Dynasty Warriors 5 (Xbox)

Dynasty Warriors 5 (Xbox)

After the huge success of DYNASTY WARRIORS 4 and the first iteration of the SAMURAI WARRIORS spinoff series, Koei was riding high.  DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 was an inevitability.  However its probably a good thing it happened, or else we wouldn’t have gotten this entry, widely considered the last of the PS2 era DYNASTY WARRIORS games and the best contribution to that era of the franchise. DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 makes another attempt to fix some problems whilst also turning the intensity up a notch.

In many ways, DW5 was an attempt to reconcile some of the new innovations of DW4 with the popular mechanics and design choices that made DW3 such a hit/cult classic. From DW4, DW5 borrows innovations like the stronghold system (bases that can be captured to boost morale and provide status bonuses to those within the immediate vicinity), the secondary power combo attack string (where your character branches off into a separate flurry of attacks ending with a finisher that stuns the opponent), and the more developed production values devoted to making sure each campaign is a unique experience. From DW3 you’ve got the return of the groovy, synthesized guitar powered soundtrack; the classic inventory/item collection system (characters actually need to find new weapons to increase their attack options, as opposed to old weapons gaining experience and getting stronger along the way), and the emphasis on individual character campaigns as opposed to kingdom based campaigns. Evidently, just from the amount of content on show here, it was clear that Koei was pushing for this to be the developed and complete DW experience yet.

For those who don’t know the story of DYNASTY WARRIORS, I’m not sure how much I can do to rectify that. You’d really have to take a whole class to get the entire picture. But for those who aren’t that picky about the peculiarities of the context and the details, I’ll summarize the story as thus. DYNASTY WARRIORS is a video game adaptation of the ancient Chinese literary masterwork ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS.  The novel, which chronicles a mythical/fictional account of China’s Second Warring States period after the fall of the Han Dynasty, is filled to the brim with hundreds of characters both historical and fictional. DYNASTY WARRIORS’ eeks out each a select group of these characters and focuses on their own invidual contribution to the epic plot of the novel. This presents a huge problem for newcomers however. If you’re going in DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 without any knowledge of the novel or the history contained therein, chances are you’re going to be lost as you boot up the first Musou mode and the exposition starts slamming you with an overabundance of foreign names, places, and events: “I am Zhao Yun. As a young man I served under BLAH BLAH in the land of BLAH BLAH for several years, until the reign of the BLAH BLAH.” The main problem with this narrative approach is that you are NOT getting the impact of the whole story along the way. You’re only getting proportionately small pieces of the plot for each playthrough, and consequently each individual playthrough feels all the more unsatisfying. This obviously prompts you to play through the game with every single character to get the whole picture, but that endeavor (as described below) can be daunting. The developers make one attempt to rectify this by including an in game Encyclopedia which can be accessed from the main menu. Here they provide an overview of the plot of the entire novel, as well as a glossary containing the biographies of many of the characters featured within. It is highly recommended that newcomers give each of these reference materials at least a passing glance before jumping into the main story (Musou) modes. That way, at least you’ve got a reference blueprint, and can make an informed guess as to where each character’s individual story is weaved into the entire tapestry.

Once you do jump into the Story/Musou modes though, you will encounter one of DYNASTY WARRIORS 5’s great strengths over its predecessors: actual substantial attempts to tell a UNIQUE story for each of its 48 different characters, instead of just sending each of them through a slightly different selection of the same levels over and over again. Admittedly, the XTREME LEGENDS expansion pack for DYNASTY WARRIORS 3 attempted the same endeavor, but that was handicapped by the fact that there it only featured 7 playable characters, which was a very small selection of the cast. DW5 tries to extend the same courtesy to 48 different characters. Every level of each character’s Musou mode kicks off with verbal exposition of the selected character introducing himself, conveying his thoughts about the progress and explaining why he/she continues to participate in it. Levels are also broken up with high quality FMV’s that convey the plot along as well. The only problem with this is that there are only a limited number of in game FMV’s that were created and so many different characters that sometimes, the FMV won’t actually feature the player’s selected character in it. To compensate, the developers made sure to add in a unique character specific FMV for the end of each character’s campaign. With 48 different character campaigns to play through, that is a HUGE amount of game and only the really dedicated (or obsessed) will be able to plow through it all. I can’t really blame the average player for getting tired of the whole affair after experiencing only 2-3 playthroughs. The improved attempts at storytelling don’t make up for the fact that the gameplay and level selection is still mighty repetitive…but we’ll get to that presently. Overall though, while far from perfect, it’s satisfying to see Koei improving from their past efforts and making an extra attempt to make these different campaign playthroughs actually worth the player’s time.

