Omega Force/Koei Tecmo’s Warriors franchise is probably one that most gamers out there have heard of, but not one that many in the West have actually played. To be honest I’ve had precious little experience with the 40-odd titles in the franchise, so I thought what better place to jump in than the ninth numbered entry in the Dynasty Warriors series. Just as a slight disclaimer: this review is based purely on my impressions of the game as a newcomer to the series. For those that believe this delegitimises by opinion it’s best to look away now, especially if you like Dynasty Warriors, because this cat…does not.
“I’m Cao Cao, and this is my story. You might want to get some snacks, this will take a while”
Fitting firmly in the genre of hack ‘n’ slash, Dynasty Warriors 9 primarily concerns itself with the exploits of the warrior Cao Cao in second century Japan during the Han Dynasty (Warriors). Starting out as an officer in the Emperor’s army tasked with quelling the Yellow Turban Rebellion (actual name), Cao Cao’s considerable battle prowess and Fu Manchu moustache soon sees him rise to power in the land. Far beyond being the Emperor’s lap dog, Cao Cao becomes a powerful political influencer, seeing it as his duty to heal the fractured land whose peace is being damaged by corruption and civil unrest.
For all its seriousness, DW9’s story plays out a lot like a Japanese soap opera, and is…impossible to follow. There are many, many characters in DW9, with each of their names more bizarre and weirdly pronounced purely based on its English spelling than the last. While this is obviously a weakness of my Anglophone ears and no fault on the part of the developers, characters are introduced with such frequency and so haphazardly that I quickly became lost in a quagmire of Xiaoxiaos and Lu Bus. For anyone brave enough to try and follow the narrative, it is made much more enjoyable by the terribly cheesy English dubovers, which one can only hope was intentional on the part of the developers.
While the narrative is complex (I think), the gameplay is the very antithesis of that. DW9 is the epitome of a mindless hack ‘n’ slash, which wouldn’t necessarily have to be a negative as that sort of thing can often be enjoyable, but despite the fact the developers have obviously had a few cracks at the genre, it is still incredibly mediocre in terms of gameplay. You have your basic light and heavy attacks, as well as Trigger attacks which allow you to launch foes in the air, knock them down or stun them. By smacking enemies, or getting smacked by them, you can also power up a Musou gauge (fun fact: Musou is Japanese for ‘warrior’) which allows you to unleash a super attack. At first enjoyed the combat, as it’s generally quite flashy (even though the framerate is far too low for this sort of action) and you are often belting the pelt of scores of enemies at once, but there’s only so long this sort of thing can be sustained before the repetitiveness becomes mind numbing to the point that if a doctor walked in while you were playing they might accidentally pronounce you legally dead.
Perhaps this repetition wouldn’t be a problem if the game wasn’t both incredibly easy, and way longer than it has any right to be, but alas, ‘tis not the case. Even on the hardest difficulty the game is an utter pushover, and the strategy that it tries to encourage you to use is completely and utterly pointless considering the lack of challenge it poses. There is also very little in the way of mission variety, with it usually boiling down to going to various locations to eliminate powerful enemy officers (although occasionally you will also have to perform other heroic tasks such as finding a lost cat); you’ll fight them in bland castles, you’ll fight them in even blander paddocks,
Do you know Dian Wei?
You can’t say Anti-Dong and expect me not to at least snicker
you’ll fight them until your eyes roll back in your head and you wonder why there are so damn many of them. Also, powerful is a fairly strong descriptor for these enemy officers, as even though their health bars can be long, 99% of them are easily trapped in an endless juggle combo which makes them easier to kill than a romantic date with a long and smelly fart. The game’s characters are forever rabbiting on about strategy, but it’s kind of at odds with the fact that every single mission can more or less be completed within a manner of minutes by rushing to the boss and putting them down like a dog that bit one too many babies.
The game’s characters are forever rabbiting on about strategy, but it’s kind of at odds with the fact that every single mission can more or less be completed within a manner of minutes by rushing to the boss and putting them down like a dog that bit one too many babies.
DW9 has an open-world structure, so if you’re tired of knocking out enemy officers by the dozen, you can gallivant about the countryside collecting herbs and other crafting materials, hunting, fishing or climbing Ubisoft-inspired watchtowers to reveal points of interest (which in this case is a turn of phrase as no point in DW9’s world is actually interesting). But although the map is awash with things to collect and do, there is zero compelling reason to do so. Outside of the need to craft the occasional healing potion or a better weapon, simply completing missions will give you all the items, experience and gold you could ever need. More than you need in fact, as if you complete all the missions and sub-missions than before long you will become crazy overpowered.
An arrow to the knee hey…?
The length of DW9 is something that is astounding given how shallow its gameplay aspects are. I spent over 30 hours playing as Cao Cao alone, but there are over 80 playable characters (including some scantily clad waifus that will make people happy and/or sad) that you can play through the thirteen chapters with, as well as multiple endings. If all you wanted to do was play DW9 for the rest of your gaming life, then you’re in luck; there is a mind-boggling amount of content in this title, even if there is close to zero compulsion to want to see it all.
Even if DW9’s entire design is flawed, it does absolutely nail its soundtrack, which is an absolute ripper. Filled with glorious high-energy power metal riffage featuring more pinched harmonics than every Pantera song put together, I had these tunes stuck in my head for days. It bordered on being dangerous, as I work in a chemistry laboratory and it’s hard to focus on measuring out sulfuric acid when you’ve got unrelentingly epic guitar licks knocking around your head.
I know the feeling
It’s got an oddball sort of charm, but DW9’s gameplay formula and general execution failed to pull me in; long, repetitive, mindless, shallow, and repetitive, DW9 is a case of a title that is either hopelessly lost in translation, or appeals to a very distinct niche of gamers that I can’t relate to. I will say that although I’m glad my time with DW9 is over, I will miss the way Cao Cao cheesily proclaims, “Nothing will stop me from fulfilling my ambition” after every single mission. Kind of.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher