Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dynasty Warriors 8 (Shin Sangoku Musou 7) Review

Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.


INTRODUCTION


Dynasty Warriors 8 is the 8th installment in the Dynasty Warriors franchise, or if you’re living in Japan, it would be the 7th as the original Dynasty Warriors fighting game wasn’t included as part of the official series there.

It follows the same familiar hack and slash tradition as the previous games—taking place in giant, densely populated battlefields, and bases its characters and storyline around the ancient Chinese Three Kingdoms area, sprinkled with some fiction and fantasy elements to spice up what would be a rather dull concept otherwise. Nevertheless, as with all new Dynasty Warriors games where the storyline and characters rarely differs, it does incorporate enough new features and changes to warrant it being acceptable as a different entity of its own. Dynasty Warriors 8 is perhaps the most highly rich in features and storyline of the bunch, and fortunately brings a lot of ideas and features back into the game that has been neglected or simply dismissed in earlier titles.

GAME MODES


The game is split into three game modes: Story Mode, Free Mode and Shosei Mode. Story Mode is the primary mode of the game and takes you through the storyline of the kingdoms of Wei, Wu, Shu, Jin and as well as an Others kingdom. Similarly to Dynasty Warriors 7, the stories are kingdom based, so you’ll follow one story based around the kingdom you have chosen and not the stories of individual characters. Although, once you have unlocked the Others kingdom, you’ll be able to play as individual short stories of a few characters such as Lu Bu and Meng Huo. These however are only one stage long in comparison.

Each kingdom’s story is branched into two different scenarios that you can partake. The regular branch is a historical scenario and also the easier of the two to traverse to. You’ll likely be getting this scenario the first time you go through the story mode of any kingdom. The second scenario is interestingly a fictional scenario—that tells you a what if story. For example, what if Wei never lost the battle of Chibi? You’ll often run across fictional scenarios that involves the three kingdoms working with each other to help unify the land at questionable times, which would be the total opposite in true history. And don’t be surprised to see the supposed to be deceased alive and well with their sons and family well after their real time in history is done for. You'll grasp what I mean once you actually play through these fictional scenarios.

Branching storyline paths makes a return in this game.
The fictional IF scenarios can be unlocked by completing a set of tasks in various stages throughout the story. These tasks can be easily viewed when highlighting a stage before engaging in the actual battle. After you complete all the tasks prior to the branch point, you can play the branching stage to unlock and traverse to the fictional IF scenario.

You’ll also get additional branches other than the two main branches. However, these are mostly one stage long, but adds some more insight to why certain events happen later on.

Story mode stage structure is mostly unaltered from Dynasty Warriors 7. You’ll get a voice over briefing of the battle you are partaking in. Thereafter, you have around two to four characters to select from. Unfortunately, this limitation means any other character selection is restricted. This is a bizarre implementation, as in each stage the amount of playable characters on your army are multitudes more than the two to four you are allowed to choose. Why not be able to select all of them? Nevertheless, you can always play as any characters in any of a story’s stage in Free Mode, to counter that one negative.

During certain stages, you’ll start out in a camp rather than directly in the midst of battle. This allows you to interact with other characters and further understand what’s going on. It also allows you to quickly purchase and sell weapons you’ve gathered on the battlefield, which is quite handy and important as weapons seem to pile up in your collection very fast. The camp is also crucial for the branch point stage, where you would be allowed to select to either traverse to the historical or the IF scenario.

Actual battle is not that different here. You’ll be assigned various tasks to complete, enemy officers to defeat and after doing so, allowed to advance further into the stage and then onto often a buffed up enemy officer boss. There’s plenty of siege weaponry on the battlefield that can be used to benefit your army, such as catapults, siege ramps and ballistas. Of course, the enemy has their own to use on you as well. Those damn ballistas.... Strategy also plays an important role in a lot of stages, as succeeding to execute an enemy devastating strategy can greatly improve the morale of your army, and in some cases, necessary to unlock additional branching stages and the IF scenarios.

The battlefields are mostly all huge and quite varied, where in one part you’ll be treading a vast grassland and in the other inside a dark, dwelling cave maze where your surrounding vision are greatly reduced. Cutscenes are littered throughout each story mode’s kingdom, both in game rendered and in FMV. The quality of the cutscenes are top notch and contains a lot of the emotions and high budget values missed in previous games.

