Game Review - Dynasty Warriors 9 on PlayStation 4

Written by bmoore07 on June 10, 2020 @ 6:35 am

They resent the past. Dynasty Warriors revolves around warlords that rage against a dying kingdom. They're after independence, total freedom from the Han empire's repressive rules and regulations. It's a war of ideas, with leaders of the modern movement against the guardians of tradition. This war is eternal, repeating itself throughout the course of history. The same conflict that defined the Three Kingdoms era is still underway, within this franchise and its relationship with Dynasty Warriors 9.

DW9 is groundbreaking. It's an entirely new adventure, bold and daring, especially compared to its predecessors. Dynasty Warriors has enacted change before, but only to a certain extent. Change arrived in assets. With each installment came a greater variety of features: more battles, more characters, more factions, more outfits, more weapons, more special attacks, and (best of all) more kickass songs. Other than these features, though, Dynasty Warriors wasn't too keen on adjustments. However, with this game, change arrived in all regards. It went against the guardians of tradition (the fans of older games) by not settling for delivering features. Instead, it went further, transforming DW's tried-and-true format, making alterations to the franchise's foundation.

The foundation has expanded. It has extended its reach into an open-world setting. As a result, this game can deliver on a larger scale, taking the warlords' conflicts to unprecedented heights. They involve the entirety of Ancient China. Instead of being confined to segmented maps, these conflicts (and DW's hack-and-slash gameplay) unfold on the biggest stage possible. This stage is honestly the ideal setting for Dynasty Warriors. The various factions (Shu, Wu, Wei, Jin, and Other) and their aspirations; the themes DW adapts from Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms; and the soundtrack, which combines Chinese instruments with hard rock and orchestral arrangements -- they are all behemoths. They deserve a setting that's as grandiose and imposing as they are. Implementing an open world format was brilliant, but DW9 didn't stop there. It not only expanded the battlefield, but it also improved the people fighting on the battlefield.

Their numbers are legion. DW9's cast is truly overwhelming; this game boasts a grand total of 90 playable characters (94, if you're including those available through DLC), and it cares about all of them. Previous installments prioritized the factions (specifically, the faction's leaders), analyzing their ambitions and emphasizing their massive military campaigns. DW9 is different. This game broadened its horizons by highlighting both the faction's biggest personalities and their lesser-known names with equal amounts of enthusiasm. DW9 constructs well-defined plotlines for every cast member, which results in the franchise's strongest character writing yet. There's no shortage of figures who were minimized and marginalized in previous installments that are greatly enhanced by this game's depiction of them. Although you could reference plenty of examples (like Han Dang, Jiang Wei, Liu Shan, Sun Shangxiang, and (surprisingly enough) Da Qiao), there are three characters that stand out in this regard.

First, there's Cao Pi. Pronounced "Tsao Pi," he was a Wei officer that older games had confined to his father's shadow. However, DW9 brought Cao Pi out from the margins and into the forefront. It chronicles his reign as emperor, covering everything from his ascent to his suppressing Wei's rebellions and (finally) his various campaigns against Wu, in far more detail than in previous installments. Then, there's Yuan Shao. He's a proud nobleman that was relegated to a comic relief role. DW9 reinvents Yuan Shao. It establishes him as an extremely charismatic leader of men by highlighting his biggest victories (specifically in his battles against Gongsun Zan) in his storyline. Finally, there's Dong Zhuo. He's a vicious tyrant that older games neglected to explore beyond his famous battle at Hu Lao Gate. This time around, though, Dong Zhuo's character is expanded upon. It follows him from day one when he was but a minor official, and from there, it depicts the full span of his career. We're shown his conquest of Liang Province, his takeover of the Han empire, his recruiting of the great Lu Bu (the game's most powerful warrior), his defeat at Hu Lao Gate, and his escape to Chang'an. We're also shown how his ambition and greed, which were there since the start, only worsened as time progressed. In the end, DW9 proved that there's more to Dong Zhuo than meets the eye.

He benefited from exposure. Dong Zhuo (and the overall cast) improved because DW9 added new events and provided more insight into their careers. It then applied this strategy on a larger scale with its pre-battle conversations, which drastically impacted the game's factions.

It reveals their inner workings. DW9's character dialogue provides more insight into the factions than before. Conversations in older games were limited to the latest campaign and things directly related to it. They now cover a wide range of topics, which opens a window into each faction's day-to-day operations. DW9 concerns itself with their internal strife and how that affects their military campaigns. For example, there's a subplot at the Battle of Nanjun that focuses on Cao Cao appointing himself Duke of Wei. In the Han empire, it was the emperor that appointed officials, that provided them with titles, ranks, and status. Appointing yourself was unheard-of; this was a decision that would cost the Wei faction dearly. They would lose the Battle of Nanjun because they weren't of one accord on Cao Cao's appointment. There's another Wei-centric subplot; this one concerns the strategist Sima Yi. Before Wei's Attack on Five Fronts against Shu, several officials gather to grumble about him. They bemoan his growing influence and how it could impact their livelihoods, and as a result, they decide to reduce Sima Yi's numbers. The officials persuade his soldiers to resist his orders by faking an illness, and the Attack on Five Fronts suffered because of this. There's also a subplot concerning Jiang Wei (a general for the Shu faction) and his Northern Campaigns. These campaigns cause internal strife because they're both incredibly expensive and hilariously ineffective. Jiang Wei presses on anyway; he shuts down the opposition in every conversation, paying no mind to Huang Hao (a Shu official), Liu Shan (Shu's leader), or their complaints. This conflict eventually damaged his efforts at the Battle of Taoshui, as Huang Hao and Liu Shan joined forces to undermine him. These subplots (and others throughout the story) are but one way this game has changed its campaigns.