For those who have never played a DYNASTY WARRIORS game…how can I help you at this point given the insane number of titles available? Seriously, I will try to explain the basic gameplAY concept. DYNASTY WARRIORS is described as a “battlefield simulator” by its creators and promoters. You take the role of a mighty general, lead an army against an enemy army, and engage in ground level combat with the enemies in a bunch of action packed levels. Astute gamers however have noted that, despite their label, DYNASTY WARRIORS games are actually exaggerated 3-D evolutions of the beat em up genre. Unlike classic beat em up titles, DYNASTY WARRIORS incorporates RTS style map management into its gameplay. Instead of each level being a linear corridor where you walk from left to right, you have a wide open battlefield where you can pretty much go anywhere. The catch is the game challenges you to be aware of the tide of battle. If you complete mission objectives and take out key points on the map, your army morale goes up and your allies fight better. If youre sloppy or just plain ignorant of the conditions the battlefield, your army does poorly, your allied commander gets overrun and you lose. At its best, DYNASTY WARRIORS is supposedly an innovative and awesome mixture of the visceral action of an arcade game with the tactical nuance and mental exercise of a strategy game…

…except it never quite works out that way.

Through out its multiple iterations, the series has really never met it’s potential and rightly been criticized for its many shortcomings. The beat em up aspects of the game are horrendously repetitive, with incredibly limited enemy variety and levels that drag on for the better part of an hour. The strategy aspects of the game are generally criticized for being underdeveloped to the point of being unnoticeable. Its way too easy to beat every level whilst ignoring all the mission objectives and status of your allied forces. Instead simply rushing to the end of the map and overpowering the enemy commander through brute force will prove effective almost every time. As long as your charscter and allied commander stay alive, you can fight pratically forever…and there are only so many enemy officers that can stand against you. The increasing emphasis on RPG style upgrades exacerbate this problem. On the lower difficulties, its way too easy to make your chosen character so powerful that he just blazes through even the final stages of the game with nary a scratch. All these problems have failed to be addressed and have actually gotten worse as the series has gone along. Thus, the series is far from the ultimate genre fusion that many of its defenders have claimed it to be.

The basic mechanics of DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 haven’t changed from the previous entry. You’re still hammering light and strong attack, traipsing about the battlefield, bashing the heads of crowds of soldiers dumb enough to run in your direction. What has changed are some of the mechanics around the basic concept. First of all, your dumb bodyguards have been trimmed down into a single follower who wanders around the battlefield with you and actually is quite proactive about slicing up enemy soldiers who pose a threat to you. Second of all, the weapon selection system has gone back to the item scavenging nature of DYNASTY WARRIORS 3. Your weapons don’t earn experience any more…now you have to wander and seek them out hidden in various crates scattered around the battlefield. Like any dungeon crawler (or even action RPG), you’ll end the game with more weapon variants than you possibly have any idea of what to do with…but fortunately, the final levels of each character’s Musou campaign will net you some pretty powerful additions.

Another noticeable thing (I think) thats been improved in this entry is the pacing of the game. The problem with DYNASTY WARRIORS 4 was that they reduced the number of enemies per level, thus increasing the amount of time your character spent aimlessly wandering around a empty battlefield. Its always been a problem with these type of games, but in DW4, it was particularly bad. Fortunately, DW5 fixes the problem by increasing the enemy count to bigger proportions and populating the map with more soldiers per square yard. Its unexpected…the maps in this entry are actually 30% larger than before, meaning you would expect them to be more sparsely populated and even more boring. However, through some programming miracle, Koei has managed to turn these battlefields into much crazier ruckuses than they were before. Soldiers comes at you now in huge groups and seem to respawn a lot faster than before, meaning you’re constantly swatting at flies in order to survive. In addition, they go down easier too. While this may be a little disconcerting at first for hardcore players, in practice, it allows combat to have a much faster and smoother flow to it. Soldiers come in, they go down. They come in and go down. Your kill count, meanwhile, is constantly going up. It’s quite different from wasting many minutes whacking that one lone grunt on the battlefield who just refuses to die. The Xbox version of the contains even more enemies onscreen per square foot than it’s PS2 counterpart, so clearly that’s the way to go. The more the merrier!

