Dynasty Warriors 4
Dynasty Warrior series is under constant improvement as one iteration
after the next is released, adding a little more to the experience.
This fourth installment really is a cut above past games in the
series, improving greatly over past titles in the line.
It looks better, it plays better, and brings a lot more to the
table than any previous Dynasty Warrior.
Itís a very worthwhile title for hardcore fans and those
unfamiliar with the series, but curious to give it a try.
Taking place in the second and third century, Dynasty Warriors follows the turmoil of ancient China in the time of the waning years of the Han Dynasty, as described in the historical text of the era, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Like many of Koeiís other titles based on this time, Dynasty Warriors 4 sticks to a basic framework that is true to the history of the time, but in this case goes for some mystical overtones with its implementations of magic. Players will get to choose from one of the major kingdoms of the time and follow their paths of military glory, choosing between the kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu as they try to take their place in Chinese history.
This rise to power comes through several missions riddled with intense hack and slash action, taking on horde upon horde of enemy troops. Players will regularly find themselves swarmed by a dozen or so soldiers at a time as they make their way through the hills, forts, and valleys of the battlefield. Surprisingly, even with so many troops coming after you at once, theyíre actually quite bright. In past games in the series they would run predictable patterns, making them relatively easy to dispose of, but now they react more to your behavior upon engaging your character. Theyíll charge you when you near them and high tail it out of there if youíre mopping the floor with them. If you stand face to face with these soldiers they wonít necessarily come in swinging right away, instead waiting to see what you will do. If youíre unloading on one or two enemies in front of you, there could very well be a couple more circling behind you, more than happy to attack your undefended blind spot.
Enemy commanders are doubly intelligent, being more adept at blocking vicious combos, then sneaking in with a few swipes of their own before you have time to get your guard up. Better still is the inclusion of duels in Dynasty Warriors 4, as commanders can call each other out in the battlefield and fight face to face without being interrupted by their respective units. Success and failure in these duels and whether or not they are accepted has a direct affect on the morale of the commanderís forces. These fights are no
cakewalk either, proving far more difficult than when you fight them on the battlefield with all of the other soldiers present. The enemy commander is a lot keener on blocking, and swooping in for large combo attacks that can be quite devastating if you let your guard down. Nonetheless, it is a very nice feature to have if you think you can take one of these guys down and donít want to be interrupted by some foot soldier that gets in a lucky shot resulting in your losing your rhythm. Either way, defeating enemy commanders is immensely important as it is the only way to gain weapon experience points so that it can gain in levels, and as a result become more powerful.
The missions themselves are a lot more than just a twenty-minute mindless hack and slash session. There are often a number of objectives that must be met in order to make the current campaign a success, whether it be pacifying a specific commander, destroying something that may be impeding your path, or destroying a structure to gain the upper hand, youíll be doing far more than slashing through a swath of enemies the whole time.
Even the combat itself involves a decent amount of strategy, not only for the aforementioned intelligence of the enemy soldiers, but also for knowing what moves to use under the right circumstances. Characters start off with being able to do simple four hit combos, but if they implement their charge attacks (these are enhanced attacks, not attacks that involve a running start to charge an enemy unit) they can unleash huge combinations which vary depending on when they hit the triangle button to start the charge. You can do vicious crosscutting attacks, mowing down huge numbers of troops at a time, or quickly switch into a wide powerful swipe, knocking nearby enemies back so you can have some breathing space, and if you are fighting a commander while surrounded by enemy infantry you can launch him into the air, jump up, take a few more swipes, then slam him right back into the ground to inflict massive damage without the enemy soldiers getting any free shots in. Better still, the charge attacks allow for very long strings of combos and when you use them successfully on an enemy commander you are rewarded with some additional experience points for your weapon. It becomes very important early on to know when to use regular and charge attacks to best annihilate the enemy. But there is also the Musou Attack that must be considered. As you strike enemies your Musou meter slowly fills, and once it is full you can let loose a monstrous attack onto enemies, swinging your weapon wildly, inflicting massive damage on anyone unfortunate enough not to get their guard up in time. If youíre fighting a dozen or so enemies at once, this is a hugely helpful attack, going into the fray with normal and charge attacks to soften them up, consequently filling your Musou meter, then finishing them up with the powerful attack.
of this combat also helps to power-up your character and his bodyguards
as the game progresses. As
you wipe out regular soldiers you rack up points that will increase your
rank, which starts at 16 and works its way down to 1 and eventually max.
Sadly the ranks are only numeric now, without any titles to go along
with them this time out. As this rank improves your
character begins to get more costumes to wear into battle, but more
importantly gains more slots to carry more items that will improve his
fighting abilities. The
items are usually dropped by enemy commanders, but can sometimes be
found in boxes or vases that can be smashed on the different levels. They
can do everything from improving attack and defense power, to improving
your horse riding abilities, or even adding magical attacks to your
weapons. But what makes
them even more enticing to try and find is that they can be of multiple
levels. You donít just
find a suit of armor or an amulet and thatís it; they can be a level 2
or level 3 item, then maybe somewhere down the road youíll find one
that is level 9 and thusly much more powerful.