Cutscenes are very engaging and excellent.
Overall, story mode is quite excellent and is perhaps one of the most decent of all Dynasty Warriors games, primarily due to its great stage design coupled with branching scenarios.

Free Mode is the second game mode of the game. This should be familiar to a lot of veteran and earlier Dynasty Warriors players. It’s simply a mode that allows you to play as any character in any of the game’s stages, story or otherwise. In addition, you’ll have at your fingertips a lot of extra options and features that aren’t regularly possible in story mode, such as the ability to equip a different horse or support animal and changing the costumes of NPCs. There’s also quite a few reverse scenario stages available you can select from. These allows you to play as the opposing enemy army instead while keeping the stage layout the same, which is pretty cool and something we’ve been looking for in a Dynasty Warriors game for a long time.

Shosei Mode takes on a more interesting approach. It tasks you as the player to create a social base for peasants called the “Tongquetai Tower” and make the Emperor visit it. In order to raise the tower’s status, you must engage in three different kinds of battles: skirmish battles, raid battles and large-scaled battles; each with its own central objectives and rewards. 

Shosei mode is the new unique game mode in Dynasty Warriors 8.
You’ll initially start off with just a bare bones village with a weapon shop as your sole facility, acting as a hub to interact with people, purchase and trade goods, ride into battle, as well as other things. Unlike other modes, your main character selection here is permanent throughout the entire mode, and you’ll only be allowed to switch characters once you recruit them as your followers after battles.

Once you’re ready to set off for battle, you have the aforementioned battle types you can partake in. Skirmish battles can help you obtain weapon materials and build materials, raid battles grants you more fame and large-scaled battles can help you recruit more followers. After a series of battles, you may be requested to engage in a historical battle. By completing each historical battle, you’ll be awarded with a stylized trophy for that battle. An in-game trophy, not a Playstation 3 trophy.

Battles can go on infinitely after being victorious, and your health does not reset back to full per battle if you choose to continue on without quitting. Hence, this mode is essentially a survival mode. The higher amount of battles you complete, the better the rewards will be (as marked by an x multiplier). Occasionally, battles may be marked in red text, indicating that all enemy officers will be buffed up. However, the rewards will be doubled or tripled than regular. You’ll also be awarded with rare items, such as weapons and support animals, after a set series of completed battles. If you happen to die in a battle, you will lose experience and gold you have obtained and return back to your village.

After obtaining enough build materials, you can level your departments using them. Raise the levels high enough and the department will automatically be upgraded to the next rank. Upgraded departments allows you to do many more things with them, such as if you rank the blacksmith enough, you’ll be able to have options to build new weapons, strengthen weapons and gamble weapons with the weapon materials you collected.

GAMEPLAY AND CHARACTERS


As with all Dynasty Warriors games, you’re always going to have a huge roster of characters to choose and play from. There is now a total of 77 playable characters in this game. Like every new game, a few new characters have been introduced as well, including Guan Yu’s two other offsprings and other important military generals such as Yue Jin, Jia Chong, Wen Yang and Lu Su.

Guan Yingping is one of the hot new characters in Dynasty Warriors 8.
Fear has always been geared towards the dreaded moveset cloning of a lot of characters, where one character will share the same moveset with extremely minor differences with another, breaking the uniqueness of several characters. However, I can safely assure that no such fear exists for this game, as every single character now has an entirely different and varied moveset plus weapon combination. Awesome...

Every character also has the option to equip four different abilities. These abilities range from increasing your health, attack and defense, to being able to get better weapon drops. They are unlocked and leveled by completing specific tasks in battle according to the ability. For instance, you may have an ability that requires you to defeat an officer with a musou in order to level it. Once you leveled your character high enough, you'll receive special abilities that increases certain weapon compatibility to max regardless of character selection.

Now let’s get into one of the most significant gameplay change/feature in the game: the new weapon affinity system.

