Fact: on average, since the inception of the series, there's been more than one Dynasty Warriors title released each calendar year. It's one of the biggest reasons why we've always approached each entry in Koei's franchise with a certain degree of trepidation. To it's credit (particularly in the port-heavy PSP launch line-up), Dynasty Warriors for the PSP is an entirely new title, developed exclusively for the PSP. But sometimes, even ports feel like a better option.
Before we give any more information on the game, we should point out that Dynasty Warriors has been finished since December (or even earlier) last year. Alas, the Japanese version is identical to the US / PAL version in every way but language, with no improvements having been made on a game that could certainly have done with some tweaking. As a result, this means that from the very outset the game feels thoroughly dated.
So, what's new compared to the console versions? Well, PSP Dynasty Warriors includes a new battlefield area system that creates new strategic gameplay, included to accomodate shorter periods of play. We appreciate that Koei have given thought to making the game more portable, but in this mode the options are a little slimmer than we'd have hoped - for example, the player only has control over their own warrior.
There is also a 'second-in-command' officer system, which allows the player to control special skills that bodyguards have been given. This is a much better addition than the battlefield area system, as the officers who were normally fairly much unused in previous Dynasty titles may give a player a horse, or an ice arrow, etc.. There are some neat cameo appearances from Samurai Warriors as well.
All in all, there's forty-two warriors for players to take command of, whilst the game is spread out over seven stories in China. For those wondering, the game is unfortunately a strictly single-player affair. We're used to at least having a two-player option for PSP games, so this is extremely disappointing. It would have been fairly easy to at least include a co-op mode, but unfortunately Koei have had to rush this game for launch.
Meanwhile, there's some presentation problems in the game that seriously hamper the experience, making it feel a tad watered-down. These include a dodgy draw distance (where soldiers can disappear, or reappear randomly) and a terribly difficult main menu.
At least the controls are fairly easy to learn, though. Navigating your play with the analog stick is easy. The square button acts as a normal attack and the X button acts as the jump button. The triangle button is for charging and the circle button is for 'musou' attacks. Overall the controls are very simple to learn, and Dynasty Warrior veterans will find these controls are simple to adapt to.
The gameplay in the game is similar to the console games. Unfortunately though (and this is a problem that has never hampered the console versions), the game has some severe camera problems. This is something to be wary of, because it can often distract the player from the battle. We wish Koei would have included a way to manually rotate the camera: this would have changed how hard it is to play the game when the action gets intense.
The environments are also significantly smaller than in the console versions. We're not terribly sure why this is exactly, but can only assume it's because the game had to be scaled down for the PSP, despite the fact that other console-to-PSP ports have made the switch with little or no loss in content. And on the subject of PSP shortcomings, the loading in the game can be a bit of an annoyance, with scenarios taking about ten seconds to load.
The graphics are disappointing as well. We commend the amount of characters that Koei have implemented into the game, but the backgrounds are extremely linear and make the environments feel dead. At some highly intensive stages the game will also slow down, and this isn't just a barely noticable level of slowdown we're talking about here, but a frame-rate that's simply not acceptable for a PSP game.
The sound in the games is very authentic, and has made the transition to Sony's handheld well. The traditional sounds of swords clanging and warriors slaughtering each other are all easily heard through the PSP's speakers.
Dynasty Warriors won't last as long as gamers will hope. There isn't too many stages, and the absence of multiplayer is definitely noticeable. A lack of multiplayer would have been forgiveable if the single-player missions lasted longer, but unfortunately they're all too short-lived.
With the Game Boy Advance version of Dynasty Warriors being a disappointment as well, we don't hold too much hope for the Nintendo DS version. Huge fans of the Dynasty Warriors franchise may want to give this title a look, but amongst a crowded PSP launch line-up, we can't really recommend this game for anyone. It just feels too much like the game has been rushed to make the market. This is not likely to be the last time that Dynasty Warriors arrives on the PSP, so it might be advisable to wait for the successor.