Review: Dynasty Warriors 7

I have a bit of a special relationship with the Musou series. Dynasty Warriors 3 was one of the games that got me through my time in the service, and I’ve been a dedicated fan since. I’ve toyed with other versions of the Musou series such as Samurai Warriors and the very nice Dynasty Warriors: Gundam games, but ultimately, the main games are where it’s at.

Imagine my disappointment when I took this to be my first review at Diehard GameFAN. Looking back, the game was as bad as my writing was at the time. They not only changed the foundation of the game for the worst, they also cut out a lot of content, making the next-generation Dynasty Warriors 6 a worse overall game than DW5 was. If you spent $60 on Dynasty Warriors 6, you got robbed, pure and simple. Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires was even worse than that, combining insultingly simple gameplay goals with a complete lack of structure.

Was Koei able to make up to their long time fans and give them a main series game worth talking about?

Dynasty Warriors 7
Systems: PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Xbox 360
Developer: Omega Force
Publisher: Tecmo Koei Inc.
Release Date: March 29, 2011
MSRP: $59.99

The first thing series veterans will notice when they load up is that the options that have been standard for every Musou game for years have been changed. Gone are the free and character-based story modes of old. In their place are Story and Conquest modes. Story mode doesn’t follow one character; instead, it goes through the four kingdoms of Wu, Wei, Shu and recently added Jin as the actual story progressed, forcing the player to use the key character in the battle being fought. For example, at the Battle of Chibi on the Wu side, it starts off with the player controlling Zhou Yu, and once the fire attack starts, you switch off to Huang Gai. The game does a nice job of keeping things going in regards to the actual story of the book, and in taking fewer liberties than older games did. Due to this, not everyone has a role in the actual story of the game. Characters not attached to any of the four kingdoms, or who were inconsequential in the story – such as the Qiao sisters, or Yue Ying – do not get to participate in story mode. This also forces players to sometimes use people that they’re either not familiar with or don’t want to be familiar with; for example, Xu Zhu has two stages in story mode. However, the bad part of this is that there are a few characters that are heavily over-utilized. Sima Zhao has eight appearances in Jin’s story mode, and Xiahou Dun has almost as many on Wei’s. In fact, the vast majority of story mode appearances are sword users, due to the fact that most of the big names in each kingdom use standard swords as their number one weapon. This will get old for most people, fast. In addition to this, though the story in DW7 is closer to that of the actual book, there are still an awful lot of liberties taken, both in terms of who is used in certain stages and how characters are portrayed. A large part of Jin’s story is based around the lazy Sima Zhao learning responsibility and not being so lazy, when in reality, Sima Zhao was a tyrant who executed the emperor of Wei and whose rule forced numerous defections and rebellions. Anyone expecting a Kou Shibusawa-like experience will be left wanting more.

The way the DW7 experience is set up is to emphasize playing story modes before Conquest Mode, and in that sense, playing Wu, Wei and Shu before playing Jin. The days of bouncing around and finding things to play is over; instead, the best way I can describe how DW7 is set up is by calling it “Musou on Rails”. Koei is effectively holding the player’s hand throughout the majority of the game, and it’s a theme that occurs frequently throughout the game in all aspects. The skill tier system is a good example. While the system was brought back from DW6, it’s been heavily simplified, with only a few unlockable slots and most of them being the same across characters. Points for unlocking slots are obtainable by beating officers, and ONLY by beating officers. It’s somewhat limiting, and reduces the benefits of getting stronger. Since character advancement has gone back to being incremental (meaning, you pick up stat boosts from defeated officers), getting your character is back to being a grind, especially now that the maximum stat-up is a +2. Due to all of this, there is absolutely no benefit to killing rank-and-file soldiers outside of the satisfaction of killing a bunch of drones, as well as a few temporary stat boosters. Long-term, you’d be just as fine ignoring them and going straight for officers.