The grappling hook is another. It's a feature that has crippled the campaigns, lowered their degree of difficulty, and reduced their overall enjoyment. If you played DW9 under normal circumstances, you would have to go through hell if you wanted to capture the enemy's command base. You would travel to great lengths and play through an extensive series of missions. They range from escort assignments to infiltrations to interrogations to negotiations and planning army formations. These missions offer a refreshing change of pace to the usual hack-and-slash format, and they're also quite rewarding. Upon completion, you're provided with supplies and intel, which are very useful in capturing the enemy command base. However, the grappling hook changes this format. The missions are inessential, the supplies and intel ultimately meaningless, because the grappling hook allows you to climb on top of and land inside of any base of your choosing. Although DW9 has tried to prevent this by disabling the hook once in a while, the option is still there for the most part. To be honest, the grappling hook itself isn't an issue. It's Dynasty Warriors 9 that's to blame; this game starts you off with the hook and (for the most part) it offers no restriction on when or where to use it.

It was made for the open world. The grappling hook was designed to help you explore this game's terrain in two ways. For one, it enables you to scale up the watchtowers in a matter of seconds. These watchtowers are features that provide you with new areas to explore. What's more, they deliver this game's most beautiful visual spectacles. When you reach the watchtower's peak, the camera zooms out before slowly circling around your character, which allows you to take in this game's scenery. The grappling hook is also used for mountain-climbing. DW9's open-world includes a variety of historical landmarks, like the Changjiang (China's longest river), the Copper Bird Terrace (an elaborate mansion in the city of Ye, built by the land's finest artisans), and (of course) the Great Wall of China. However, this game's mountains tower above the other landmarks, both literally and figuratively speaking. They offer the game's most abundant treasures and experience points by far, but getting to them is a challenging ordeal, even with the grappling hook. There are many obstacles to overcome, like added layers of rock (which block your progress), uneven structures (which make you lose balance), and slopes (which send you to the depths below), but it's pushing through these obstacles that makes mountain-climbing all the more enjoyable.

That said, mountains are only part of the full picture. It's this game's overall environment that I appreciate. I'm captivated by the open world, by the landscape on display, by the architecture it portrays, and by the areas it hides away. Dynasty Warriors 9 is an immersive experience, and its overall sound really helps in this regard. Take the villagers, for example. In this game (and in previous installments), you have the option to engage in conversation with them. Most villagers share worthwhile information (did you know that the city of Xia Pi was built by a strategist named Han Xin?) while the others either drop Skyrim references ("I was pretty dangerous in the past, but then I took an arrow to the knee") or lapse into poetry ("Whenever I set myself in Chengdu / I find myself feeling quite blue / or some other melancholy hue"). However, DW9 is unique because of what occurs outside of these conversations. You don't have to talk to the villagers to know what's on their mind. Simply walking by allows you to hear their ongoing gossip, complaints concerning the weather, and opinions on political matters. For another example, you can refer to the game's soundtrack. Dynasty Warriors has always used its badass music to electrify the fights and energize its various conflicts. However, with DW9, the music extends far beyond the battlefield. Every activity this game offers (from fishing to hunting, from buying homes to sparring with soldiers, from writing letters to finding treasures, from roof hopping to horseback riding, from crafting items to resting at bonfires) is backdropped by the same guitar solos and orchestral pieces that animate the campaigns. The music here is overpowering; not only does it completely immerse you into the open world, but it also far outweighs any flaws you encounter along the way.

And make no mistake. This game contains flaws, plenty of them. There are definitely features here that it can do without, like the Auto-Run option (this was an interesting concept that, in reality, rarely functioned as intended), the subpar English dub (this was the result of rounding up rookie actors and requiring them to replicate the original Chinese voiceovers), the previously-mentioned grappling hook, and the DLC character Xiahou Ji. This addition was a terrible decision, especially when you compare the actual Xiahou Ji to her in-game personality as the wife of Shu general Zhang Fei. That said, DW9's flaws pale in comparison to where it succeeds and what it means for this franchise moving forward.

DW9 is groundbreaking. It's an entirely new adventure, bold and daring, that has changed this franchise for the better. It lives up to its tagline ("History. Reborn.") by reforming how DW represents the Three Kingdoms era. It's addictive to play through this game's conflicts, but they're not the center of attention. Instead, DW9 is focused on the background of its conflicts, the politics behind them, and the personalities that defined them. It's a remarkable perspective that DW can certainly put to good use in the future. All in all, Dynasty Warriors 9 is a game with lots of promising ideas for this franchise, for the stories it tells and how it tells them, for its characters and the conversations between them, for its campaigns and the missions that exist alongside them, for its landmarks and for the open-world setting that surrounds them. I'm honestly excited to see where they lead because it was these ideas that made this game enjoyable.

Gameplay Rating: 8
Story Rating: 9
Graphics & Visuals Rating: 8
Sound Rating: 10
Overall Rating: 8

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Game Information

Alternative Titles
Shin Sangoku Musou 8, 真・三國無双8
Platform
PlayStation 4
Developer(s)
Omega Force
Publisher(s)
Koei Tecmo
Genre(s)
Action, Hack n' Slash
NA Release Date
February 8, 2018
JP Release Date
February 8, 2018
EUR Release Date
February 8, 2018
AUS Release Date
February 8, 2018
ESRB Rating
T
PEGI Rating
16+
CERO Rating
B
ACB Rating
M
MVGL User Score
6.0
Composer
Masayoshi Sasaki, Yojiro Yoshimatsu, Masato Koike, Gota Masuoka, Hiromu Akaba, Ippo Igarashi
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