Confucius say, “Why you kill us?”
My ancestors must hate me. In Dynasty Warriors 6 alone, I have slaughtered thousands upon thousands of Chinese people. I should be ashamed. Who will lion-dance? Hand out money in red envelopes? Cook dim sum? Lo mein? Egg rolls? Teach kung fu? Do well in math? Do the laundry? (…That was so wrong.)
[image1]But I’m not really Chinese; I’m American with a Chinese heritage. What I like to call “American-unAsian”. Nothing against Asians or Asian culture, of course. I do like my mom’s and dad’s authentic cooking, Confucian principles, martial arts, and well, video games. I was just brought up in upstate New York in a suburban neighborhood embroiled in the smells of Super Bowl barbecues and McDonald’s Egg McMuffins.
Then again, Dynasty Warriors 6 made me kill those people. I swear. It’s not all that surprising, really, being that is Dynasty Warriors. You pick a hero from the Three Dynasties era in Chinese history. You run around a ravaged battlefield destroying enemy camps and killing commanding officers and stick-wielding infantry, peasants-never-meant-to-be-soldiers whose usual defense is to circle you, stand there, and let themselves be killed like human ants. You beat them around until they cry, scream, beg, and more or less accept your dominance, as they tumble onto the ground and fade into invisible land – and then you beat their friends.
Yep, that pretty much sums up the game (*cough*, the series): an epic, historic, manically glorified Chinese-friend beater. But as brutal as that might sound, Koei has refined it and delivered the best Dynasty Warriors title yet. Didn’t see that coming, did ‘ya?
Evolving over the last decade, the series has consistently combined hack-and-slash with some light RPG elements – gaining experience points, leveling up, equipping weapons, and whatever else could be tossed in as a shrug-your-shoulders update. If there was ever a case against iterative franchises, this would be Exhibits A through D.
This time around, several commendable tweaks have finally made combat more complex than swatting soldiers like flies. Continuously landing hits on your many foes builds your character’s Renbu gauge, similar to a special bar in a 2D fighter. Filling it earns you a higher Renbu level, which nets you extra standard moves and a wider, more powerful standard attack. The gauge drains if you’re just standing around, so it’s a strong incentive to get into the thick of battle as quickly as possible; that is, if you needed an incentive in the first place.
[image2]There are still long stretches of time when you’re just hiking on some hiking trail in your hiking shoes, trying to get to the next red dot on your map, while your Renbu bar bleeds away. One way to counteract this is to ride a warhorse and develop it with the Renbu Geil skill, which prevents the bleeding from happening, but warhorses are largely unnecessary. You can run – yes, run – just about as fast as a horse, and your mounted movelist is severely limited compared to your arsenal of martial art techniques on foot.
Standing, you are a one-man wrecking crew that can shred most anyone who mistakenly stands too close. Along with your standard combinations, power attacks which break an opponent’s guard, and a crowd-clearing musuo attack, you can grapple, guard, parry, jump, and activate a special attack by using tomes found among the remains of your enemies. If there’s a scuffle at the base of a mountain, you can even jump over a ledge, grip onto the side of the cliff, and slide your way down into the fray. That being said, your opponents won’t be much of a problem, unless you ramp the difficulty level to its highest setting or you’re facing the almost indomitable Lu Bu. In other cases, you should expect to rack up at least four hundred kills, if not twice that, in every stage.
Still, nothing here changes how the franchise has played since its inception; it still feels like the first Dynasty Warrriors with some fluff glued on. Characters now have unique skill trees and skill points which they can spend every time they level up, but none of these abilities really have as much impact as the regular attribute boosts gained after each level up. Every stage has optional targets, which earn you bonus experience points if they’re completed, but all of them can be compensated for by simply playing a few more battles in Free Mode. Acquiring a special item for achieving every target in a stage would have given them more significance. Frankly, the integration of the new features isn’t deep enough.
In fact, almost every feature lacks importance. Morale, as it has in the past, supposedly has an effect on the power of your allies and troops, but how much stronger they become is largely underplayed. Instead, the morale bar just turns into an indicator of what’s happening in the story: “Oh, no, your troops are surprised by enemy boats. Their morale has suffered!” If it’s supposed to be important and it “effects” whether you win the battle – the only goal that matters – then why not be explicit on just what the effect is? The same goes for weapons labeled “strength” or “speed” instead of “standard”, weapons embued with “fire”, “ice”, or “lightning”, and the strength and range bonus for an increase in Renbu rank. Without a discrete and substantial percentage like “+25% attack”, these bonuses and penalties all seem to float in a space that’s so small that you can’t tell how relatively significant they are – because they probably aren’t.
But the worst offense is that a lot hasn’t changed. Though the graphics definitely appear next-gen – smoother and sharper character models and animations – opposing forces sometimes suddenly pop in and out. Capture an enemy base and enemy infantry begin to flee and *poof* disappear. In addition to awful voice acting, the soundtrack is still electronic guitar riffs that have no relevance to ancient China, which is made only more perplexing since the track for the end-battle sequence features a flute melody authentic to the time.
[image3]Above all, the absence of online play is inexcusable. In fact, Xbox Live functionality might have revolutionized the series. Imagine the possibilities: tag-team match-ups, online co-op play, leaderboards, and online rankings. But instead, only local co-op play is available, in both the basic story Musuo Mode and Free Mode. And If just one player dies, the game ends – it’s silly not having some system to revive your partner. And no amount of rehashed mini-games and speed trials in Challenge Mode can make up for that.
At this point, I probably sound sarcastic saying that Dynasty Warriors 6 is the best in the series so far, but believe it or not, I’m actually a fan of the franchise. I’m among the few who can tolerate the mindless gruntwork of butchering a slew of meatheads. Digitized Chinese people, battle droids, mutant soldiers, zombies, aliens – destroying multitudes of any sort of grunt is usually therapeutic and fun, but here the monotony sets in far too soon.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re Chinese, American, both, or neither. Even with the enhancements and tweaks, Dynasty Warriors 6 is still the same old fried rice – re-heated, re-seasoned, and re-served once more.