When Dynasty Warriors NEXT was announced as a Vita launch title, gamers worldwide shared an embarrassed cringe. The series doesn’t exactly have a great reputation on handheld systems, due largely to the fact the game is about slaughtering entire garrisons of enemies in a few swings of a sword or spear. The limitations of a handheld system both in RAM and in graphics made previous mobile Dynasty Warriors games pretty lackluster. But how does the game fare on the Vita, a handheld with power that comes close to that of a console?
Dynasty Warriors is a game famous for loosely taking the real events of the generals and wars of Ancient China and translating them into a hack ‘n’ slash game. Particularly, Dynasty Warriors throws literally hundreds of bloodthirsty fighters your way in an attempt to hinder the player from becoming the greatest military mind China has ever known.
Combat is simple once you’re on the battlefield. If you’ve played any kind of hack ‘n’ slash game, then you know the controls. You’ve got your standard light, strong and magic, or musou, attacks. Depending on the mode you’re playing, you can choose from dozens of famous army generals wielding their own specialty weapon. It might take a few levels to find a fighting style that works best for you, but there are at least plenty of options to choose from.
NEXT takes the gameplay past mindless mass murder by throwing in a bit of strategy. Across each map, there are different bases that fulfill different purposes. Dispatches call in reinforcements, while supply posts provide food and weapons to your troops and increase morale. Arsenals can also be used to send out bombardiers to set bases on fire and take them over instantly. Players are tasked with taking these over by infiltrating each base and destroying all who oppose them.
Your ultimate goal is usually to take over the main enemy base or to defeat the highest ranked general on the map. The strategy part comes into play with the order in which you choose to complete these tasks. The fact is you don’t have to take over anything other than the main base in order to progress. However, if you just run for the base, you’ll have stronger enemies, and probably more of them to contend with. Conversely, if you choose to take over a few bases and THEN wrap things up, things will be easier. Take over all the other bases on the map and, chances are, you’ll only be faced with a handful of weak, hungry soldiers.
The strategy comes into play even further on the overworld map of China’s territories. Before you choose to invade a territory, you’re encouraged to pick a stratagem, or a card featuring one of the generals on your side that provides you or your army with special bonuses. These might be everything from raising the speed of your troops to upping the defense of your main base to making your army attack more aggressively. Each stratagem has an associated gold cost, which is earned by becoming victorious in battle. Chances are you’ll never have a shortage of gold in order to activate these perks, but you can only select up to four total per level.
Once you pick a stratagem, you’re prompted to select your player if it isn’t predetermined by story events, as well as up to four other generals that will accompany you to battle. Each general has their own condition and stats, so it’s important to choose wisely. You’d never send a man into battle if he’s feeling exhausted, and the same applies here.
The last step before you get started is to pick your loadout as far as weapons and items that provide buffs and perks. It gives an almost RPG feel to the game that feels really fresh considering how the rest of the experience feels.
When it comes to the territories, you could theoretically jump right to the leader of a given group of territories and take over all of them. But, as with the strategy aspects on the smaller maps, your speed and impatience will be met with a more prepared army. Not to mention that you’ll miss out on whatever small story elements the game does have.
And although you probably won’t feel horrible if you skip any of the story stuff, it really is one of the only ways to get around how repetitive the gameplay is. This is a well-known flaw which the entire Dynasty Warriors series suffers from. You’re either going to love taking down endless waves of enemies or hate it, because it’s about all you’ll be doing.
Granted, the game is broken up pretty well by a set of mini-games provided for duels, defense and horse chases. These are implemented in a subtle way using the touchscreen or the tilt functionality of the Vita. I think this is the best way to show off what’s usually called the more “gimmicky” features of the Vita, and I hope other developers will take note of how to incorporate these features without being obtrusive. I’m still not exactly sure how the duels are supposed to work, as they usually just end up with me frantically slashing along the touchscreen until the guy on the other side dies, but it’s still fun. At the very least, it’ll make you forget there are only about six different soldier character models. That, and the fact that all of the levels start to look roughly the same after you play on only a few of them.
That’s not to say the game doesn’t run well. Thankfully, NEXT has gotten around the one biggest things working against the portable Dynasty Warriors games: the looks. All of the generals are incredibly detailed and look just as good as they would if the game was on the PS3. This release also manages to get a ton of enemies on screen at the same time, without any other graphical limitations or framerate drops. It’s an impressive thing to see, and really shows off just how powerful the hardware under the Vita’s hood really is. Don’t judge the game based on any of the screenshots you see in this review, as you really need to see the game in motion to believe it.
Dynasty Warriors NEXT also comes armed with a variety of modes. Aside from the story provided in the campaign mode, conquest mode will offer the same experience with a little more freedom and an absence of story elements. Think of it more as the free play mode. Coalition mode links up to four players together over an Ad-Hoc connection to play with or against eachother. Gala mode is where you can view screenshots you’ve taken, play the mini-games or catch up on the real history that Dynasty Warriors is inspired by.
Oddly enough, there’s an edit mode for those who want to make their own Chinese general. There are a ton of options here for customizing armor and fighting technique. You can unlock more parts by going up in rank, which is done by claiming victories in any of the other modes.
I was actually surprised by how much the game truly offers. It may be because I haven’t played a Dynasty Warriors release in quite a while, but the large variety of modes mixed with the longer-than-expected campaign mode was a nice thing to see in an age where anything past a game lasting 10 hours is considered long.
Ultimately, there are only two major things to get past. You won’t find a story here worthy of any awards, although there is one present to help move things along. The repetitive gameplay will also have mixed views depending on who you ask. Where it does excel is in providing impressive visuals for a portable game, with hundreds of enemies on screen at once. That, as well as some fun and addictive gameplay that acts, if nothing else, as a great stress reliever knowing you have the ultimate power to take down entire legions with a single swing. Much like Tecmo Koei’s other Vita launch game, Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus, if you never liked the Dynasty Warriors games before, you won’t be convinced here. However, if the experience is something you’ve previously enjoyed and would love to see work well on a handheld, NEXT will provide you with the fix that can only be brought by the screams of an army as you unleash a pack of tigers on them.
This review is based on a copy of the game provided to us for review purposes.
Dynasty Warriors NEXT is an admirable effort to bring the series to handhelds with as few issues as possible, but nothing out of the ordinary aside from a few minigames will be found here.