Part of the reason the pacing is better is because there’s simply more stuff to do on the maps. Taking a cue from DYNASTY WARRIORS 4: EMPIRES, the maps are now populated with bases that give you and your soldiers much needed supplies and checkpoints. Occupy an enemy base and you’ll have a place where you resupply as well as well your soldiers can burst out of. It’s a good alternative to the (very) sparsely thought out “camp system” from the previous titles. Part of these reason is that these bases are scattered all over the map, meaning you’re constantly running into them. In previous titles, the camps seemed to be always situated at the corners of the map, meaning they always required some kind of trek out of your way to reach.

Improvements to the actual combat gameplay mechanics themself are marginal, but still worth discussing. For the most part, DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 just recycles weapon types, movesets and animations from DYNASTY WARRIORS 4. You will find most of the old characters performing the same attacks they did in DYNASTY WARRIORS 4 with little deviation. However here and there, changes can be seen which affect the flow of combat. Most of the heavy weapon characters have now had their unique strong attacks replaced with a quick shockwave which stuns all enemies around the character, but does no damage. This is obviously a replacement for the “Taunt” mechanic from DYNASTY WARRIORS 4, which was the only way to break enemy officers out of their blocking stances in that game. Some high level special attacks have also been modified. The weak crescent shaped energy waves that characters like Xiahou Dun and Lu Xun fired out from the tips of their weapons as combo string cappers have been removed. Now these characters generally finish their combos with a wide reaching 360 degree slash, which is much more effective. Finally those weak and bizarre energy projectiles the strategist/sorcerer characters used in DW4 have been replaced by equally bizarre, but far more useful, explosive balls of energy. These are timed explosives with elemental properties (fire, ice, etc.) which vary depending on the character. They can be released into a crowd of enemies to damage, stun or freeze them. They can even be used to break enemy officer guards. Overall, the changes to the combat mechanics are marginal, but still welcome and contribute to making the combat smoother and more explosive, which is exactly what it should be.

The cast of DYNASTY WARRIORS 4 had about 42 characters, which was really insane for any beat em up/action game. DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 adds about 6 new characters for a stunning total of 48 (!!) playable combatants. At this point, I expect any critic would have been skeptical of any new characters to the roster since a selection that high almost ensures that the emphasis will be on quantity over quality, with a lot of characters having recycled movesets, weapons and copied animations. Fortunately the six new additions to DW5 are pretty good. Guan Ping, Guan Yu’s son, has been given a unique weapon and character model. He’s now a spiky haired kid with an enormous sword (Cloud?) that almost looks like a body sized butcher knife. In previous games, the big sword weapon was always relegated to a secret or custom character, but here, he’s been finally allowed to become part of the mainstream cast. Likewise, chopping up hundreds of enemies with a giant sword is the epitome of DYNASTY WARRIORS style fun. There’s also Zhang Fei’s daughter, Xing Cai, a petite lass equipped with a Western buckler shield and a long pronged fork (spear)? She’s a solid addition to the roster of fast characters and innovative in the sense that what she lacks in pure attack power, she makes up for in dexterity and defense thanks to her shield. There’s also Cao Pi, Cao Cao’s son. He’s got a double bladed sword (think Darth Maul) which he can split apart into two blades and rack up some insane combos. These are highlights, but the other additions to the cast are not entirely forgettable. Needless to say, despite the presence of 42 characters beforehand, Koei did a good job in differentiating the six new characters appearances and fighting styles enough so that they stand out from the rest of the established cast…which is exactly what a developer should do for any action game sequel featuring multiple playable characters.

