The Romance of the Three Kingdoms has a long history in the video games industry. The first game in the series appeared on the NES, MSX and Amiga way back in 1985. This sweeping, epic tale of warring Kingdoms in ancient china has been a stalwart of the strategy genre. Recently, the saga of The Three Kingdoms will be more recognisable as the Dynasty Warriors franchise. The Dynasty Warriors games have in turn created their own sub-genre known as “Musou.” This term refers to the bar/gauge that fills up and allows players to unleash devastating finishing moves that can wipe out hordes of enemies at once. The series is famous for its large-scale battles that enable players to annihilate scores of enemies, level their characters, whilst unlocking new skills and abilities. This mix of gameplay styles, depending on the entry in the series, can be an intoxicating and addictive blend.
Dynasty Warriors Godseekers returns the series to its strategy based roots. Godseekers is a story driven, turn-based, tactical role-playing game that is very similar to the Fire Emblem series. The story follows heroic warrior Zhao Yun and his friend Lei Bin as they investigate a mysterious cave that has been overrun by a fanatical band of mercenaries. Inside, the pair discovers a mysterious girl frozen in ice. Lei Bin awakens the girl, named Lixia, and conveniently gains the ability to control people’s minds enabling him to manipulate them in battle. The plot then follows our heroes as they make their way through China on a quest that runs in tandem to the overall Romance of the Three Kingdoms tale. Along the way, our merry band recruits and encounters various heroes from the saga, but the overall story is a separate narrative involving gods and the fate of the world. It is a shame that the story is very generic and at times very convoluted. The predictable narrative, stilted dialogue and bland characters do not have the required urgency or motivation to keep driving the player on through the roughly 30 to 40-hour main campaign. Some of the dialogue would fit perfectly into a traditional Dynasty Warriors game; however, when placed in a role-playing setting, it just comes off as laughable at times.
The game follows the traditional turn-based mechanics laid out by many grid-based systems. You move your hero units around the battlefield and attack enemies. Extra damage is earned by attacking enemies from the flank or rear and interestingly, unlike Fire Emblem, attacking multiple units at once is an option. In fact, the game encourages the player to be surrounded to maximise attacking potential. As enemy units are killed the “Musou Gauge” fills up and allows individual heroes to unleash their signature finisher that wipes out scores of enemies at once. The new mechanic on display in Godseekers is the “Synchro Mode” which allows multiple heroes to team up to unleash devastating combined finishers. As attacks are completed, the “Synchro Guage” fills up and allows multiple heroes within the “Synchro Area” to take extra movement turns and attacks if they have already been used up, this then culminates in a huge attack that can lay waste to most of an army. The mechanic is innovative, fun and does provide a much-needed level of strategy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the general minute-to-minute combat as the game is bereft of any unique gameplay innovations such as the rock, paper, scissors mechanics found in titles such as Fire Emblem and Advance Wars. There are a very limited number of enemy types and each can be overpowered by the heroes very easily with no real strategy required to dispose of the enemies and as a result, the combat becomes boring very quickly. After a battle, chests are available to open which contain loot such as new weapons and items. The weapons can be sold, rebuilt, or fused to enhance their properties and stats. This is a nice little system and enables the construction of some great weapons. The heroes earn experience from the battles and this is used to level their basic stats and learn new moves. However, the system is unbalanced because the amount of experience awarded is solely based on the number of enemies killed by each hero. This leads to certain characters, such as Lei Bin, falling behind when levelling, as his ranged attacks are not initially as powerful as the attacks used by the melee characters. This can be frustrating when trying to progress through the story as each new pivotal battle has a minimum level requirement that needs to be met before it can be completed successfully.
Visually the game is very underwhelming. The textures are poor, the character models are not very detailed, and if the game was not presented in HD, it looks like it would run quite well on a Playstation 2. The cut scenes are reasonable but nothing spectacular and the game doesn’t look as good as a traditional Dynasty Warriors game, which has hundreds of units on-screen at once. There are also some very strange unit compositions. When attacking an enemy hero, for example, the enemy hero is displayed on the grid as a lone unit. However, when the camera zooms in for the attack animation the hero is then surrounded by random guards. This just gives off the feel of copy and paste game design. This is certainly not a showcase for the Playstation 4, or Playstation Vita for that matter, as it has the look and feel of a budget game, not a full priced retail release.
The sound design is equally lacklustre. The Japanese voice acting is fine if a bit melodramatic, but the dialogue is poor. The music is very repetitive and uninspired with a strange mix of rock, traditional Chinese orchestral themes, and frenetic beats that do not suit the slower pace of a strategy game. This kind of soundtrack is fine for the action based “Musou” games but feels very out-of-place here. The developers would have been better suited creating a more traditional classical Chinese instrumental soundtrack, in a similar vein to movies such as Hero, which have a slower more melodic pace and include bombastic moments when the action requires.
Dynasty Warriors Godseekers is a strange game as I am not entirely sure which audience Koei Tecmo were aiming for. It will not appeal to hardcore strategy fans, nor will it appeal to a general audience and fans of the Dynasty Warriors action games should just stick with the mainline series. The bland visuals, lacklustre sound, generic story, and boring combat really drag this title down. While the “Synchro Mode” and interesting crafting system are fun and innovative, Godseekers does not possess the strategic and tactical nuances required to make a successful strategy game.
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