Koei’s Dynasty Warriors series has long been a polarizing force in gaming. Either you love the series’ hack and slash take on the Three Kingdoms or wish it would just curl up and die already. With a new portable system on the market, the series once again makes its mark with Dynasty Warriors Next. Next takes the musou on the move, with a huge selection of modes and content and the same square button tapping action the series is famous (or infamous) for.
While the series has never been known for its graphical prowess, Next takes advantage of the power of the Vita to turn out a visually solid effort. This is helped, in large part, by the fact that the game runs at the native resolution of that gorgeous OLED screen. Everything pops off the screen, and the draw distance is surprisingly good. The character models look exactly as you would expect from a Dynasty Warriors game, which is actually a good thing considering it’s running on a portable. Those of you worried that a pocket version of the game would lose some of its punch by cutting down on the enemies on screen needn’t worry, as you still get mobbed by more angry Yellow Turban Rebels than you’d care to count. All in all, the look and feel of the game translates quite well to Sony’s beast of a handheld.
Those of you who are fans of the series will know exactly what to expect from the gameplay in Next. The game can be pretty standard on the easier difficulties, but bump that up a couple notches and you’ll soon discover that Next requires a decent amount of strategy. Different bases are scattered around the map and provide different benefits when captured, from populating items on the field to increasing your reinforcements. Controlling these bases before attempting to capture the enemy’s primary stronghold is essential on the higher difficulty levels and allows for a deeper experience than simply mindlessly hacking your way to the main camp.
Of course, because it’s a launch title on the Vita, the developers took the opportunity to shoehorn some motion/touch controls into the game. Some of these work, and help to break up the monotony of endless square-pushing. The touch controlled Musou attacks are a great example of this. Some force you to slash back and forth on the screen to land extra hits, while some take advantage of the rear touch pad to cause devastating explosions anywhere you finger touches. These controls go a long way towards differentiating Next from its console brethren. Some of the touch controls are not as well implemented, however.
Occasionally your character will be ambushed by several enemies at once. These scenes play out with different motion controlled tasks for you to complete for a health boost or other benefit. Enemies may jump at your character, forcing you to locate them with the gyroscope and touch them before time expires. You might also get attacked by archers and be forced to swipe their arrows out of the sky. These minigames are relatively quick and painless, but don’t do much to add to the atmosphere of the game.
If the developers had stuck with those two, everything would have been peachy on the motion/touch front. Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten really attached to the idea that if some gimmickry is good, than a whole bunch would be better. Horse riding minigames, calligraphy, whack-a-mole, it’s all on display here. None of these, however, holds a candle to the worst offender: the duel. Occasionally, on the battlefield, you will run into a sequence where instead of simply slashing at an officer to defeat them like any other enemy you zoom into a one on one touch screen only battle. This could have been a neat idea, if it weren’t implemented with the subtle grace of a newborn baby giraffe. The game pitches a strategy to the fights to you. Hold down your finger on the screen to break their guard, slash to attack, and swipe the screen in the indicated direction to parry. This all seems simple enough, until you actually get in the middle of one of these things. Then strategy flies out the window in favor of madly slashing the screen and praying your opponent doesn’t get you in a loop of attacking at the exact moment of your recovery. It’s a shame, really, because with some thought and dev time, a Punch-Out! style boss battle could really work in a game like this.
Those of you concerned with making sure that you get as much bang for your buck out of your Vita launch titles should be very pleased with what’s offered here. The game features a ton of content, from a full fledged campaign mode to the Conquest mode which allows you to take over territories with the goal of conquering the entire map. Perhaps the coolest aspect of this mode comes in if you choose to play while connected to PSN. If you are connected as you play, you will receive random challenges from other players in the form of duels. You will also see rival players showing up as officers in your game.
Next also contains a pretty solid character editor, which allows you to create custom officers to use in the conquest or Co-op modes. This editor allows you to build your warrior with pieces unlocked throughout the other modes of the game. You can also select the animations of any unlocked general/officer. Unlocking new items for your character is addicting and will keep you coming back for more.
Dynasty Warriors Next isn’t going to change anyone’s mind about the series. Those who have never bought into the series will not be blown away by the new additions. Those who love the games will enjoy this one as well, even with some touchscreen missteps. If you fall into the latter category, there is certainly enough content on display here to make this a worthy purchase for your brand new Vita.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.