Weapon affinity: more despicable than lovable.
The weapon affinity system is a new system that is incorporated into every weapon in the game and is broken into three different elements: heaven, earth and human. One element is always dominant over the other, as well as inferior to another. Each weapon can have one element only. Thereby, using a more dominant element over a weaker element grants you special advantage properties. The same can be said using a weaker element against a dominant element, where you’ll be punished instead. Using an element against the same element retains a neutral outcome, where nothing special happens.

How does this actually tie into the gameplay itself? Well, enemy officers all have their own individual weapon affinity on the battlefield, and dependent on what weapon affinity you are using yourself, you’ll be able to either take upper advantage of the battle with him/her or be at a disadvantage. It’s just that simple.

What are the advantages if you use a weapon affinity that is dominant to an enemy’s? You’ll get something called Storm Rush. This is an extremely powerful multi-hitting attack that instantly rushes the enemy, depleting a huge chunk of their health. It is triggered automatically after a blue shield icon on top of the enemy’s head is all destroyed. Depleting the shield is done by using any kind of attack against the enemy, whether it is actual hit or blocked.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you use a weapon affinity that is inferior to an enemy’s, you’ll be treated with the enemy being buffed up—as displayed with a warning sign above their head. The buff includes the inability to stagger him/her with most attacks, and they can additionally counter any of your attacks by using their own Storm Rush. However, you still do get one advantage over them, which is the switch counter. Counter one of their attacks successfully, and you’ll switch to your secondary weapon and get a very brief attack up bonus.

The weapon affinity system itself has a few pros and cons. Let’s get into the pros first.

The first pro is that it helps balance the game’s usually unbalanced difficulty somewhat. In previous games, you can easily run across entire battlefields slaying everything in your path without much effort, even on harder difficulties. With the weapon affinity system in place, it helps alleviate the feeling of being overpowered to an extent, especially when you approach a group of officers that all have dominant weapon affinities over yours. It’s not so easy to rush in and kill them all in a few swipes without getting hurt and moving onward.

The second pro is that it encourages diverse gameplay and the actual concept of weapon switching. Meaning, you are always going to have be switching weapons often to counter your own inferior affinity or take advantage of an enemy’s. In previous games, sticking to the exact same weapon is all that’s necessary to be victorious in a battle, which kind of defeats the purpose of carrying two different weapons in battle. Coupled with storm rush and switch counter, the variety of the gameplay is greatly increased in addition.

Now onto to the cons. Oh boy...

The entire system feels too much like playing a game of dice. Unless you memorized all the officers’ weapon affinities in every stage, it is pretty much a game of chance and luck per officer you encounter if you’ll be superior to him/her or be inferior. You won’t know what weapon affinities to take into battle due to all the various different weapon affinities the enemies all have, so there is very little to no strategy involved in picking the right two affinities—especially since you can longer switch weapons during battle at all.

Secondly, storm rush is unbalanced and broken. It deals way too much damage, has way too much range coverage and can be triggered repeatedly with the enemy not being able to do much of anything. If you approach an enemy and can storm rush them, they are pretty much done for. In groups it is more broken, as you’ll be needing only one enemy to storm rush and all the enemies nearby will get damaged in the storm rush as well. Rinse and repeat and the entire group of enemies are quickly dead. Well, there is the rare occasion that an enemy may switch weapon affinity, and they can do that, but I have seen them do this maybe only three times in 100 hours of gameplay. You can partially blame to the enemy AI for that, which we’ll dive into later.

Another annoyance of storm rush is rather than being manually activated, is automatic. Sometimes, you don’t want to storm rush, as it breaks and interrupts your combo. The only way to alleviate such is to switch to a different weapon affinity, but often times, you may be in a situation where you are now inferior in weapon affinity and can no longer stagger them, making combos therefore ineffective. Nice...

Speaking of combos, the weapon affinity system makes comboing in this game a huge chore. Have a super stylish, awesome, lengthy combo you wish to pull off on an officer? Your chances of actually being able to fulfill that combo is 1 in out of 10. Even regular ho-hum combos becomes terribly frustrating to execute. That’s because either your weapon affinity will be inferior and unable to stagger the officer at the get go or during a combo, or storm rush comes in automatically and breaks it.

Well, I can’t complain too much about it, as they did dealt away with the god awful infinite prevention system in Dynasty Warriors 7 Xtreme Legends and Empires.

