JPgamer: Do Not Pursue Lu Bu

JPgamer: Do Not Pursue Lu Bu

Omega Force and Koei's tactical action hack-and-slash series Dynasty Warriors has hit Steam in the form of Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Complete Edition. Pete, a lapsed Dynasty Warriors addict from the PS2 era, checks it out.

There were several games I played absolutely to death when I was at university, and it was no coincidence that they were games that were great to play with friends, often when returning home from an evening of imbibing intoxicating beverages.

One of these games was one of the PS2-era Dynasty Warriors titles -- I forget which one, exactly, as I've played several over the years and frankly they're all a bit of a blur. It was particularly popular with my friends and I for its seeming simplicity -- button-mashing hack-and-slash funtimes -- and for its split-screen cooperative mode, in which two players could fight through the game's large-scale battles together. That and its hilariously awful voice acting and ridiculously anachronistic rock music soundtrack.

It's been a number of years since I last played a Dynasty Warriors game, and I figured the release of the latest installment -- the overdramatically named Dynasty Warriors 8 Xtreme Legends Complete Edition -- would be a good opportunity to jump back on board and see what was up. I was particularly interested in seeing how the PC version that hit Steam this week stacked up to its predecessors, particularly since the series has recently made the jump to next-gen with the PlayStation 4 version.

Within a matter of minutes of starting up the new game, I was joyfully sending hundreds of enemies flying at a time, hacking and slashing my way towards the enemy general in the hope of quickly finishing the battle. I was hammering the attack buttons, experimenting with new combinations of the standard and strong attacks to unleash special moves, and I was deliberately wading into as large a horde of enemies as possible before setting off the ridiculous "Musou" moves, all for the satisfaction of seeing that little K.O. Counter in the bottom-right corner of the screen rattling ever-upwards.

In short, yes; Dynasty Warriors 8 is a good time.

Hack, slash, chop, chop, chop, teeheehee!

The PC port, however, has attracted a certain degree of negativity for a few reasons, most notably a lack of polish. Some players -- particularly those on Windows 8 -- have had issues with the game crashing or failing to load certain modes. Others disliked the fact that despite the game supporting gamepads as a control scheme, button prompts refer either to the keyboard or symbols depicting what the button does rather than which button it actually is. This latter aspect, while disappointing, is actually not all that unusual to see in a Japanese-developed PC game; since Microsoft's Xbox platforms have historically failed to penetrate Japan in any meaningful manner, that means PC gamers in that region don't think of the Xbox 360 controller as the "standard" PC gaming controller in the same way as we do in the West. Consequently, button prompts in Japanese PC games are often more generic in nature to reflect the wider variety of controllers available. It's something that you can learn to live with, but with a release as big as a new Dynasty Warriors game, I would have expected the PC port team to have made a little more of an effort than small Japanese doujin circles.

The biggest issue, though, is the seeming lack of online co-op. I say "seeming" because the game's Steam page lists both "Co-Op" and "Local Co-Op" as game features -- a distinction that normally highlights the presence of both online and couch co-op options. I also say "seeming" because there's a certain degree of disagreement on Steam's discussion forums over the matter, with some players swearing blind that there's an online option -- perhaps based on the console versions, which does have the option for online play -- and others, in the Steam community's inimitable manner, disagreeing via the use of numerous profanities and slurs against one another's mothers. I also say "seeming" because I've now played the game for a couple of hours and there doesn't appear to be any sign of it, which is perhaps the most compelling evidence.

These flaws may be dealbreakers for some, mostly irrelevant annoyances for others. They didn't bother me too much, but I acknowledge them here to help you (yes, you!) make an informed decision about whether or not to grab the PC version.

Character models are lovely. Environment textures less so, though to be honest in the heat of battle you probably won't notice.

Flaws aside though, Dynasty Warriors 8 has reminded me why I used to enjoy the series all those years ago -- plus, it's added a bunch of new elements in the intervening years, too. The hack-and-slash gameplay with a swathe of very different-handling playable characters is present and correct and runs beautifully smoothly on PC, even though it initially ignored my settings from the configuration program and defaulted to running at an eye-melting 640x480 resolution. Like previous installments, there's actually more depth to the combat than initially appears; this time around, there's a system whereby all weapons have affinities, and squaring off against a named enemy character has different effects according to whether your weapon is strong, weak or neutral against theirs. If your weapon is strong against them, repeatedly attacking them will trigger a special "Storm Rush" attack for lots of damage; if your weapon is weak against them, meanwhile, it's not necessarily a bad thing: in this case you'll have the opportunity to dodge their special moves and counterattack for lots of damage.

Much like past incarnations of the Warriors games, there are several different ways to play: a comprehensive story mode for each of the involved groups in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story on which the series is based; a Free mode, which allows you to play any unlocked characters on any unlocked stages; a Challenge mode, which provides a series of arcade-style score and time attack challenges to complete with preset, non-customizable characters; and this installment's newest edition, Ambition Mode, which is where I see myself spending the majority of my time.

Ambition Mode is an intriguing way to play in which you pick any of the available characters to start with, and then gradually build up your own base camp by collecting materials, officers and other items from throughout the various battle stages you play. Different types of battle have different objectives and special events -- unconventional battles tend to have more special missions to earn Fame points, for example, while small-scale Skirmish battles are a good means of acquiring materials to upgrade camp facilities and items. As you play, you'll earn more allies to your cause -- many of whom can be switched out as your playable character, and others of whom can be assigned as bodyguards to accompany you in the missions -- and unlock new facilities to purchase weapons, apply buffs with food and various other benefits. Your ultimate aim is to attract the attention of the Emperor and prove your worth; it looks to be a long and satisfying process, and a good means of levelling up your characters for use in the other game modes in the meantime.

Lu Bu: do not pursue.

So far, then, Dynasty Warriors 8's PC version has been an enjoyable experience for me. The lack of online play is a bummer -- particularly as the console versions have it -- but the split-screen option is still a riotously good time if you have a friend over. The sheer amount of content on offer makes this far more than a novelty title to have a quick laugh at then forget about; there's a meaty game in here if you're willing to put the time in.

Just remember, though: do not pursue Lu Bu.

JPgamer is USgamer's regular round-up of topics regarding Japanese games, published every Wednesday. You can read previous installments here.

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