Dynasty Warriors 8 (PlayStation 3) review
"It takes a special sort of game to make the mass slaughtering of one's enemies kind of boring."
While I can't say it was the best time I've had playing a video game, I can state that I did find Dynasty Warriors 8 to be interesting. Sure, it might have been in the way I find low-budget slashers to be interesting, but interesting is interesting, is it not?
In the general time period of 200 AD, China had a whole lot of anarchy going on. The Empire was weak, so lots of warlords were trying to stake claims to power — eventually resulting in three separate kingdoms vying for supremacy. This time period was immortalized centuries later via Romance of the Three Kingdoms. This was a novel based on those real life events that took those warlords and their subordinates to create an epic tale. Some characters were made to look more heroic, while others may have become more villainous due to the written word, but it probably is as good a way for any history-loving person to learn about this era.
For those of us who are less studious, there are a lot of video games also covering this time period. There was a series of Dragon Quest clones — of which Destiny of an Emperor was released in America for the NES — that revolves around the Shu faction and its leader Liu Bei due to how the book's writer seemed to LOVE that dude and felt he was the true hero of the conflict. Around the same general time, gamers who were more strategy-minded could experience the beginning of the long-running series of Romance of the Three Kingdoms games where you can engage in resource management, diplomacy and battle in the same manner as Koei's other games of the time.
And then there's Dynasty Warriors. Also published by Koei and also a long-running series, this one started on the PlayStation and has continued through nine installments up to modern systems. This game mostly eschews anything resembling role-playing or strategy and simply gives you direct control of any number of characters from those kingdoms to hack the living hell out of all opposition in a number of battles.
From playing Destiny of an Emperor, I gained a certain amount of interest in the Three Kingdoms time period, so I wasn't averse to playing one of these titles if one fell into my lap. And, at least on the surface, Dynasty Warriors 8 was able to provide me with what I wanted.
If you actually want to learn about the people and events of the time, the game has a pretty large encyclopedia giving brief descriptions of everyone — whether they're important figures or guys simply used as cannon fodder in a fight or two — as well as summaries of battles and other important events. You also can control four different factions in lengthy campaigns and take part in Ambition mode, where you pick any of the game's many playable characters and try to create your own kingdom to earn the respect of the emperor.
Wait! Four factions? But there were only three kingdoms — I mean, that's the title of the damn book! If that was your initial thought, welcome to the club, bro. Liu Bei's Shu faction, Cao Cao's Wei and the Sun family's Wu were the main ones who've always been a part of this series, but in more recent times, Koei decided to break Sima Yi's Jin faction away from Wei. Historically, Sima Yi was an important strategist for the Cao family, but eventually decided that Cao Cao's descendants were becoming progressively more incompetent and his family would be better suited to the task of uniting the land. In real life, this led to the end of the Three Kingdoms conflict because dude was accurate in his assessment. In this game, it adds a fourth campaign to play through where the action primarily takes place after the events of the other three.
For people interested in all of this, Dynasty Warriors 8 provides a lot of information. You'll get brief history lessons between battles summarizing what happened between each major conflict to set up the next one. You'll experience how the deaths of important figures affected their kingdom and its efforts. Cutscenes will impart cinematic drama to those proceedings and there is enough even-handedness that playing through multiple factions can give you different impressions of various characters. Take Cao Cao for example. Playing as Shu or Wu, he tends to come off as your main adversary — an ambitious man looking to crush all opposition to his rule. But if you take control of Wei, you discover that ambition comes from a sincere desire to bring order to a chaotic land.
This version also adds hypothetical scenarios to go along with its historical stuff. By achieving optional (and often obscure) objectives in certain battles, you can essentially change the flow of history and gain the opportunity to make right what went wrong for your kingdom of choice, leading to a new set of battles where they definitively succeed in their goals. While it might be really tough to meet the necessary criteria to access these hypothetical routes, it is a nice addition that shows Koei did put some effort into providing replay value.
Overall, this would be a really good game except for the minor detail of actually playing it. I mean, it's kind of fun in a small dose, but if you do all four campaigns and Ambition mode, you'll likely be spending a lot of time doing fun things like reassessing your life to determine if it actually has worth.
This is about as generic of a hack-n-slash title as one can imagine. For each battle, you'll pick from three or four characters and head out to tap the attack button a million or so times. There are tons of generic soldiers who combine a general lack of aggression with a general lack of any other fighting attributes serving as cannon fodder for you to eliminate by the hundreds. They'll be supplemented by all sorts of named characters. Some are barely tougher than those faceless rank-and-file, while the more significant serve as mini-bosses and bosses.
When you aren't simply tap-tap-tapping on the attack button, you're probably using various special attacks. One meter fills up to allow up to three uses of powerful attacks, while another meter fills up to allow you to enter a super-charged rage mode for a brief period of time. Both of these are great for handling those more powerful boss-types. Let's see…while I'm sure there's more to say about fighting in Dynasty Warriors 8, about the only thing I found noteworthy was how different playable characters have differing proficiencies in the many classes of weapons.
Due to this, I tended to only work with guys who had great crowd control weapons, such as the voulge and its powerful attacks that have a wide range. And so, after learning the ropes, my strategy was as follows: Pick a guy with good proficiency with the voulge or a similar weapon and mindlessly slash through everything between me and my objectives, occasionally using a special attack or rage mode when fighting a tough named opponent. There it is: My walkthrough for beating Dynasty Warriors 8.
Ambition Mode is more of the same, only with much more tedium as you do a seemingly never-ending series of smaller battles that all blend together to gain materials, fame and allies to max out the castle you're trying to build. I mean, I know it did actually end, but it was so tedious getting to that point that you might as well take the number of hours I spent playing this mode and multiply them by infinity to get an idea of what this experience was like.
Look, through gaming, I've gained a certain amount of interest in the history of this time period. That interest is what led me to this game. And on one level, it succeeded in satisfying that interest. You get to control a lot of Three Kingdoms warriors and strategists and take them through epic battles while experiencing dramatized versions of real-life events. The thing about Dynasty Warriors 8 is that it just isn't that much fun to play for anything resembling an extended period of time because the fighting is so repetitive and dull. And fighting is the main thing you'll be doing in this game other than watching cutscenes or looking up names in the encyclopedia. I appreciate the intentions here, but I'd be more appreciative if Koei would, I don't know, make combat more engaging, so I could consistently enjoy myself while experiencing the stories of each faction.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (February 23, 2023)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
More Reviews by Rob Hamilton [+]
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