The Musou Rage technique in particular really can pull you out of a tight spot. Furthermore there are only about 5 levels per character campaign as opposed to DW3’s 7 level stories. This makes the experience a little easier to grind through since you avoid have to experience DW3’s monstrously frustrating leap in spread out over the course of 3 final levels. The “Jump” in difficulty in DW5 doesn’t really occur until Level 5. That doesn’t mean that things ever stay consistently easy. As indicated by the number of deaths above, I was quite challenged by the game even while playing as a flexible character like Zhao Yun. The bulk from the challenge came, not from the archers this time around, but from the enemy officers and their high level goons. Since DW5 boasts more enemies onscreen than any of its predecessor, that means more opportunities for the surrounding enemies to interrupt your attacks and respond with a nasty combo string of their own. Furthermore the enemy officers in this game tend to bait you by stopping for a second to charge their energy before they unleash a Musou attack. Whereas in the other games, you could simply smack them out of their efforts if you saw them collecting essence, here they can’t be knocked back during their charging animation. You get fooled into attacking them because they’re immobile, only to countered with a vicious Musou attack. Once again, learning crowd control tactics is essential to surviving on the higher difficulty levels, as well as negotiating which enemy officer to take down on the map.

The item/inventory system has also been tweaked a little more from DYNASTY WARRIORS 4. Like every game DW game from #3 onwards…you still find tons of items on the battlefield in crates or dropped from enemy officers. At the end of each mission, they’re all tallied up and the ones that are duplicates of a lesser quality are dropped. That’s all fine and dandy…as it’s practically the same inventory system in any action RPG from DIABLO, before and beyond. What Omega Force could have included, which would have been nice, is the currency system from XTREME LEGENDS DW4 where you accumulated gold to use with a merchant, as well as finding items on the battlefield (and all the duplicates of a lesser quality were sold for gold instead of just thoughtlessly discarded). I would say this is a step backwards, but given both DW4 expansion packs were playing with some really experimental ideas, there’s a lot of room for criticism. Furthermore, like DW4, the player also has the option to equip mounts or elemental orbs to aid him in combat…assuming he finds the respective items on the battlefields. However, unlike DW4, these items are extremely difficult to find. Even after playing the game for over 40 hours with several different characters, I wasn’t able to locate a single one. Nothing in the manual indicates that these are super rare accessories…they evidently require some really special trick to uncover. Hardcore players will probably figure out, but the rest of us will have to rely on walkthroughs to obtain them.

Now the NEGATIVE:
In addition to throwing in a weight system, the designers have also increased the basic weapon types the player can acquire from 3 levels to 4 (excluding the unique weapons specific to every character). The “4th level” weapon type allows the player to perform an “Evolution combo”, which is a string of 9 consecutive normal attacks. The idea of an unbroken 9-hit attack string sounds promising; you would expect such an addition to increase the depth of the combat system. But “evolution combos”, like so many of the bells and whistles that characterize DYNASTY WARRIORS 5, feel tacked on and half hearted. The attacks added onto the character’s combo string are clearly just recycled basic attacks. So in effect, it looks like he’s simply restarting his basic combo string mid combo. The effect is mild, and I found myself rarely resorting to these combo strings, rather choosing to just use the more powerful area clearing charge attacks instead.

The consistency of a challenge level across DW5 is still really problematic. Modern Musou games have always had problems when it comes to challenge. If you recall in DW3, “Hard” mode featured an unbelievable jump in difficulty that was just an utter nightmare in the later stages of the game. I guess the developers must have heard the complaints since, in DW5, the difficulty level has been toned way down. Archers barely even scratch you with their arrows this time around, and they rarely flee when you come running at them with a sword. Enemy soldiers rush at you en masse; however most of these are just grunts which can cleared out shockingly quickly. Part of the problem is that the physics engine has been modified to be more juggle friendly, so bodies do more flying when they get hit. Combined with the subpar sound design and it feels like you’re wading through scores of paper men rather than tough soldiers. This translates to the enemy officers as well. They forget to block a lot of the time and get caught in combos far too easily. When you unleash a devastating Musou attack on them, it really sends them scattering. I remember in DW3, some of the enemies were so tough they wouldn’t even flinch when you hit them. However I encountered none of that vulnerability here. Even Lu Bu can be juggled around like a rag doll if the player desires. Whether on “Normal” or “Hard”, the game really only gets challenging during the final levels; but by that time, you’ll have gotten the gist of things and should be able to plow through it with enough patience.

