History is more interesting with button-mashing.
According to my internal information collecting, this is the 293rd game released between the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors franchises (could be less). With so many named characters, “historical” conflicts (either based in history or a loosely adapted from), and playable warriors, the game that wants to write both a Japanese and Chinese version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms is, in actuality, little more than alternating between a jump and attack button.
The game's story of a war between kingdoms is surprisingly lifeless, as are the characters telling the story. Story segments are told through awkward, repeating movements of characters standing near one another, and while it’s entirely voice-acted, it’s simply so boring that after about two hours of play interspersed with these wooden puppets, I found myself tuning completely out. With so many different characters, some long and difficult to remember names, and shifting alliances, it’s hard to keep track of even what my own character is up to.
But hey, at least there’s conflict, and that’s when things pick up. Because this is the 741st game of the franchise (could be less), you know what to expect: thousands of faceless, sometimes-aggressive and sometimes-cowardly packs of enemies running at you at full speed to rip you apart. Only, unless they’re in their own territory, they’ll do nearly no damage and won’t bother to attack no matter how outnumbered you get. And with three attack buttons, a jump button, and a temporary elemental infusion button, you'll have no problems carving through baddies like the battle-butter they are. When they’re in their own territory though, they can surround and tear you apart very, very easily, even on the Normal setting.
Throughout each stage is a number of missions to complete, but thankfully not every mission needs to be completed to progress through the story. A few will end the stage outright, like a specific character’s death, but by and large they’re basic “beat this guy” or “defeat these people” challenges. Once the core challenges are complete the round ends, and to the victor go the spoils! And there can be as many as four victors, since you can find yourself with as many as four characters to control across the extensive maps. Thankfully they all genuinely feel like different characters, as none are exactly alike. The bad part is, though you can switch on the fly, you never feel particularly invested in more than your character of choice.
And that is because the allies change for every battle, where you’ll find yourself with a new set of allies to command and spread out with. You can complete missions only running around with the one character and slaughtering whomever’s in the way between waypoints, so changing isn’t even a necessary tactic more often than not. And when you see your stats at the end of a stage, win or lose, it’s not common to see that your own character can be 30 levels above anyone else’s, so when you’re able to upgrade equipment immediately following the level, why would you invest in someone who’s bound to be gone after a single battle anyway? Still, if taken advantage of, the option does allow for some diversity in the gameplay, trying to master a new, random character and slay the glut of Stormtrooper-like clones in new and flashy ways. And that’s not nothing.
On the technical front, there’s really little to talk about. The game looks adequate, and there’s an impressive number of characters on screen moving around at once. Music is forgettable, as in “immediately after turning it off I don’t remember any of it” forgettable. There is a system of upgrading your armor and weaponry, but in practice I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between anything I equipped or updated, so while I tried to equip the “best” equipment I could, there wasn’t a tangible difference. It’s all just par for the course, a phoned-in title that only focuses on what it’s known for doing well: slaughtering thousands upon thousands of faceless opponents.
But really, if you’ve played any of the 1,648 previous Samurai/Dynasty Warriors games before (coud be less), none of this will be news to you. I’m more than a little certain that people keep buying these because they need a mostly-mindless button-masher whenever they buy a new console, so they just pick up whichever’s on the shelf. I know they all have a story built in, but it’s like following individuals in War & Peace through puppets that all sound like each other. This isn’t Game of Thrones where you’ll be into waiting for King Joffrey to meet his end, or the kiss of death from Michael Corleone to Fredo in The Godfather. No, these are a flood of names without noteworthy characteristics beyond a different set of armor and a longer life bar.
Bottom-line is, if you’ve been playing games for any length of time, you’ve likely played a game in this series (there are roughly 3,000 of them after all… could be fewer), and you know what to expect. What it may lack in honest-to-goodness personality, it almost makes up for in button-mashing fun, and the satisfaction of that little KO number reaching three or four digits. Seems like a lopsided battle to me.