|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Omega Force|
|Pub: Tecmo Koei|
|Release: February 22, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
Though the market's appreciation for large-scale, hack-and-slash combat has waned in the years since Dynasty Warriors 2 showed that it was possible, you would be hard-pressed to find a console that hasn't had at least some iteration of the franchise. In the case of the PlayStation Vita, it's available at launch.
Dynasty Warriors Next has a name that implies it will be an innovative experience. This is misleading. Strikeforce was innovative, with its over-the-top production and anime-esque power-ups for the game's already heavily dramatized warriors. That said, don't hold the title against Dynasty Warriors Next, as it has a lot to offer even for those who might feel burnt out on the hack-and-slash genre.
Visually, Dynasty Warriors Next is an attractive title. It has sharp, detailed textures and compelling, distinct character designs. The environments aren't anything spectacular, but they get the job done, providing a sense of place with hills and tall fortress walls. Everything animates smoothly and gracefully, with a consistent and high frame rate, regardless of the absurd number of enemies onscreen.
It also sounds like one would expect, with the constant battle cries of friend and foe alike, promises of revenge from defeated generals, and the earth-shaking clamor of Musou abilities rending the ground—and the enemies upon it—asunder. The music is the series' typical rock soundtrack, with the occasional dramatic piece where appropriate. Of particular note, however, are the voices, which generally seem to be of high quality; earlier Dynasty Warriors games were known for their terrible voice acting. Here, it sounds particularly good when it accompanies the well-composed CG cutscenes that pepper the campaign.
Ah, the campaign. The core of the Dynasty Warriors experience is the tale of the kingdoms Wu, Shu, and Wei, the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms." Those who've played a Dynasty Warriors title before are likely familiar with the story, and Dynasty Warriors Next takes no chances. Its campaign mode puts the player in control of the appropriate kingdom for each section as they work their way through Chinese historical fiction, beginning with the Yellow Turban Rebellion and proceeding on linearly. In addition to the story as presented by talking heads between missions and in CG cutscenes between chapters, the game contains a tremendous encyclopedia, with information on events and officers ranging from the major to the minor, going so far as to include a complete timeline of events from the births of major players in the Three Kingdoms era to the eventual fall of all three.
As for play, well, it's a Dynasty Warriors game, and it's not using the Dynasty Warriors 6 engine. Light attacks can be chained together in a character's basic combo, which can be interrupted with a heavy strike, the effect of which changes depending on which hit in the chain it is. Special attacks return, of course, but now come in three varieties: Musou, Speed Musou, and Direct Break. Regular Musou is what one would expect, requiring players to press and hold the circle button when the Musou bar is full to unleash a powerful attack. Speed Musou is activated by touching both the right and left sides of the screen at once, and uses either a touch mechanic (front or back) or a motion command to power it up or use it effectively once initiated. When one's health is low (indicated by veiny red segments at the edges of the screen, health now recharging automatically outside of battle), these become True Musou attacks. Direct Break is a powerful attack activated by touching the center of the screen when the Break gauge (separate from the Musou gauge) is full. It's useful for claiming bases.
Bases are typically captured by damaging enemies within it until a number at the top of the screen has been whittled down to zero, at which point control passes over and the benefits of that location change sides. Different bases have different benefits, from increasing one's army's attack strength to fortifying one's main base against attack. Some launch artillery attacks at distant enemies. Others are even capable of shielding adjacent bases from capture. Direct Breaks are important here, because they can capture a base in a single shot, and in doing so fortify that base against recapture.
Both Campaign Mode and the game's other single-player mode (not counting a smattering of touch and motion-based minigames), Conquest Mode, play out from an overarching map of China, from which players select a target territory and attempt to capture it through battle. Conquest Mode adds a twist by assigning territories values, one territory requiring a higher value than its adjacent target to attempt capture. These values can be upgraded over time. In this mode, rather than having one's army and playable general selected by the computer, players can select a kingdom to control and others against which to compete. Though the game comes with only a one-on-one mode unlocked and only a few generals per kingdom, Conquest can be expanded by gaining experience in Campaign Mode and leveling up, which also introduces more items to the character creation tool.