasty Warriors 5 improves on its predecessors in the right ways, and removes a lot of the useless features. That said, the core gameplay is still the same, and may strike some as being either repetitive or milking a series to near death.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Content

Dynasty Warriors 4: Xtreme Legends Review
11 Feb, 2004 Dynasty Warriors 4's expansion pack will keep aspiring warriors occupied for a little while longer.
Dynasty Warriors 4 Review
10 Jul, 2003 It's time to go back to China for another all out war.
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