In terms of controlling the game, series veterans will feel right at home. Gone is the controversial Renbu system from DW6, and back is the tried-and-true system of up to six weak slashes can be performed with the square button, with a contextual charge attack performable via the triangle button. After the criticism that Koei received for the Renbu system, going back to what worked and not taking too many chances was the right decision, since fans of the series aren’t really looking for their wheel to be reinvented. Koei did decide to keep a couple of options that worked in other games. First is that every character can carry up to two weapons. The first weapon – designated as an “EX” weapon – is the character’s default weapon and typically the one he’s best with. The second weapon can be almost anything else, which the character wields with varying levels of competence, on a scale of one to three stars. The third star means that characters can get the most out of their weapon’s elements, and that they can jump out of attacks and jumps. In practice, the system works well, but the changes to the skill tier system hurt it at times. The system has been simplified, so that there’s only a few things to improve upon, but to master EX weapons, a third tier skill is required, which can take multiple stages. Therefore, it’s possible for characters to be better with other weapons than their EX weapons for some time, which doesn’t make any sense. Another issue is that moves are tied to weapons, and not characters. The only difference between sword users Cao Cao, Sima Zhao and Sun Quan are that they have a different EX move and different musou attacks. Everything else is cloned, and that’s going to lead to a lot of bored players, especially through story modes.

Ultimately, little of this will matter to players because unless they’re playing on Chaos difficulty, this is by far the easiest Dynasty Warriors game I’ve played. Regular enemies are even more meaningless than they have been in the past, barely even getting an attack off before being taken out, usually in one shot. Omega Force seems to have compensated for this by throwing in archers all over the place, who continually whittle your life down with arrows from all sides. Officers are easy to beat due to their predictability, though things get cheap if they get you in the air. The AI isn’t any better than it was in the PS2 games, and in fact might be worse, since they seem to default to the same exact move – specifically a C2 move that gets abused primarily by spear users – 90% of the time. The only thing changing difficulty does is make life bars longer, enemies more resilient, and your own player character easier to kill. Unlike past games, changing difficulty doesn’t make stat drops any better. In DW5, playing on hard was worth it because you could build your character up sooner, but this time around, stat drop quality is determined by the length of the combo used to kill an officer, and it’s either +1 or +2 (rarely +4) no matter what. It is actively against the interests of the player to play on a higher difficulty setting unless they enjoy cheap difficulty. What is most notable is that players are completely guided through their stages. Their next objective is shown with a big pulsating circle on the map, and deviating from that is either ill-advised (allied officers that need defending are made of cardboard), or just simply not allowed, as other enemies will show up after the fact. The days when you could determine when to handle certain officers, and how, are about over.

These issues stick out because the number one draw of Dynasty Warriors – killing lots of bad guys at once – has never felt better. They managed to stick a lot of enemies on screen at once, and there are more ways to control the crowd than there were in previous games. In addition, some of the maps are huge, and the story battles in particular are extremely large scale, so it’s very easy to ring up huge KO numbers in some stages. I wish killing enemies was worth more than a bit of satisfaction, because the act of it has never been more fun, especially with the new musou setup making musou attacks easier to store up and pull off. They also did a job of rebalancing characters, and making some more useful than they’ve been in the past. While it’s still not exactly fun to control someone like Xu Zhu or the Qiao sisters, they now have more options for controlling the crowd, and other strengths that make up for their weaknesses better than past games did.

After story mode is done, Conquest Mode is where the majority of time is going to be spent. This is basically a big grid, and as you beat one grid, the surrounding grids open up. Though the game lets you play Conquest Mode right out of the gate, playing through story mode unlocks any used characters, keeps their built-up stats and skills, and enables the player to buy new weapons. In fact, since story mode accumulates skill points for later characters to use (to keep things balanced), someone who’s used later in story mode will go into Conquest Mode with all of their skills and some of their better weapons. This leads to a bit of a balancing issue: some characters can go in and wipe up every stage, while some will require grinding to become competent, or some time to be able to buy a decent weapon. The problem with grinding is that the stages get very old, fast. Instead of the large-scale battles seen in past games and in story mode, most battles in Conquest Mode are small affairs with a specific goal, and random officers from the game thrown in. The goals are typically the same, as is the stage structure. Players will learn exactly when an ambush is coming, exactly when it’s time to “impress” another officer by taking a base, and will be able to rip through these stages with little effort, except for the – I’m not making this up – escort missions. It’s very much like what was in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2, and just like that game, expect to do the same stages over and over to build up the officers that aren’t in Story Mode. It wasn’t until very late in Conquest Mode that I finally got to play stages that were really worth playing, and those stages required a pretty buffed character to survive them even on Normal difficulty. The big reason to play Conquest Mode is for each character’s Legend Battles, which are either the biggest battles a character was involved in (I.E.: Zhang Liao getting Cao Cao out of Chibi), or a “what-if” scenario playing on that character’s history (like Sun Ce and Zhou Yu being put to a “test” by the Qiao sisters). These legend battles are required to unlock the characters that weren’t unlocked in story mode or right off the bat.