Thankfully the computer automatically discards the weaker of the
two items when you find an item you already have, helping to prevent
inventory clutter or accidentally discarding the wrong item.
But while these sorts of items are certainly handy, the most important that can be found are those that improve your characterís stats. When defeating a commander, if they donít drop an item, they will drop a sword or shield icon. Walk over these and your characterís attack or defense stat will increase permanently. These icons can range from improving that stat by as little as +1 to as high as +8, so racking them up becomes important if you want any hope of success in the latter levels of the game where enemies can really inflict some damage. There is also Dim Sum and Fairy Wine that can be found in the game. The Dim Sum will tack on additional hit points to your character while the wine increases their Musuo meterís maximum. There is a lot of tweaking that can be done to characters as they proceed through the game.
Even better is that their bodyguards improve over time as they gain combat experience as well. Youíll start off with a couple of lowly privates who canít use too many weapons, and by the time they are maxed out they will be Elite Guards with a number of weapon skills. Interestingly the weapons they use in combat dictate how their stats improve upon leveling up. Swords may yield more attack power, while pikes improve defense when they hit a new level, so players need to keep observant of what weapons do what to tailor their bodyguards how they like.
There is much more than just a story mode in Dynasty Warriors 4, giving players plenty of other avenues to enjoy. Easily the most important of the other modes is Free Mode, which allows players to go through levels theyíve unlocked as much as they like. This allows them to power up their characters and bodyguards to their heartís content and to track down additional items. Thereís also a challenge mode that is good for honing skills, getting used to using different sorts of attacks under different sorts of circumstances. An Edit Mode is also present that allows players to make their own commanders and bodyguards, resulting in a degree of tailoring that can be done. Their stats are random though to prevent too much tweaking on the playersí part, so as not to have a horribly imbalanced play experience. And of course thereís the two player mode as well which has been improved significantly in the visuals department so that players donít have to deal with the crippling slowdown that the last Dynasty Warriors game suffered from.
All together the visuals are better than Dynasty Warriors 3, even in single player mode. Thereís a little more detail and refined, smoother animation, and the enemies can be seen in the distance better instead of mysteriously popping up out of nowhere. The environments and characters look great, with little intricacies put into their costumes and the landscape springing to life. Better still is that players wonít find themselves fighting the camera to get a decent view of who theyíre fighting, as it is easy to center and doesnít tend to wander on its own. There is still some slowdown, though, when several dozen soldiers are on screen at once. It even got to the point on a few occasions that there was significantly flickering as the PS2 chugged along trying to keep everything moving on screen. It doesnít happen too much, but can be distracting when it does.
The sound isnít going to be turning many heads however. The music is reminiscent of 80s guitar metal, and doesnít do much to add to the feel of the game. Some sort of sweeping orchestral score would be very welcome here as the guitar music feels very out of place for the era the game takes place in. Voice acting is absolutely horrendous here, as everything either sounds over emphasized, out of place, or just plain goofy when someone speaks. At least the sound effects are decent with the roar of soldiers slowly getting louder as you approach an area of heavy fighting, or the clip clop of a horse as it runs across the plains, or the requisite clanging of weapons on armor.
There are a few minor quibbles Dynasty Warriors 4 suffers from, however. First, the hotspot to get on the horse is a little too small. On several occasions I found my character simply jumping up and down instead of mounting his steed, wasting valuable time and allowing enemies to get close, forcing me to have to fight them before heading off. Some events in the missions are very time sensitive, so wasting time struggling to get on a horse can fast become very frustrating. Secondly, your bodyguards generally are pretty ineffectual until they achieve the rank of major in the game. Until then they more or less follow you around and look pretty, taking the occasional jab at an enemy. Even as majors your bodyguards are pretty hit and miss in their effectiveness. They donít really get much done until they are elite, at which point theyíre more than happy to unleash a malicious fury on enemies in range.
The biggest question of all is whether or not itís worth checking out Dynasty Warriors 4 if youíve played through the previous installments in the series. Really, despite all of the tweaks and additions made to this game, the overall flow and gameplay is the same as the past titles in the series to hit the PS2. This fourth installment is better suited to hardcore fans of the Dynasty Warriors series and those who havenít yet played any of the games. Itís a fun titles, but those who have played the earlier iterations and had a lukewarm response to it wonít suddenly have a change of heart with this game. Nonetheless if youíre a big fan of the series youíll love part four, and if you have yet to experience one of these intense hack and slash games, this is certainly a great title to get yourself acquainted to the sub-genre with.
April 20, 2003
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