Overall, the weapon affinity system, albeit being unique and does have some of the benefits mentioned, is mostly poorly implemented and turns the game into a game of chance and luck, that is toned down for the more casual, button mashing masses.

Another new gameplay feature is called awakening. This can be simplified as the rage token of Dynasty Warriors 5 for Dynasty Warriors 8, except it has a few enhanced features.

Awakening turns you beast mode, maybe too much beast.
First and foremost, there are no rage tokens to collect, but you instead build up an awakening meter to activate it. This is simply done by attacking the enemy or building up your chain. Once activated, you’ll be in rage mode. Your musou bar is automatically filled, your attack speed is increased, you’ll have anti-stagger properties and if you execute a musou during the awakening state, you’ll do an awakening musou. The awakening musou is sort of similar to earlier Dynasty Warriors’ and Samurai Warriors’, as you’ll do a repeated loop of an attack animation as long as you are holding the button down. However, once you racked up enough damage during the awakening musou, you’ll enter true awakening musou. This is a more powerful musou than the regular awakening musou, and any enemies you killed during it will drop a +5 EXP scroll.

It’s nice to see that the rage mode of Dynasty Warriors 5 gets a reboot; however, it does make the game a little too easy, especially since building up the awakening meter multiple times quickly is a no hassle procedure.

WEAPON SYSTEM


Dynasty Warriors 8 adopts the familiar ranked weapons that are droppable and purchasable from earlier Dynasty Warriors games. In addition to rank 1 to rank 4 weapons, there is now ranked unique weapons as well, and an ultimate treasure weapon, which is rank 9. The treasure weapon can be obtained by the traditional method of completing specific tasks in a stage on hard difficulty dependent on the character.

The weapon compatibility system makes a return in this game as well. It is now upgraded to four stars instead of just three, making it a bit more difficult to fully max out compatibility for each.

Six weapon attributes can be attached to a single weapon, and there is a lot of attributes that do a lot of different things. Elements such as flash and wind are now directly integrated to the weapon as an attribute instead of being its own separate category. Hence, obtaining a weapon with an element is increasingly more difficult and rare. Attributes can be up to level 10 each, and some attributes are level independent, so these will have no levels attached to them.

Weapon upgrading in this game is not fun nor sensible.
The weapon upgrading in this game is partially a lottery system, mostly pertaining to obtaining specific affinity and attribute types. Upgrading or strengthening a weapon can only be done in Shosei mode, after you have leveled the blacksmith with level 30 with build materials.

While you can upgrade attribute levels and amount of attributes just fine, getting the right affinity and attributes can be a mundane to virtually impossible task. This is simply because affinity and attributes are always entirely randomized, no matter what weapons you are using for the process.

Although this randomness has been greatly diminished in recent game patches, the weapon upgrading system itself is still not as accessible, logical and true to form as the Warriors Orochi series is.

AI AND DIFFICULTY


The AI in this game to bluntly put it: not very impressive. NPCs are often seen running into walls and obstacles over and over again, and at times completely fail to move to their destination points, requiring you to manually maneuver them with your own bodily self.


During battle, the enemy AI isn’t going to win any intelligence awards either. In higher difficulties, being the turtling fools they are, they will usually attempt to block all your attacks as their first move. Once in awhile, they may actually attack you with their weapons. These however usually consists of a single C1 or a small combo that they abruptly stop in the middle of it for no reason, giving you a chance to return fire on them for their foolishness.

When they are in dominant affinity mode, they’ll always counter your attacks with a storm rush. Otherwise, they’ll continuously stare at you in the face while you attack them like bloody lunatics.

Difficulty options are the usual standard of easy, normal, hard and chaos. Easy is the cakewalk option if you are a baby. Normal is somewhat tougher, but still relatively easy. Hard things gets a little panicky, as the damage dealt to you increases by a noticeable amount; however, it can still be played through without a sweat if you level your characters correctly. Chaos is at first extremely punishing, due to its significant increase in damage dealt to you compared to hard. Nevertheless, the enemy AI isn’t improved by much here, and once you leveled to 99, it suddenly becomes rather easy. Probably one of the easiest chaos mode in a Dynasty Warriors game when utilizing good stats and a good weapon. You can blame the sheer brokenness of an abundance of things for that, including unbalanced stats, storm rush, wind element and others.