To rectify the obvious difficulty imbalance (or lack of challenge), the designers threw an even newer difficulty setting into the equation, one that’s even tougher than the “Very Hard” difficulty settings of previous games: “Chaos Mode”. Obviously intended to end all discussions about DW being too easy, “Chaos” mode is designed for the hardcore players. Enemies do insane amounts of damage to your character and take insane amount of melee power to bring down. However the biggest change to Chaos, and the reason it falls more into the “Hardcore” category, is that you cannot find healing items to replenish your life gauge during battle. There are only three low level meat buns scattered randomly about the map. Once you use those up, the game will not provide you with any more healing utilities. Thus, this difficulty is more of an endurance test for the super DW players to conquer than a legitimate and fair challenge. Okay…you COULD argue that in some ways, it feels sort of a like a throwback to the classic beat em ups where healing accessories were scarce and only delivered at predetermined intervals. However they weren’t THAT scarce. Besides, the classic beat em ups didn’t surround you on all sides with hundreds of dangerous enemy soldiers capable of respawning near infinitely.

However there is a trick to get past the healing restriction on “Chaos” difficulty. Use a bodyguard who has the ability to heal you. Whether this was intentional or an oversight in the design is unclear. However there’s no doubt that equipping a bodyguard with a healing technique makes “Chaos” at least…manageable. Some of the more hardcore fans will bulk at the suggestion and insist that you get through “Chaos” without resorting to a healing bodyguard. Ultimately that’s up to the player. Those who want to experience a reasonable challenge on DW5’s highest difficulty level are encouraged to take a healing bodyguard into the battlefield. With that said…even “Chaos” can be conquered with relative ease if the player is persistent enough in building up the stats of his chosen character to insane levels and discovering every superweapon on the battlefield. Alas, the exploitable open ended RPG like character development of the DW series still proves to be one of it’s greatest crutches.

Another aspect that bugs me about the difficulty level of the game is just how inconsistent it is from character campaign to character campaign. As stated before, each character’s Musou mode is about 4-7 stages long. However instead of a set incremental increase in difficulty from stage to stage, the designers sought fit to program difficulty spikes based on the relative number of stages per character. This means you’ll play through Cao Cao’s Musou Mode (which contains 7 stages) and find it remarkably easy because of how slowly the difficulty builds across the course of his campaign. But then you switch to Yuan Shao, who only has a 4 stage campaign and find yourself getting your butt kicked on Stage 4. That’s because Stage 4’s difficulty is set so that it’s equivalent to Stage 7 of Cao Cao’s campaign. Because Yuan Shao only has 4 stages as opposed to 7, there’s a proportionately greater spike of difficulty per each stage. Enemies in Stage 4 of Yuan Shao’s campaign will be faster, more aggressive and have much more health than the same enemies from stage 4 of Cao Cao’s campaign. This is a pain because, unless you can predict how long each character’s campaign is, you’ll be flabbergasted by these radical shifts in challenge levels and be completely unprepared to take on a character with a much shorter campaign than one with a longer campaign. Yes, you could just use Free Mode to rectify this imbalance, but that’s something at your discretion.

As stated above, the third person action game genre had been undergoing a radical transformation since the release of titles like DEVIL MAY CRY and ICO back in 2001. By the time we got to 2005, this genre had absolutely EXPLODED with the release of games like DEVIL MAY CRY 3, NINJA GAIDEN and GOD OF WAR. Next to these slick and gorgeous eye catching titles, DW5 looked and played posivitively archaic by comparison. Just the visuals alone were enough to alert consumers that DW was absolutely not one of the most technically impressive frachises on the market anymore…it had been kicked out of the top running.. The barebone environments, a point of contention for critics for several years now, were still fairly bare bone and nowhere near as astounding as the gothic architecture of DMC or the ancient awe inducing cliffs and Grecian metropolises of GOD OF WAR or the highly detailed, distinctively comic book-like ninja villages of NINJA GAIDEN. The character models, which had always been a strong point for the series, looked somewhat wooden compared to the slick motion captured gracefulness of characters like Ryu Hayabusa or the unbridled rage and brutality of Kratos. Even DYNASTY WARRIORS’ greatest technical showcase, the huge number of enemies that could be shown onscreen at a single time, was starting to look clunky. The opening moments of GOD OF WAR and even the ending moments of ONIMUSHA 3 had shown that massive warfare could be rendered convincingly and cinematically in a video game without the need to sacrifice visual detail (even if most of the epic battles were noninteractive animations playing out in the background and the player did not actually engage with hundreds of soldiers at a personal level…although I guess this was a minor detail the critics overlooked).

