In the interest of journalistic transparency, a disclosure needs to be issued: I am a stalwart Dynasty Warriors devotee. Having played through nearly every series permutation, I’ve witnessed the franchise steadily advance alongside each new generation of hardware, while remaining resolute in its fanciful interpretation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Although hacking away to reunite a hemorrhaging Han Dynasty has offered a cathartic experience on consoles, portables have often delivered a substandard adaptation of the action. Without the power of their home-based brethren, GBA, DS, and PSP adaptations have been forced to forgo the franchise’s signature throngs of enemies.
Within a few moments of loading up Dynasty Warriors Next for the Vita, it is obviously that Sony’s new system has the power to provide a proper rendition. As dozens of foes swarm around the OLED screen, returning conqueror Cao Cao carves through adversaries in typical fashion, with the type of visual fidelity traditionally limited to now-gen machines. Pleasingly, the game is more than just a graphically faithful rendition of Dynasty Warriors, presenting a pleasing amalgam of franchise tenets along with enough touch-screen based novelty to enliven the oft sequelized title.
Jumping into the title’s Empires-inspired campaign mode, players are tasked with toppling control of territories which are spread out across a map of third century China. While the customary combinations of normal and heavy strikes are crucial to your efforts, an unexpected number of strategic elements are also critical, especially when playing on an elevated difficultly setting. Before battle, stratagems are the key to gaining a statistical advantage. Here, players can spend a bit of gold to increase the potency of their character’s attack, or even augment the abilities of allied lieutenants. During battle, a flick of the map will expand its on-screen size. Once enlarged, dragging officer icons will order your subordinates to attack or defend any locations.
Each map is comprised of adversary and allied bases, all connected by a network of roads. Consideration must be given to the order of attack as taking control of a base has distinct advantages. From supply depots which bolster the defensive capability of your troops, to lairs which can send forth a procession of animals to assail your foe, each outpost has the ability to affect the ebb and tide of combat. Taking command of enemy bases involves vanquishing enough adversaries until a counter at the top of the screen depletes, and a cascade of friendly crashes through the gates.
Although the reoccurring takeover of territories can get tedious, Next has a handful of mini-games which help break up the monotony. Periodically, players will enter into a duel with an enemy general, prompting a sequence of swipes on designated paths, on-screen presses, and wild rubbing which symbolizes a decisive swordfight. Other diversions ask players to brush away encroaching enemies and arrows or use the gyroscopic function of the Vita to locate leaping adversaries. Jumping onto a ballista even allows gamers to launch a volley of arrows by tapping the Vita’s rear touchpad. Mercifully, most of Next’s touch controls are optional; players may alternatively use the system’s sticks or triggers.
A mainstay of the series, Musou attacks make an obligatory appearance. Once a player’s gauge is filled, pressing the circle button unleashed a devastating character-specific attack; when gamers are low on health the assault becomes even more destructive. Alternatively, a Speed Musou attack is initiated by simultaneously tapping both sides of the screen, issuing an assault which can be supplemented by touch screen use; like regular Musou strikes, each allied leader has their own unique technique to mow down opponents. Next’s other new addition is the Break Meter, which allows for the instant overthrow of an enemy stronghold when engaged.
Complementing Next’s campaign is Conquest mode, which relinquishes dialog sequences for an imagined take on the Three Kingdoms. After choosing a faction and character, players take turns overwhelming different provinces on the map, Risk-style. Here, the lack of any competitive online component (although four player local ad-hoc is offered) is remedied by having data from other Next-owning gamers serve as the DNA for enemy generals. With Dynasty Warriors having a cultish following, expect opposition to be excruciatingly fierce. Finally, the game’s Gala Mode goodies grant access to the game’s mini-games and even allow players to customize any photos taken with the Vita’s camera with familiar trappings. Unexpectedly, having my dog pose amidst memorable Dynasty Warriors characters proved even more compelling that creating an avatar in the title’s character editor.
Dynasty Warriors Next is unlikely to change the attitude of series detractors. Despite the addition of touchscreen controls and mechanics borrowed from the Empire spin-off series, the title’s battles remain largely homogenous throughout its core campaign. For musou manics unruffled by this expectation, Next offers a shining interpretation of definitive Dynasty Warriors gameplay, nearly aping the look and feel of the franchise’s most recent console efforts.