Press X, Press X, Press X, Press Y, Press X. Ask someone who has only watched or played a few minutes of any Musou game (Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi) and that’s what they’ll tell you they are all about. In fact, most Warriors demos do more to scare away a potential new audience than to attract one because they typically only feature the combat. Dig a little bit deeper and you’ll find a game filled with tactical decisions, battlefield control and, yeah, a lot of button mashing.
In advance of playing Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3, I did a bit of research on the extensive Gundam anime franchise and watched a few primer videos on YouTube. Despite that, I was lost from the opening credits through the end of my playtime with the game. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy the game if you don’t know Gundam, but be aware that the game was made for people who have an intimate understanding of the different series, pilots and supporting characters. From what I can tell, this game, like the others in the Gundam branch of the Dynasty Warriors series, brings together characters from different timelines.
When you start up the game, you are treated to a lengthy scene of various Gundams and ships battling in space. Various characters contribute voice-over lines to the scene, but if you aren’t familiar with the English voice actors it won’t help you understand where they are coming from. You can change the voiced language to Japanese, which may help those English-speaking fans that watch their anime subtitled (according to most anime fans, that’s the only way to watch it, by the way).
Once in the game, you are immediately dropped into a tutorial that covers the different battlefield features in-depth. Combat is not covered at all in the tutorial, but X is melee attack, Y is ranged attack, A is boost/dash, RB is jump/hover and B releases a special attack that is subject to a cooldown timer. Pressing A or Y unleashes a variety of combos after different numbers of X presses.
The instructional level of the game does a fantastic job of introducing you to the meta game, though. There are different features for some of the larger fields on the map. These include catapults that can instantly transport you across the map, areas that increase your army’s effectiveness, areas that regenerate the mission bar and armor and the all-important HQ areas. Additionally, there are areas that, when captured, give you access to your battle partner. Once the partner meter is full, you can call your ally into battle with the right trigger, tipping the odds in your favor.
Capturing sections of the battlefield is key to completing each mission. As you take more fields, your opponent’s mission meter decreases. Once it dips below 50%, you can safely make a play for their HQ. While either of you has some of your bar filled, key Gundam pilots, including the player, rejoin the battle post-defeat. The loss of a named pilot, though, delivers a significant blow to the mission meter and will release your grip on the area in which you perished. Once the enemy’s mission bar is depleted, the boss fight begins. Mid-battle, there are often fully animated cutscenes filling in a bit of the relationship between the two characters fighting.
Out of combat, you’ll find customization options that are simply staggering. Not only can you mix and match pilots and Gundams (once you earn and purchase the licenses), but you can also collect Gundam plans on the battlefield that give you up to four different units of the same model to tweak in different ways. You’ll earn G Credits for fighting that can be used to purchase pilot skills, Gundam weapons and more. With over 50 pilots, a ton of Gundam models, and a variety of operators to vary the dialog, this game is a Gundam fan’s dream come true.
While the story in DW Gundam 3 is an entirely new creation, there are historical missions that allow players to relive classic battles, collection missions to find new Gundam plans, memorial missions to obtain rare plans and skills, difficult challenge missions, friendship missions to add to your pilot roster, relation missions to boost existing friendships, special missions to earn more G Credits and even room for DLC missions. Taking pilots into battle as partners also improves friendship to a maximum level of 5. Increased friendship leads to additional partner pilots, more powerful partners and It isn’t difficult to level up friendship, but with the sheer number of characters, it will take a while to nab the achievement for doing just that. In fact, this game is extremely stingy with achievements in general. If your only interest in the game is to boost your gamerscore, you’d best look elsewhere.
In addition to all of the single-player content, there is also two-player couch co-op and four-player online co-op. There are a healthy selection of missions to choose from, and between those and countless combinations of pilots and Gundams, there’s enough to keep you busy.
DW Gundam 3 features the occasional, confounding difficulty spike. These aren’t the typical jags we see, rather, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and juggled at any point, especially if you are headstrong and rush into a battle you can’t win. As long as you keep your eye on the minimap and the pop-up messages, you’ll know when named enemies join the fight and where they are. I did run into a situation where an enemy commander (mission boss) just wrecked me while I wasn’t able to retaliate or defend myself. This happened three times in a row as I went from soundly winning the battle to defeat in a matter of moments. The game can be unforgiving and, if you should lose a mission, you’ll need to start over from the beginning. It is far more forgiving, though, than any other Musou game where even one defeat means a mission restart. This compromise works. Just be prepared for the difficulty spikes.
One of the major changes to DW Gundam 3 is the graphical presentation. This game is extremely easy on the eyes, and somehow, Koei’s implementation of cel shading has eliminated one of the biggest problems with the Dynasty Warriors series: pop-in. Gone are the haze of the battlefield and the surprise of a boss appearing right in front of you. The entire battlefield is visible and you’ll see additional troops dropping in out of the sky to join the battle. The only time I found myself surprised was turning around to see that troops had amassed behind me. I couldn’t locate a button to center the camera behind the Gundam, which was problematic due to the frenetic nature of the combat. The game could seriously benefit from such a function.
The music is nearly perfect and the sound effects are enjoyable, for the most part. I suspect that the tracks are taken straight from the various Gundam series. The music is dramatic and weighty, providing an excellent complement to slashing and blasting through hundreds of enemies in each level. Dynasty Warrior games make you feel like a beast, mowing down countless foes. The music adds to the sense of empowerment. The biggest drawback was the repeated one-liners peppering the experience. They occur too frequently, becoming repetitive and annoying before long.
Warriors/Musou games have a loyal following. Whether they attract players for the battlefield management, depth of content, extreme challenge at the higher difficulty levels or interest in the source material, people keep coming back. On the flip side, there are many that just can’t past the monotonous combat. Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 isn’t going to win over anyone who has tried and disliked a previous entry in the genre. For Warriors and/or Gundam fans, though, this entry is a huge step forward, hopefully laying the groundwork for improvements to the series’ core entries.
If you don’t know Gundam, expect to be confused. If you don’t care, though, and just want to customize giant robots to obliterate other giant robots and you like the core concepts on offer, Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 is a fun game that can be as mindless or as strategically intricate as you’d like.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.