Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends

Here we go again. It's like a dance by now; Tecmo Koei releases a Warriors game. The Japanese press loves it. The western press slaughters it. I do my little bit to point out that these are actually quite good games.

It's a dance we've done an awful lot in the past two years; Tecmo Koei has been busy with a small selection of the games its released including Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3, and Samurai Warriors Chronicles on the Nintendo 3DS. Now there's Dynasty Warriors 7: Xtreme Legends. So, here we go again; let's dance.

Xtreme Legends is something of a glorified, massive DLC for Dynasty Warriors 7. From the very outset it invites people with a Dynasty Warriors 7 save file to transfer their data over, which gives characters access to all the hard-earned weapons from the previous game. Sticking the Dynasty Warriors 7 disc into the game once Xtreme Legends has been started up also gives you access to a variety of remix bonus games to play, so the incentive to have both is definitely there.

That said, the game is perfectly playable by itself, and there's a whole load of content in Xtreme Legends as a standalone package. The main mode of the game is the "Legends" mode, which leads players through the extensive and violent conflicts of the Chinese Three Kingdoms era. Battles are broken down into missions that are selected from a (long; this isn't a game you breeze though) timeline menu structure, and linked by a centralized hub town that players visit to buy new weapons and access a few other services between fights.

In all honesty this is a step back from Dynasty Warriors 7. In that game, the story of each of the four dominant factions of the time was told in via an extensive, lengthy and linked story. Players were dictated which of the many game characters the would control in each battle, and while that was prescriptive, it meant Tecmo Koei had better control over the story, and when combined over a few hours and multiple battles Dynasty Warriors 7's story was almost as dramatic and engaging as the book the game bases its material on.

Xtreme Legends' menu timeline on the other hand allows you to take any character you like into each battle, but the ultimate effect is that your character of choice will often end up fighting against the people that he/ she historically fought with. The game then loses some of its historical impact and the story becomes less believable and harder to follow for newcomers. The flip side is that the Xtreme Legends does feature some of the better battles from Dynasty Warriors 6, giving people a chance to experience those with the Dynasty Warriors 7 combat system, which is vastly superior.

The other part of the game is a challenge mode, bringing a very addictive leader board challenge to the formula. These range from the standard "kill as many enemies as possible in a given time limit" to the more exotic "knock as many enemies off a bridge as possible within a given time." You can upload these top scores online to give the already-lengthy game even more replay value.

On to the game itself; this is where the Warriors' franchise controversy stems from. Some would call it a button-masher, I maintain they're wrong. Xtreme Legends maintains the same refined combat system as Dynasty Warriors 7; heroes take two weapons into battle, and build combos from a combination of switching between the two weapons seamlessly, and two different buttons for weak and strong attacks. A third button unleashes a powerful attack, which then takes some time to recharge.
Individual enemies on the battlefield present little challenge, and thanks to the amazingly fluid battle system you're going to be cutting through hundreds at a time in the melee ballet.

Boss enemies are a whole other story, and the reality of Dynasty Warriors is that it's all about the duels between the various faction leaders. In those situations you'll need to make effective use of blocks, dodges, combos and powerful attacks to bring the enemies down. On the lower difficulty levels button mashing will be enough; the western press largely claims that Warriors games are button mashers because they clearly don't get off those difficulty levels. The high difficulty levels require considerably more skill.

With a massive range of different weapons, each with their own attributes, there's a lot of customization that's available to the players to find the combination that suits their play style. It'll take a few hours to find, but once that sweet spot is hit the entertainment value of Xtreme Legends really does take flight.

Everyone should give a Dynasty Warriors game a shot, and Xtreme Legends is in most ways a refinement to the best combat this series has seen to date; what we saw in Dynasty Warriors 7. As such, you could do far worse than give this one a go. Forget the majority of the western press, the reason that these games go down so well in Japan is for their accessible but nuanced gameplay, the interesting, historical flavour and the dynamic action.

Bleach: Soul Resurrection is a generally mindless button masher. This is in a whole other league, and IGN, Gamespot and all those other 'critics' that can't be bothered playing these games before slapping a score on them can go learn some Japanese and read how reviews are meant to be written.

The dance continues.

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