Eventually, capitol cities are unlockable, where weapons can be purchased. There’s also a blacksmith, where you can pay them a fee to build up the equipable seals on your various weapons. After every three stages, a scholar and a merchant will go around to sell other weapons, mounts, and “companions” (one-stage allies). The allies can be used to build up your “bond” with them, which allows you to use them as a sworn ally via the teahouse in a city. Sworn allies fight with you in stages that allow them, eventually maxing out your bond with them. After awhile, it becomes necessary to zoom out to the big map to see if an officer is visiting a city, just to make sure you don’t miss any conversations that can increase bond with them or make them a sworn ally, which breaks the game’s flow a bit. Furthermore, your allies, just like any officer on your side in any stage, are just flat-out useless, doing a bare minimum of damage to the point where the only doing doing *any* damage is you. The act of purchasing weapons is also a bit awkward, with the later weapons requiring the “Smithing” seal, which only a few characters have. This is a bit awkward, and an unnecessary barrier to advancing throughout the game.

(Note: Due to the ongoing PSN problems, I have been unable to adequately test the online portion of Conquest Mode. Due to this fact, I have not included it in any grading criteria. My impression of it is that they took the online functionality from Strikeforce – where it was more necessary – and implanted it into a standalone title. If you’re more social than I am, or have friends that play, this can definitely be a fun way to play the game)

The best thing Dynasty Warriors 7 has going for it is that there is a ton of replay value to be had. There are 62 playable characters, and each of them has a bunch of voice samples, weapons and skills to unlock, and unlocking everything will take hours upon hours. The big question is whether or not anyone will want to unlock everything. Hardcore DW players will surely jump at it. More casual players will trade this game in long before they get to even finishing Conquest Mode, let alone unlocking a platinum trophy.

Graphically, DW7 doesn’t come close to testing the boundaries of the next-generation hardware, but there’s a definite improvement over other Musou games. Water effects are noticeably nice, and they fit a lot of characters on the screen, though there will be times when you kill a bunch of enemies, and the rest of them just happen to pop up. The game’s frame rate is also not quite as good as past games, though there’s no noticeable slowdown when things get going, which is an improvement over past games. The presentation of the game, via cutscenes and voice-acting, is better than past editions, though still not great. The music is about what is expected of a Dynasty Warriors game: lots of heavy guitar riffs, though a few numbers within the soundtrack change things up a bit.

In the end, Dynasty Warriors 7 is an apology of sorts for the below par Dynasty Warriors 6 and the mediocre Strikeforce. However, Koei is a bit socially awkward, so not everything they wanted to say came out right. Some of the changes worked, some of them didn’t, and a frustrating number of them would have worked with a minor tweak here or there. Ultimately, it’s the same old song and dance when it comes to Musou: fans will suck it up and ask for more, while those who either don’t like or don’t care about the series will wonder what the fuss is about.

PROS

* The old-school gameplay is back, and will invigorate fans
* Wealth of replay value
* Story and production values have improved
* In-game action is as fun as ever
* New weapon system works well

CONS

* The old-school gameplay is back, and will still bore non-fans
* Freedom in how the game is played has been stifled
* Conquest Mode is a massive grind
* No real challenge to be had

FINAL SCORE: C+

Disclosure: This game was purchased by the writer, and was not sent by Tecmo Koei. At the time of the review’s completion, Story Mode was 100% completed, Conquest Mode was 74% completed, and about 50 characters were unlocked.

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Christopher Bowen

About Christopher Bowen

Christopher Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Gaming Bus. Before opening Gaming Bus in May of 2011, he was the News Editor at Diehard GameFAN, a lead reporter for DailyGamesNews, and a reviewer at Not A True Ending, also contributing to VIMM, SNESZone and Scotsmanality. Outside of the industry, he is a network engineer in Norwalk, CT and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.