You don't have to play Dynasty to have an attitude.

Remember Primal Scream therapy? It was popular a while back. John Lennon was into it. All these repressed neuroses lurking inside us, messing us up from within, could be brought bubbling to the surface by standing fast and making a noise like you’ve just stepped out of bed and onto a hairbrush. Anyway, if that’s meant to be some kind of release, it sucks. Men – manly men – have known for millennia that the best way to sort it all out mentally is to thump something hard and repeatedly. If you can swear while doing it, that’s fine, but combatively pacifying the most immediate thing in your vicinity is the key, here.

A generation of sitting in darkened living rooms thumbing gamepads rather than chopping wood means this generation of men is inadequately built to engage in such physical pacification; the best we can hope for after limply punching a wall for ten minutes is that our knuckles have attained a slightly pinkish sheen. Even then, that wouldn’t do, because it would make it harder to hold the pad for more than a couple of hours and that’s no good at all. Happily, Dynasty Warriors provides, and has always prided itself on providing, thousands of handily placed things to whale on in this most time-honoured tradition without ruining your shoulder-button fingers.

It’s not a fighting game. It’s not a fighting game. Fighting games are complex, intelligent creatures, no matter how much they may protest otherwise, frenetically pointing out their gut-churning fatalities and improbable breast animations. Dynasty Warriors is not complex, nor is it intelligent. Neither is needed here, and neither is wanted. It has no countering strategies, no finger-tying combos, just you, things to smack and two buttons marked ‘Attack’ and ‘Heavy Attack’ to do it with. The things just so happen to be a swarming army of ancient Chinese soldiers bristling with sharp metal and in need of a good lesson on who’s boss around here.

You don't have to be rich to be my girl.

Most descriptive terms gamers come up with to categorise games are rather pathetic and laughable. What does “real-time strategy” mean, honest to God? It sounds like something lampooned in a Dilbert comic. How about “role-playing game”? That’s what middle-aged married couples do in the privacy of their bedrooms, right? Now, let’s look at “hack-and-slash”. This is a completely different story: this is a name chosen by the gods. You hack, you slash. It’s simple, evocative, I know exactly what you’re talking about and I like it. Dynasty Warriors hacks, Dynasty Warriors slashes.

DW Next is my first foray into the franchise since the PS2 days, and the intervening period has not been good to my memory. I remember I was not flattered by the game back then; I found its raw presentation tacky, I interpreted its game play as a grind. But when the PlayStation Vita launched, I was hungry for something with some bloodthirsty action to counter-balance the gaming equivalent of elevator muzak represented in the serene rolling greens of Everybody’s Golf 6. So I downloaded Next from the PS Store.

And it was glorious.

You don't have to be cool to rule my world.

The thing about the Dynasty Warriors series is that fans are often maligned by gamers less enamoured with what could be perceived as the roughly hewn charms of Koei’s hack-and-slasher for liking something so unstimulating and tacky. Their normal defence is to claim that the games don’t purport to be anything other than simple frothy violent fun and should be enjoyed for what they are. It’s a decent argument and, based on DW Next, an incorrect one. Because Next is a good game.

The amount of content on offer is vast, although comes with a potential caveat. Sure, there’s a wealth of game play options and dozens of hours waiting to be wasted smashing through your competitors to be the next Emperor of ancient China, but it’ll all be hopelessly wasted on you if you can’t accept that the core mechanics just aren’t that complicated. You have two buttons to hammer in order to kill folks, “Attack” and “Heavy Attack”, and that’s pretty much it. Then again, in most shooters you have one button you hold down to shoot baddies, and you’ll be ruddy lucky if the game is charitable enough to bestow alternate fire modes upon its arsenal, so complaining about simple combat may be a bit rich. However, the sheer number of times you’ll need to complete this repetitive task may just cause some people’s brains to revolt. I can understand that. It’s okay. But stop telling yourself that this is so stupid and just try to enjoy slaughtering thousands of foolish peons for five minutes, will you? Once you do, you’ll discover that it’s a finely tuned system of mayhem. It may lack complicated combos, but it has a tempo to its taps (Attackattackattackheavyattack! Attackattackattackheavyattack!)  almost reminiscent of a rhythm music game. It flows. The battles never last longer than a handful of minutes, where you charge around a giant map capturing outposts by caving in the skulls of their residents before rushing a big bloody castle swinging your sword erratically in one hand and grabbing your giant man-sized testicles in the other.

Ain't no particular sign I'm not compatible with.

The combat is lent further intrigue by the giant cast of characters to choose from. Each battle allows you to pick a leader (your player character) and four lieutenants. Each character wields a unique weapon which behaves in its own way, whose combos have different effects and whose musou abilities (their activated super powers, the meters of which need to be built up) vary, allowing a wide degree of exploration and experimentation between all the available choices of officers and ensuring that each player will certainly be able to call a few characters their favourite by the time they’re done with the game.

Next offers a story-based campaign mode which both offers heroic figures that can send dozens of foes flying with their staves and call down lightning bolts in a jiffy while presenting the whole affair as a serious document on the history of the Three Kingdoms era of China and somehow keeping a straight face as it does so. The campaign is lengthy and sprawling, and very entertaining if you can stomach the frequent talking heads intervening between battles. Then there’s Conquest mode, which is basically a skirmish mode that allows you to pick an assortment of characters and task you with taking control of a map made up of provinces. The map overview lets you determine which province you’ll attack, which then causes a battle. There’s little strategy involved – this is hardly Total War – but it allows you to take your own user-created soldier onto the battlefield and adds hours of extra slaughter without the baggage of story frills.

I just want your extra time and your

As a Vita launch game, Next comes perilously close to failing with its implementation of the system’s control options beyond button and stick inputs. Battles are frequently interrupted by “ambushes” which are mini-games that rely on the Vita’s touchscreen, rear-touchpad and gyroscopic inputs to fight off fresh waves of enemy soldiers. There are interludes between battles such as “steeplechase,”  an arrow-shooting game and calligraphy (no, really) that also spurn traditional inputs and would frustrate were they not, thankfully, all easy enough to be bested on the first try. The worst offender of the lot is the new “duel” system, which is always the way the game chooses you fight an important character (normally, once per battle), as well as how Tecmo-Koei have decided to integrate social features into Next by having you fight other players’ avatars at random when navigating the map. The screen flares bright white and when the picture returns your player character is standing on a fire-swept plain devoid of anything except your chosen opponent, who rushes you and begins a series of manouevres that deviate between block, attack and bracing oneself for a really big attack. Through a series of swipes and taps you too can ape such movements and slowly chip away at the improbably gigantic health bar your foe has all of a sudden acquired. At first, I found dueling and its Infinity Blade shitness frustrating, but once I’d worked out the simple paper-scissors-stone nature of it I found it just tedious. The large hit points involved means duels are rarely over quickly, and they’re just no bloody fun at all. They’re the closest Next comes to being bad, and unfortunately they’re all too regular.


Still, in the grand scheme of things they’re a minor blemish. Next is a real corker of a title, and being on the Vita makes it a little pocket rocket of delightful and expansive carnage. Almost certainly, a must own title for owners of the Vita. Hurrah!

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