Here’s Dynasty Warriors in a nutshell: press square, square, square, square, square, triangle, repeat 10,000 times, hack some goons up, rinse and repeat. On paper, it sounds pretty terrible, but it’s actually more fun than it appears at first glance. As a fan of the series since Dynasty Warriors 2 created the “crowd combat” genre, I’ve seen good Dynasty Warriors games come and go, but ultimately, they all end up feeling the same.
Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce on the PSP sought to change that preconceived notion of repetition with a whole new outlook on the series, but hosted its own set of problems; namely, the lack of online play, and the lack of AI squadmates or a scaling difficulty, making the game nearly impossible to complete on your own. Thankfully, the console version seeks to rectify these fairly huge flaws with a full-on online component, and a completely functional AI squad. But does it suffer from the same, age-old repetition issues?
So, without further ado, onto that new series direction I was talking about. Well, what happens when you mix in a bit of Dragon Ball Z with a healthy dose of Phantasy Star Online? Balls to the walls fun. You heard me correctly! Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce feels like Phantasy Star Online in that it’s a fully fledged dungeon crawling RPG, complete with items, a hub-world, and plenty of statistical customization. Strikeforce features floating, frantic air dashing, and characters who can at least triple jump in mid-air. As a result, you’ll be able to get on top of all of the buildings you never could (but wanted to scale), or jump over those pesky walls.
Going along with the RPG theme, Strikeforce sacrifices the giant, free-roaming map mechanic for a more focused “zone” approach. Each level has an objective with a certain a number of areas that are connected by gates (think Phantasy Star). While it may seem more linear, it allows for a more focused, less entropic experience that is ultimately more rewarding and meaningful. Often times I would feel like an ant on the giant battlefields of past series’ iterations, but this time around, I feel like all of the fluff is cut out in favor of the core mission at hand.
Because of the insane “super hero” premise, Strikeforce is the most customizable Dynasty Warriors title yet. You can equip each limb with different “orbs”, each of which give you a special ability or extra statistical bonus. Weapons can be customized and slotted with different statistical bonuses (think Final Fantasy 7‘s Materia system). You’ll also get some extra costume options and tons of playable characters to choose from (with a heap of unlockables), as well as three separate storylines.
Combat is definitely more varied than past titles in the series. Even though you might be pressing the “weak attack” button a lot of the time, the new air combat mechanics help mix things up a bit. In short, aerial combat is a blast; I had one epic confrontation where my squad-mates and I were having a heated air battle for a few minutes straight. In addition to multiple special attacks, characters can initiate dash moves or aerial combos. If you press start and look at the combo screen, you’ll find just about as many moves as your typical God of War-style action game.
Over the years, we’ve seen some pretty terrible AI implemented in co-op titles. Even recently, if you didn’t babysit your squad-mates in Left 4 Dead 2, they would walk off ledges. But there’s none of that business in Strikeforce; somehow, Koei has managed to master the art of artificial intelligence, because your partners are just plain incredible! You can order them to do just about anything, from solely attacking siege equipment, enemy officers, or cannon fodder.
Additionally, if you aren’t sure what you want them to attack, you can just tell them to either follow you, or go willy-nilly doing whatever they want – and when you tell your squad to do something, they do it. Pathfinding for your artificial buddies is not a problem because they can just fly through the air, so they’re able to get where you order them to at all times – eliminating the frustration of telling teammates to do something, only to have them run against a wall for five minutes. I honestly had a blast playing with my fake friends. In fact, a few times I even forgot I was questing with AI.
Content is not a problem with Strikeforce. There are heaps of missions to embark on, and even though there are a few “kill ‘x’ number of soldiers” cookie-cutter missions, you’ll find a ton of unique ones too, like search and rescues, and unique boss fights with giant Dragons or mystic Phoenixes. Additionally, the console version boasts an extra 40 missions than its PSP counterpart, and the Xbox 360 version contains a few characters that no one outside of series junkies will care about, while the Playstation 3 version has Ryu Hayabusa of Ninja Gaiden fame, as well as a few of his lady friends. Also, if I know Koei, there’ll be a ton of free downloadable content packs out soon, with new missions, weapons, and outfits, just like the PSP version.
Sadly, for whatever reason, Koei decided to axe split-screen play: a staple of the Dynasty Warriors series. No, there’s no workaround like Empires, it just plain doesn’t have the option. It’s a shame that the series is finally starting to make strides with online play, only to discourage couch co-op; luckily, the online component is solid and easy to use.
Online play is accessed by pressing Start in a hub-town, and selecting the “play with friends” or the “search for game” option: it’s that easy. Once you’re online, you’ll join another host’s town, and start questing. Given the niche following of the series, there’s no real way to predict how lively the community will be in a few months, but thankfully you can always fall back on the formidable AI to help pick up the slack.
Aside from the lack of split screen, Strikeforce‘s only real vice is the poor camera. You can’t change the sensitivity, and it kind of just goes all over the place. After a while you get used to it, but it’s a shame that it couldn’t at least be tweaked to your liking.
Strikeforce makes you feel more superhuman than most games that have ever been released. Once you pop your Super Saiyan mode power for the first time, you won’t want to put the controller down. For naysayers of the series, this just might make you a believer.
Strikeforce is one of the more stylized games in the series, and the graphics themselves look quite good on consoles.
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Aside from a finicky camera, Strikeforce's gameplay is spot on. Dashing, floating, and quadruple jumping through the air never felt so fun.
Strikeforce contains your typical hard-rock/metal DW fare, and the voice acting is about average (and surprisingly not as terrible as usual).
It'll take you over 20 hours to complete, and that's just for one of the three possible storylines, without doing any of the game's myriad side missions. It's a shame there's no split-screen play, but as one of the only Dynasty Warriors games with an online component, it doesn't disappoint.
For the first time in years, the Dynasty Warriors series scores points for originality. Strikeforce is guaranteed to win over the hearts of naysayers.