Throughout Dynasty Warriors 7, the kingdoms of Shu, Wu, and Wei are defined by their ideals. Unfortunately for China, this steadfast adherence to ideals is likely what has lead to the chaos in the disunited country for so many years. It is only through the empire of Jin that these ideals can be destroyed and a country can become whole again. Finally, Tecmo Koei has produced a game that includes the final chapter in the Three Kingdoms saga and is one of the best entries in the series.
While the story of the Three Kingdoms has been known for several centuries, I’ve always had an appreciation for Dynasty Warriors’ take on it. Heroes of the age dressed in elaborate costumes and cleaving through scores of enemy troops is likely a concept I’ll never cease to be a fan of. In the interest of brevity, however, I’m going to cut short the explanation of my love of tactical action or “musou” games. Let’s just say that I’ve played and enjoyed most of them. Aside from the raw thrill that comes from killing multiple foes with a single attack, musou games tend to offer all sorts of incentives to continue playing, such as a massive roster of characters to unlock, higher difficulties, and the ability to upgrade stats and weaponry.
The final chapter in the Three Kingdoms saga and one of the best entries in the series.
As stated before, the biggest addition in Dynasty Warriors 7 is the inclusion of the Jin Empire. While it is led by Wei mainstay Sima Yi, as the story goes he eventually deposes the emperor of Wei and in doing so sets off a chain reaction of betrayal and death until one man stands alone, declaring that Wei is no more.
The story mode has also received quite a face lift and has become more linear by adhering tightly to the original story. Unlike prior games, Cao Cao isn’t going to do the impossible like win the Battle of Chibi and then go on to defeat Zhuge Liang at the Wuzhang Plains this time. Instead, at the Battle of Chibi Cao Cao will be forced to retreat and the Wei’s campaign ends shortly after the battle of Fan Castle, when Cao Cao dies. Overall, this offers a refreshing chance of pace for the campaign, though it feels limited in some aspects.
Due to the constraints of the story, only certain characters are playable for each stage and some missions are nothing more than a footnote because they don’t have much to do with the tale being told. Still, if nothing else, it’s worth checking out the campaign modes for Jin, as it provides a satisfying finale. The stories are also very well presented - though the narrated segments can get tiring at points, especially for someone like me who has played prior games as well as read the books.
As far as outside of Jin is concerned, the Three Kingdoms have also received their fare share of new characters. These additions seem particularly woman-centric - which is never a bad thing, but I have to wonder about the appeal of Lian Shi and Bao Sanniang. I’m going to blame Tecmo for these two because they look like they got lost on the way to a new Dead or Alive game. Even with all of the unique and absurd happenings that go in the world of Dynasty Warriors, these two ladies manage to look out of place. It’s quite an accomplishment.
The bulk of the player’s game time will be spent in the Conquest Mode. Rather than have another Free Mode where players can choose any character to take on story battles, Conquest Mode essentially gives the player over a hundred different missions so that he can unlock characters, acquire new weapons and better stats, and maybe challenge himself and have a bit of fun along the way. This mode also offers battles that involve specific characters for those what-if scenarios and slightly more fleshed out storylines. Along the way there are towns that can be visited to attain new equipment, develop bonds with other officers, as well as test one's knowledge of the Three Kingdoms. This is the kind of mode where even five minutes of play will make some progress but more than likely several hours will pass before the player decides to take a break.
In Conquest Mode, the player can also join up with somebody online to battle the enemy army. This is the sort of feature that should have been included in the series once it started on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but a combination of inexperience or technical problems held Koei back. Still this feature can be best described as a baby step. There are no lobbies and once a player finishes a battle with somebody they joined with online, the both of them are separated. At least Xbox 360 owners can enable party chat to help organize what stages to play next. Furthermore, when selecting a stage somebody is requesting to play online with, there isn’t any indication of the difficulty setting or name of the player.
At one point, I joined a player who had picked one of the hardest maps on the highest difficulty. He spent the entire battle running away from the enemy army, then called me a coward when I quit. I should point out that the most unfortunate aspect of the online play, however, is that it does not feel as if both players are working in tandem. Since there is so much to keep track of in a single battle, the netcode has been developed so that it focuses on keeping track of the movements of enemy soldiers and officers rather than those of the players. What this means is, although at times it looks like the other player isn’t doing anything, he is still doing damage to the enemy army; the netcode just isn’t efficient enough to track all of his movements.
While both players can assist each other, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to double-team officers and juggle them around. Still, in the end, online play is a nice addition that certainly has room for improvement.
The combat has undergone various changes that help make this game one of the best in the series. There are thirty-six types of weapons to choose from as well as over sixty playable characters to outfit. Each character can equip two weapons that can be freely switched between, and the weapons themselves can be outfitted with various seals that upgrade stats or add new abilities. To top it all off, nearly all of these aspects can be changed in the middle of battle. The setup is part of the fun for me because, thanks to the open-ended system, I can have a delicate flower like Da Qiao wield a halberd as effectively as the mighty Lu Bu.
More importantly, getting creative with the weapon combinations can make the game very entertaining. Certain weapons have the ability to perform a dodge-cancel after nearly any attack while others deliver powerful gusts of wind with each strike. All weapons also have their own unique attacks when switched out with another weapon, providing a lot of opportunity for experimentation. As far as the officers are concerned, the main differences between them tend to be their weapon-based special attack, their musou moves, and proficiency with particular weapon-types.
On the bright side, there’s more than enough content to play around and experiment with and the harder difficulties tend to keep things challenging no matter the weapon setup and stats.
Most of Dynasty Warriors 7’s flaws can be found on the technical side. To put it bluntly, the frame rate needs serious work. Basically the frame rate tends to drop when a lot of soldiers are onscreen - which is the case about 95% of the time. It becomes difficult to dodge attacks effectively with less than half the frames, and given the choice, I’d rather have slowdown so I can at least get a better view of the carnage I wrought. Other issues, like pop-in, have been around since the series was first given life and yet they’ve made their way to this entry as well. At times I’ve seen cavalry appear seemingly out of thin air. Sure, in the chaos of battle it’s easy to lose track, but how does one miss ten horses? Another glaring oversight is that I’ve been attacked by archers who were hitting me with arrows that fly through walls. While fantastical elements are a staple of the series, I find it difficult to believe that lowly peons got their hands on such amazing arrows.
Yet even with everything that holds the game back, Dynasty Warriors 7 is an admirable effort. Although the technical complaints are likely to be the most difficult to address, there is still a strong framework for eventual titles like Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires, as well as downloadable content. But I hope the online play gets the work it desperately needs, as it’s the feature whose refinement could be one of the greatest additions made to the series.