It seemed like the plan for perfect conquest: one of the great destroyer games, having long ago conquered action fans but overstaying its reign of power with too many continuing skirmishes, finally takes on the handheld realm, giving roaming fighters the battle they've been praying for. A portable game system is the perfect place for the kind of unthinking button-mashing, body-smashing that Dynasty Warriors
perfects, and divorced from the television set, gamers could explore the tactical strategy of this epic war game at their leisure. Both elements, worn out and losing its compulsion with every sequel, spin-off and add-on pack, could be refreshed on this new platform. Best of all, the PSP game would introduce new concepts and gameplay that would drastically diverge this edition from its past.
Dynasty Warriors on PSP, unfortunately, is a forced treaty in a battle that could not be won in the time had. Koei hurried this PSP game out for the Japanese launch in December, and gave little more resource to improving the North American edition. Its roughly-planned attack on PSP gamers is badly bloodied by strikes that the PS2 game suffered, and its new additions fail to take command over the offensive. The game is still enjoyable, but mostly because the PS2 game was so rousing that this handheld edition takes more glory for itself than it is due.
Wounds from the PlayStation 2 game become gashes on the rushed-out PSP version. Fog was once a hindrance, but here it is a wall. Levels are divided up into small chunks for easier play-and-go portability, but even these chunks are so bogged down in pea soup that no area feels real. Camera control on PlayStation 2 was an unruly partner, but with the PSP game not having accurate and easy access to view controls, the camera becomes your adversary. This PSP edition could have backed up and away from the battles to give some peripheral view (and with the visual detail cut down such as it is, the picture could afford to lose some of the close-up intensity.)
This is a game that deserved a lot more time to have been done right. Soldiers blink in and out of existence -- the fog eats some, others are just clipped away. The English-language menu leaves so much more to the manual than a gamer on the go needs (and is bafflingly difficult to simply click through, with pop-up description windows that don't lead back to a choice and a pointlessly hidden button combo for quitting out to the main menu.) There are no cinematics or voice-over (not even in-game story sequences.) Slowdown occasionally catches the action in a crawl. There are options to play Musuo Mode and Free Mode, but since Free Mode doesn't allow more traditional DW free-roaming, there's really only one Mode and a Stage Select feature.
The game's chief addition to the formula in the PSP game is called the Battlefield Area System -- given more time and weight, it could have been a powerful new way to play this series. By dividing up the game map into smaller stages, and by having enemy officers make maneuvers across the map while you are in combat, your decisions on where to attack next and how much time you spend earning kills and increasing your fighting powers all affect how the battle plays out. But consequences and successes of those decisions don't have nearly enough impact. All you have power over is your own warrior, and much of the battle will play on without you while you're busy cracking skulls. You can't exit an area quickly if there's something you need to respond to, but enemy generals can leap onto your space in the middle of a battle and wail on you before you can gather the forces and power-ups to take them on. You still have just one lifebar , so unless troop morale is so low that your allies flee the battlefield (which does happen, but too rarely -- usually when we were close to losing a space, we were also about to be beaten to death by a bloodthirsty general), there is not much strategy adjustment to learn from a defeat that destroys you. It's a herky-jerky experience, as mini-battles are won and lost before you're done fighting them. In the end, it comes off as a more restrictive version of standard Dynasty Warriors than it does a more strategic add-on -- you can't go wherever you want, and you can't reap many benefits from brilliant decisions.
More commendable is its Second in Command system. Your Officers from previous Dynasty Warriors now serve a purpose, acting as bodyguards by your side and also enabling special abilities in your own warrior and your squad. One Officer may give you a horse every time you enter a battlefield, another might give you ice arrows or a flaming Musuo attack. Each Officer is ranked for the battle abilities that he will give you, as well as the types of units (bombadiers, archers, soldiers) that they bring with them. You can equip only a certain number of total Officers, and each is also rated against a cap -- a favorite special ability may cost a lot, so you will have to decide between having four good Officers or one weak one and one with devastating powers to make use of. An army of 200 soldiers (including a few hidden ones from Koei's Samurai Warriors) are enlisted to collect and trade between other PSPs, and while the system replaces some of the cool item collecting of other editions, it also simplifies things while still giving players lots of options over how to deploy their incredible collection of Officers.
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