In addition to the outdated presentation, the outdated gameplay mechanics did little to improve the franchise’s reputation as well. The light and strong combination attack system had been imitated and utilized in both GOD OF WAR and NINJA GAIDEN to a much more impressive degree. The diversity of combo strings that Ryu and Kratos built up over the course of their adventures far exceeded the limited 6 hit combo string setups of the DW games. However what both of the aforementioned games (and DMC) boasted that DW5 was still pitifully lacking was enemy diversity. I said it once, I said it twice, I’ll say it again…a beat em up almost always thrives on variety and creativity of stage and enemy design. In GOD OF WAR, you come across a variety of vicious opponents who require immensely different tactics to bring down. DW5, grounding itself in the (fantasized) simulation of a battlefield presents you with hordes of similar looking soldiers, occasional pockets of archers, the occasional sorcerer and of course enemy officers. That’s all you’ll be slogging through through pretty much the entire game. No towering armored warriors encased in impenetrable cuirasses that you will have chip away at piece by piece, no lightning fast ninjas who require ridiculously quick reflexes to overcom, no aerial combatants who sweep from the sky to attack you and can only be downed by carefully timed leap attacks, no hulking giants who swing tree logs at you, etc. In an inexplicable move, the designers also seem to have removed the bomb throwing soldiers from DW4. While this limited enemy variety could have been acceptable in DW2 since the technology was the real showcase at that time; by the time we’ve gotten to DW5, it feels stale. DYNASTY WARRIORS the franchise had fallen from the pedestal of hi-tech action genre innovator to the status of a B-grade retread of its former exploits. And things would only go downhill from there.

So DW5 really didn’t look like a top of the line title for 2005. Still…ignoring its competition, and you’ve got a decent looking Xbox game. I was forced to do a little bit of hardware moving during the tremendous length of time I played this game, and thus had the delight of seeing it played across several different TV sets. The sets I played it on included: a 1080P 55 inch LCD screen, a 27 inch CRT with component input, a 32 inch CRT with S-Video input, and 43 inch Plasma TV with 720P component input. Out of all these different setups, I determined in the end that the Plasma TV provided the crispest image with the most amount of color depth. The LCD screen was simply too gigantic a monitor for playing an old game like this on. Despite the fact that the game supported 480P resolution being an Xbox title, it still looked washed out and blurry when blown up to such a tremendous size. A 43 inch Plasma set, aside from simply having better lighting, also benefited from a more accurate aspect ratio mimicking the 4:3 setup of the classic CRT. Most folk will not have access to this strange outdated Plasma model, and for those of you who don’t, I can only recommend playing the game on a small HDTV to experience the game in all its enhanced definition clarity. The colors may still be slightly washed out, but at least you won’t have the unfortunate side effect of having that low resolution image blown up like a balloon. A friend of mine recently pointed out that, out of all the console generations available, the PS2/Xbox generation is the worst to satisfy from a visual perspective. After all, the consoles are not really high def, yet they’re compatible with an HDTV, many of them supporting features like Progressive Scan.. After playing DW5 on so many different setups, I can start to see what he meant…getting the best picture quality out of this game will require you to either dig up some old TV hardware or suffer an inevitable hit of quality with a modern HDTV. Ultimately though, the preference is up to the player.

One final note about the visuals: the art style is less appealing than previous entries in the series. Once again, I wonder if this is partly the result of SAMURAI WARRIORS’ success. SAMURAI WARRIORS was noted by every reviewer for having darker, grimier, grittier visuals than the first 3 DYNASTY WARRIORS games. Likewise, even though there’s a lot more texture detail in this particular entry of DYNASTY WARRIORS, especially in the environments (which are starting to look quite nice by now), the general portrait it seems to be painting is darker and kind of gray. You can see this clearly by looking at Wu characters like Sun Shang Xiang or Sun Ce; their armor seems to have been repainted in a muddy dark red. This is in contrast to DW3, where the character costumes were so garish and colorful, that they almost provided a cartoonish contrast to the dark environments. DW5 seems to be moving further away from DW3’s colorful buoyancy. The costume colors on the characters you play as have been muted to the point where they almost seem to blend indistinguishably into the more scenic backgrounds. The particle effects are nowhere near as flashy as DW4’s. Indeed the whole game might have been the technically polished DW title, but the general import of the more restrained art design is one of fatigue and grayness. It’s almost as if the visuals itself are imparting the message that the franchise is wearing itself out.

