aka Dynasty Warriors 5 in the USA and Europe.
Another year comes another Musou title from Koei. If you aren’t familiar with the Shin Sangoku Musou series here’s a brief description. Set in the middle of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms you get to pick a general and battle away. Once you pick a general out of dozens of possibilities, you’re thrust in the middle of a huge battle. Fighting through hundreds of enemy troops Musou games are one part beat-em up. While you’re slicing through groups of approaching warriors RPG elements like increasing attack, health and finding new weapons will keep players coming back for more.
Better known as Dynasty Warriors in the US, these titles have a little more depth than an arcade game. While nothing discourages you from killing everything in your path to get the highest KO count, some thought helps you win missions. Each battle has a certain condition, normally eliminate a certain general while protecting your own leader. How will you approach the battle? Run directly to the enemy and kill them in one fell swoop or do you take out all of the gate guards to prevent reinforcements? While not as open ended as free form games, you do have options on how to win a battle.
The core gameplay hasn’t changed much from the first title, Shin Sangoku Musou (or Dynasty Warriors 2 in the US). Koei’s latest installment fixes some of the problems that plagued the other titles. One of the main problems with Dynasty Warriors really was slowdown. Granted you’ll be in battle with about a hundred rendered fighters in the background, some slowdown is likely to exist. In previous titles slowdown reached near unbearable levels. Dynasty Warriors 5 fixes the problem by using a smoother game engine. Not only does the game look sharper, but slowdown is reduced to almost nil. The game also doesn’t sacrifice having less on screen troops, in fact more troops are present at one time than ever before. In a single player game slowdown is rarely noticed, but it does rear its ugly head in the split screen two player mode. If you and your buddy have a full screen of troops slowdown becomes really obvious again. It’s not perfect, but this tweak is a definite upgrade.
A more cosmetic tweak is the loss of fog. Prior games had on screen fog to mask how many objects needed to be rendered. This time around you can see clearly into a longer distance. This makes looking feel more natural. One side effect of this is at a few rare occasions (when we’re running from a large group of troops) soldiers seem to spawn out of nowhere.
Koei has also implemented more character individualization in Shin Sangoku Musou 4. Each of the 48 characters, that’s 6 more over the previous game. This time around each character has their own personal story, similar to the spin off Sengoku Musou. Also altered is the air combo for each character. Instead of using the same frames of animation with a different model, each general has a unique combo. As in previous games each character has their own set of moves too. Although there is an emphasis on character customization Dynasty Warriors nixes the skill tree found in Samurai Warriors. Nothing is put in place of a skill system, you just have basic stat increases for each rank up.
Players will get a chance to outfit their characters with different weapons and items they find in the battlefields. The weapon system allows you to hold up to four different weapons. Besides evaluating attack strength and the number of hits weight plays an important factor. You could pick up a heavy damaging sword with a heavy weight, which means slower swings. Another difference is how you equip items on your character. Instead of equipping four items of your choice, you choose one saddle, one elemental bonus and two power up items. This puts a limit on your character’s maximum stats more so than other games in the series. You can’t stack bonuses like speed + 20, musou + 20 and attack + 20 anymore. The revised system also encourages gamers to start out with a mount instead.
One of the key features in the game is the unstoppable musou attack. Your musou meter fills by defeating enemies, charging it by holding circle or by finding a jug of wine. When the meter is filled pressing circle unleashes a powerful attack that can knock out a large group of troops. When you’re life bar reaches the dreaded red area the attack changes to a more powerful musou attack. This time around you don’t need to wait until you’re almost dead to do a supreme musou. All you need to do is grab a musou medal and you’ll unleash the more powerful attack. During a two player game you could perform a musou with your partner. Doing a team musou attack is significantly more powerful than two separate musou attacks. Dynasty Warriors 5 allows players to do a team musou attack with a single person. If you’re in close contact with your bodyguard an electric wave of energy displays a link up between the two. When you see this press circle and you can perform a team musou attack.
Like the minor changes in gameplay Dynasty Warriors 5 only has minor changes in it’s presentation. The game looks slightly better than it’s predecessors. You have some more detailed models and wider backgrounds. The lack of fog allows players to actually see the world that Koei created. Things take a turn for the worse in the split screen two player mode. The entire game looks squished and blockier than the single player experience. Koei has a basic rock soundtrack that meshes well with the action. The only complaint is that there isn’t enough songs in rotation for the amount of time you spend with the title. After the three or four battles the soundtrack is revealed with no major changes.
One of the best features in the series is the immense amount of replay value. Between unlocking characters in musou mode, playing challenge mode and finding secret weapons Dynasty Warriors 5 will keep you busy for weeks maybe months. After a year’s break from a Shin Sangoku Musou title Koei revitalizes the series with a whole new game engine. These gameplay tweaks will please the hordes of Dynasty Warriors fans. On the other hand one can argue that the fifth game is a lot like all of the others. So make no mistake, Dynasty Warriors 5 isn’t anything different. Yet it remains entertaining and has plenty of replay value.
Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 3
With some past experience with other Dynasty Warriors titles you should have no problem picking up and playing Shin Sangoku Musou 4. Most of the level goals can be figured out on your own. The item descriptions and challenge goals are where some import gamers could run into language problems.
Koei has a US release date set for in late March.
+ Pros: A new improved game engine with almost no slowdown.
- Cons: It’s essentially the same game as the first Shin Sangoku Musou with more bells and whistles.
Overall: Shin Sangoku Musou 4 is the best title out of the SSM series and is sure to please fans. However, the game really is more of the same, minus the create a character and skill tree from the Samurai Warriors games.
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