If you weren’t previously a fan of this series, this game will not make you one.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is the latest entry in Koei Tecmo’s Musou franchise where historical wars are reimagined with an over-the-top anime-esque hack and slash aesthetic. Over the years they have refined and mastered the 1 vs 1000 formula, applying it to a variety of historical settings. In previous games, battles were fought on self-enclosed battlefields designed to have their own feel and layout so no two environments feel completely the same.
Dynasty Warriors 9 marks the developers’ first attempt at a fully open world; battles now occur on a huge scale as forces clash all across China. However, with a larger scale, the pacing of these battles have been utterly ruined, with tedious periods of travelling between very short missions, in what feels less like a fast-paced action game and more like checking chores off a to-do list. This increased scale is also poorly optimised with horrendous frame rate issues and world rendering, which was a shocking first impression to say the least.
Musou games have always had a simple control scheme: you mash buttons and your character does a bunch of fancy moves. You use those moves to kill hordes of peons. Rinse and repeat. With 9, the decision was made to revamp this system, introducing the ‘State Combo System’, meaning your character will automatically react to the position of an enemy i.e. if your target is in the air your character will jump up and hit them there. Somehow they’ve been able to take a simple combat system and make it even simpler by limiting the length of combos you can string together. Add to that the inclusion of a one-hit kill move (pressing the triangle button when it randomly tells you to) and combat quickly becomes trivial. The worst new mechanic, however, is without a doubt the grappling hook, which allows you to scale any wall you want; sieges become irrelevant and any character can become an unstoppable master ninja.
Another issue as a result of the expanded world is a lack of content. The trailers showed off a variety of activities such as fishing, hunting, gathering materials and enjoying the beauty that is China! The sad truth is these do little to fill the country-sized void. It quickly becomes bothersome to travel, and side missions are unnecessary as you level up just fine through the story missions. This is where the game fails as an open world experience; when presented with an open world one should never be saying “Oh, I’ll go there later’’ or ‘’I can’t be bothered with that right now.’’ It lacks the wonder, joy and fun that should be had in exploring new places with complete freedom, and fast travel quickly becomes your most trusted ally.
The source material of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms brings with it a plethora of characters, and the in-game adaptation of the story had only been improving over the past entries. With an admittedly camp and overly dramatic style of voice acting, each character had their own unique charm to them. That has been butchered as all attention seems to have been placed on developing the new open world system. Cutscenes are very hit or miss – though even the hits are weaker than the last entry – and characters sound almost identical in some cases with bland, emotionless performances all around. Gone are the iconic voices of the past decade and in are bargain store knock offs, one in particular sounding suspiciously like a text-to-speech machine. You can still see the shadows of their former selves in the writing, making the recasts all the more bittersweet.
Dynasty Warriors 2 helped define what it would mean to be a hack and slash game in modern gaming, and Dynasty Warriors 9 was the experiment to take that formula to the next level. It was definitely worth a shot and I give credit to the developers for trying something new, however it was a clear misstep which failed in places previous games excelled. As a long-time fan of the series I sincerely hope this is just a major teething issue and Dynasty Warriors 10 can rectify these shortcomings.
To anyone considering buying this: don’t. It’s cheaper to buy older games and you will have far more fun playing them than this glitchy, tedious mess.