The emperor’s new clothes don’t fit.
When it comes to invention, the Chinese have a wildly impressive trophy case. They’re responsible for paper (remember that?), fireworks, spaghetti, kites, a wall that’s visible from space and some of the finest martial artists the world has ever seen. Sweet.
Speaking of which, ancient China was apparently chock full of kung-fu madmen, at least according to Koei’s Dynasty Warriors for the PSP. Originally released back in 1997 for the original Playstation as a fighting game, the Dynasty Warriors franchise evolved into an action game where players could take on the role of an ancient Chinese warrior in a battle against legions of enemies. Almost a decade later, evolution has struck again and Dynasty Warriors has shed some weight to fit on Sony’s new portable system. The result tries to mimic its console brothers, but a lot has been lost in translation.
On the surface, the game most resembles Dynasty Warriors 3 with its huge assortment of playable characters and nonstop, sword-swinging action. It won’t take long for vets to notice the differences, though. Rather than set the stage with the massive battles that were seen on the console versions, Dynasty Warriors for the PSP breaks things down into bite-sized pieces. The battleground is now a maze-like grid of connected squares; your goal is to occupy the enemy’s main base while defending your own. This setup looks fine on some of that Chinese paper, but the pacing throws the flow of the game off big time.
Some squares are occupied by simple patrols, which you can annihilate in a matter of seconds, while others are occupied by larger armies that take much longer to dismantle. You also have to maintain your supply line. When a battle begins, you’re given a few supply depots, which determine the amount of time you have to achieve victory. Capture another depot and you’ll be awarded more time. Conversely, losing a depot will have the opposite effect.
The whole idea of supply lines is an interesting twist, but it’s supremely annoying when you’re on the verge of taking an enemy supply depot or base and time runs out in the middle of the fight. Enemy forces seem to appear near your supply depots no matter how much you wipe them out. It’s all too easy for you to cut down everyone in your path and still be unsuccessful. Dynasty Warriors for the PSP is less about action and conquest than it is about keeping the weeds at bay.
For the most part, the core gameplay remains unchanged. You run around on foot, horseback or elephant-back and swing your weapon (i.e. button mash) with the occasional super Musou attack every now and then. The enemies are precisely as stupid as ever, using numbers rather than strategy to beat you to a pulp. This is not a subtle game.
One change for the better is the new ability to execute special powers based on your allied captains. At the start of each battle, you’ll select a number of captains to accompany you into the fray. Each has his own individual stats and characteristics as well as a few abilities, such as Recovery (restores life), Strike (increases attack) and Rally (increases fighting spirit), that come in handy should the situation turn ugly. The system adds depth, something even the console versions could have used.
Other changes aren’t quite as positive, particularly if you’ve played any of the other Dynasty Warriors games. The treasures and items that were previously found on the battlefield have been eliminated, taking away the ability to outfit your character with a variety of cool special weapons. Character development has also been cut down to pint-size. Your character will still gain experience and rank as the battle progresses, but as soon as the level is over you’ll be reset back to square one. It’s a strange, jarring gameplay tweak, breaking down the evolution of the character and removing a key element of the game.
To add insult to injury, many of the problems that marred the console versions are back, and in some cases they’re even worse. Camera issues have routinely plagued the series, but now the camera is almost impossible to deal with. Roughly 75% of the time you’re fighting off-screen enemies, and a ‘center camera’ button is nowhere to be found. This makes eliminating tough commanders even more challenging since you’ll often lose sight of them until they start whacking you again. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe how bad things can get.
Graphical pop-up is also more pronounced; you’ll have to get used to enemies appearing right before your eyes. It’s somewhat understandable for the hardware to have a tough time keeping up with, say, fifty or so soldiers fighting individually, but when you’ve got an enemy commander dropping in out of the heavens, you wonder if it’s really the hardware or just shoddy porting. And though some will overlook such pop-up problems, the frequent framerate slowdown is almost inexcusable.
Artistically, it is a small consolation to note that Dynasty Warriors retains the look and sound of the console versions. The animations and character models are pretty solid and the clashing of weapons sounds appropriate. If it weren’t for the technical issues, the delivery would be fine.
Well, fine except for the fact that the multiplayer game has been entirely eliminated. With the loss of so many other key features, the removal of the multiplayer comes as little surprise. It also may be a good thing considering all the performance issues.
Given its storied console history, Dynasty Warriors for the PSP is quite a disappointment. What was once an up-tempo action romp has turned into a test of patience. Camera and optimization troubles coupled with the loss of some cool features bring this once-proud warrior to its knees.