As far as audio presentation goes, DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 comes up rather weak in this area. From the outset, it should be fantastic. The Xbox version of DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 is a significant auditory improvement over its PS2 predecessor thanks to the addition of 5.1 Surround Sound Dolby Digital and (the best part) the original Japanese voicetrack! I swear that the latter addition was what really sold me on picking up the Xbox version over the PS2 original. Having to listen to a mediocre English voice track in a game like this which is based on classic art in a far Eastern setting is practically unbearable. However despite these generous additions, the execution of the sound comes up rather weak for a specific technical reason. When you first get the battlefield and start fighting, you will notice that the sounds of battle are unusually faint. This continues into the cutscenes…you will really have to listen closely to catch the voices submerged under the wailing guitar tunes and such. Eventually I realized that ALL the non-musical audio is extremely damp in comparison to the music. What happened to the sound design?? I’ve heard that rumors that this is due to the badly mixed quality of the Japanese voices. However I switched over to the English vocal track and got the same effect. I then thought the problem could be attributed to poor remastering for Surround Sound…so I unhooked the Xbox from my home theater and attached it to the TV speakers. Same problem. Eventually I just concluded that there’s just a major imbalance between the sound effects/voice and music volume, and the only way to rectify was to do some tinkering with the audio settings. I set the music down to 50% while keeping the Sound Effects at maximum, and turned up my speaker volume to compensate. Now it sounds acceptable…at least as acceptable as DYNASTY WARRIORS games should sound (the quality of the sound effects from the clashing steel, death screams, energy fueled Musou attacks, etc. don’t sound terribly different from DYNASTY WARRIORS 4). The music is the same guitar rock-tune stuff from DW3, which is a departure from DW4’s more ambient soundtrack, and subsequently not as impressive. Overall, the Xbox version of DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 CAN be good in the audio department, but it needs some major tweaking first.

In the end, despite its marginal refinements to the formula, DYNASTY WARRIORS 5 is undoubtedly the point at which the entire series started to go downhill. It was around 2004-2005 when Omega Force determined that new entries to the franchise were going to be produced on an annual basis. The XTREME LEGENDS expansion packs, which originally took about a whole year to be produce, would have development times amounting to a handful of months after the release of DYNASTY WARRIORS 5. Like so many sports franchises before it, DYNASTY WARRIORS had an established formula which could be milked annually for ensured profit. The emphasis had shifted almost entirely from quality to quantity. This puts DYNASTY WARRIORS 5’s reputation in a tricky position. One could argue in defense of it, claiming that it’s the most refined of the PS2 entries of the frachise, superior to what came before. On the other hand, theres really no denying that the game does feel archaic and dusty when set against the other hit action titles of 2005, such as GOD OF WAR and NINJA GAIDEN. Both of those games would redefine the action adventure genre for console games for years to come while making almost unmatched use of the technological horsepower modern consoles have to offer. With only marginal refinements and improvements to offer, but no new ambitious innovations; DYNASTY WARRIORS was beginning to feel like a relic in the console market barely 5 years after its inception. Still the positives including the greater emphasis on individual character stories combined with bigger maps, bigger enemy crowds, better graphics, etc. make this an ideal DYNASTY WARRIORS experience. Personally I think #4 was when the series hit its peak. But I do think that if somebody were to recommend these games to someone unfamiliar with the series, this would be a good first choice.

The Verdict

6Fair

The Good: +48 characters each with their own unique story
+base capturing system adds more variety to gameplay
+original Japanese voice track
+refined combat system
+Chaos mode WILL challenge you
+the 6 new characters are pretty awesome
+even more enemies onscreen

The Bad: -still too much recycled content, especially from story mode to story mode
-sound quality is terrible
-outdated graphics, even for 2005
-low enemy variety, bland environments


Leave a comment