MUSIC AND AUDIO


The signature rock style music returns in this game. Moreover, a mix of oriental instruments are incorporated to a variety of songs as well, something that has been vastly missed since Dynasty Warriors 4. The downside to it all is that the music in this game is definitely not as memorable or catchy as music from previous games—there is no “Welcome to China” or “Eve” caliber songs here (although “Welcome to China” is included as a remix in the soundtrack). This may be purely just my opinion, however.

The audio side is great as usual. Although you don’t get any English voice acting yet, the Japanese voice acting is very well done and the subtitles are large and easy to read.

REPLAYABILITY


As with the bulk of other Dynasty Warriors games, this game just oozes heaps of replayability compared to most other game series. The simple reason behind it is the sheer amount of characters you can play and level, huge amount of treasure weapons and rare items to unlock, branching storylines and a Shosei mode that can go on infinitely. 100+ hours is just a bare minimum to expect to play this game like a casual.

Regardless, due to the nature of being a more simplified hack and slash title, playing the game for a large amount of time without a break isn't a welcomed feeling. The game starts to feel repetitive by then, and the amount of finger smashing on the controller will wear out your fingers and hands quite swiftly.

CONCLUSION


Dynasty Warriors 8 may be one of the best Dynasty Warriors releases this console generation, marred by some unfortunate poor implementations such as the weapon affinity system, lottery styled weapon upgrading, unbalanced difficulty and lackluster enemy AI. Even then, the complete decloning of every character and excellent branching storyline makes those issues highly ignorable.

Would I recommend this game to a Dynasty Warriors fan? Of course. Would I recommend this game to a gamer who’s never even heard of Dynasty Warriors before. Of course. This, besides Dynasty Warriors 3, 5 and 7; would be the first Dynasty Warriors game I would introduce a person to, as a matter of fact.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10


Wha, 7.5/10? THAT'S TOO LOW!


14 comments:

  1. Thasnks for the great review. I can't wait to get this next tuesday. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. One of the very best review on the net for this game. Very detailed and in-depth. Thanks so much for sharing, now I really know whether I should get this game or not!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was going to buy this regardless...but you completely sold me with this review!

    ReplyDelete
  4. hey we are looking for a videogame reviewer at our website viralvoice. let us know if youre interested. www.viralvoice.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great review! I look forward to getting my copy next week even more now. This will be my 3rd Dynasty Warriors game and I look forward to playing it very much (7 was my 1st and 7 Empires my 2nd). I am very much excited for all of the new weapon styles the game will have in it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. 7.5 out of 10? HELL NO!!! Nah I'm just kidding I think that's a good score for this game due to all the problems you mentioned. TUESDAY IS ALMOST UPON US Y'ALL!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Very nice and detailed review. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  8. thanks a lot for writing this it helped me a lot in deciding whether to get the game!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I still don't think enough has changed for this game to be worth $60. I mean all they do every game is add some new characters, they even use the old weapons and never change them. I pass…

    ReplyDelete
  10. I agree a lot. Although I haven't played the game, I think the affinity system is more like challenge-overcoming for me instead of instance of chance and luck (provided that you can't change weapons other than the 2 you're allowed to the battlefield).

    Very good review. Go to KOEI Warriors foum and spread this.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I think it's a good game, but I think like any other installment of the game, I'll wait for Xtreme Legends.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I was expecting an 8/10 for this game but 7.5/10 is pretty close. I do agree that this game is around 7-8/10(Good;Great).

    ReplyDelete
  13. Your review is better than the other reviews online. I usually come across the normal "repetitive gameplay" rant accompanied by a 5/10. But those "reviewers" (haters IMO) are bashing too much on the series as a whole instead of the individual installment. With your thorough break down of the modes, gameplay and changes added, I believe I've found a fair and honest review of this game. And no, Ma Chao. 7.5 is reasonable. If I were reviewing this I'd give it a score in a range of 7.5-8.

    All in all, great review. Keep doing what you do best. :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. darkcrystalsniperJuly 22, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    The best Dynasty Warriors 8 review on the internet! Very in depth and good explanation of everything.

    ReplyDelete