Dynasty Warriors 2
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In 1997, Omega Force developed, and Koei published in Japan and North America, the PlayStation fighting game Dynasty Warriors, unique in that its characters based on Chinese history attacked one another with weapons rather than using their fists or feet. Three years later at the launch of the PlayStation 2 came the release of a spinoff of the fighting game, Shin Sangokumusō, titled in America as Dynasty Warriors 2 and thus leading to a numbering discrepancy between the Japanese and English versions of the game series similar to the one that originally plagued the Final Fantasy franchise. The sequel/spinoff actually changes genres, which works out ultimately for the better.

Unlike its fighting game predecessor, Dynasty Warriors 2 combines action, strategic, and even some role-playing game elements that works well for the most part. There are two main gameplay modes: Musou Mode, where the player chooses one of many ancient Chinese characters to control in battle and experiences occasional story events, and Free Mode, where the player can revisit previous battles, useful for building up a character or characters if they’re having trouble in Musou Mode. Although there are three difficulty modes: Easy, Medium, and Hard, the game can be daunting at times even on the easiest difficulty setting, although how much the player has built character stats can be a deciding factor in most battles.

Before beginning a battle, the player views a map showing player and enemy units, can review the various aspects of the battle, and eventually begin it, in which case the game drops the player’s selected character on the battlefield to run around and attack the enemy. Sometimes, the player’s character might have the opportunity to mount a horse and travel more quickly across the battlefield, in which case if the character’s stats are high enough, the horse will trample across enemy units, damaging them, although encountering enemies whose stats are higher will halt the player in their tracks. Enemies can knock the player’s character off their horse, although the player can do the same to enemy units.

Two notable enemy units are the various generals that lead squadrons, which tend to be more powerful than generic soldiers, and which the player’s character can battle; and gate captains, which defend the games from which enemy units flow. Killing a general or gate captain will cause them to drop an item that permanently increases the player’s character’s stats, although the player must win the current battle in order to keep the stat gains. Defeat can occur in two primary forms: defeat of the player’s character, or defeat of the player’s main general. Gate captains and enemy generals can be more difficult thanks to occasional random effects that occur when the player knocks them down, such as recovered health or temporarily-increased attack or defense.

Normal units may drop random items that grant the player’s character recovered health (in which case the player’s character’s bodyguards recover health as well), temporarily-increased attack or defense, or a full gauge that allows the player to perform a powerful attack on nearby enemies. Normally, pressing the circle button will gradually increase this gauge (although it leaves the charging character completely vulnerable) and allow the player to access this attack, although if the player’s character is of critical health, it’ll increase gradually on its own (and normally increases when attacking enemies).

Another item that may randomly appear are giant memory cards that allow for saving in the middle of battle, where, if the player dies, the player can restart from that point, although since defeat usually means the player’s character’s stats are too low, odds are that the player will want to start the lost battle from scratch since resuming at that point will mean the character is at the stats they were at before the player went to Free Mode to level up. Ultimately, the battle system works well for the most part, with the only real hassles being the somewhat jerky camera that players can only adjust by defending with the L1 button, in which case the camera moves behind the player’s character, not to mention the lack of any kind of targeting system that would have made targeting specific enemies such as gate captains and generals much easier.

Control is generally solid, with a linear structure for each chosen character that always keeps the player moving in the right direction, easy menus, and the ability to pause in the middle of battle (which doubles to allow the character to view a map of the battlefield). The only real flaw is the lack of an internal game clock to track playing time, but otherwise, the game interfaces well with the player.

The story is a decent reason to play the game, with presumable variations depending upon which character the player plays as, although the game is somewhat liberal with Chinese history, what with elements such as magic. The translation is largely decent, in spite of some minor characters, and overall, the plot helps the game more than hurts.

The sound is one of the game’s weaker elements, what with a generic rock soundtrack that doesn’t fit the setting of Ancient China at all, and the voice acting would have been better with actual Asian actors rather than an American cast.

Dynasty Warriors 2 also shows its status as one of the PlayStation 2’s first games through its visuals. While the character models are of decent proportions and the occasional FMVs look decent, the scenery appears subpar, given a heavy amount of fogginess and popup while traversing the battlefield.

Finally, each character’s Musou mode is fairly short, with a playing time of less than five hours, although the large cast adds excellent replay value. Overall, Dynasty Warriors 2 proves that a transition between genres for videogame series can be swift, what with the sequel’s solid tactical, action, and role-playing game elements alongside solid control and a decent story rooted in Chinese history. There are some areas where it leaves room for improvement such as the music and graphics, although it would gain numerous sequels and thus plenty opportunities for enhancement.

The Good:
+Solid action/tactical gameplay.
+Clean interface.
+Plenty replayability.

The Bad:
-Jerky camera.
-Generic music.
-Subpar graphics.

The Bottom Line:
Good start to the main Dynasty Warriors series.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 2
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 8/10
Music/Sound: 6/10
Graphics: 5/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: Less than 5 Hours per Character

Overall: 7.5/10

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