Review by YanDaMan263

Reviewed: 03/27/09 | Updated: 04/01/09

Now THIS is the DW game we've been waiting for!

The Sangoku Musou series, known as Dynasty Warriors in the US, haven't made much progress from their previous installments. The first game was a fighting game that didn't garner much attention. The second game is what started the whole phenomenon of the one-man army and was a huge hit. The third game offered a visual upgrade and a deeper combat system. Ever since then however, each sequel offered very little upgrades and the changes were superfluous at best. Overall they all felt like the exact same game as the previous installment with only minor graphical updates and customization systems. People were getting tired of it, and Koei realized this. They decided to give the game a whole graphical overhaul, by redesigning every single characters and changing the battle system for their next-gen console debut, Dynasty Warriors 6. DW6 was aesthetically beautiful, the new character designs were gorgeous and very well accepted by the fans. The character's were all motion captured by real Chinese martial art experts to further enhance the Chinese Kung-Fu movie feel. But looking past that, the game play was still not that different from it's predecessor.

You can imagine what the initial reactions most fans would give once they see yet another DW game announced. However, for the few who decided to give this game a chance, we were all pleasantly surprised. Sangoku Musou Multi-Raid was such a huge step up from its former installments that it was almost difficult to believe, yet here we are playing it, experiencing its changes, and all we could say was, WOW.

So what could possibly be that different from a DW game you ask? Well that is why you are reading this review, and I will do my best to sum up all the key changes to give you an understanding of the game by simply reading words from this review.

Graphics and Sound:
The game opens with a beautifully rendered CG movie of an epic battle between Zhao Yun and Lu Bu. The movie also showcase many new features such as Awakening and giant bosses, which I will talk about later. In-game graphic wise, all characters have retained their DW6 models for this game. However, being originally from a next-gen console, the reduced quality on the characters are hardly noticeable on the small PSP screen. The environment looks pretty good and not as plain as previous games. You won't be staring at empty wastelands as much as dynamic environments with tons of traps shooting at you among other things going on. A pretty good start. Special effects are mostly so-so, such as shockwaves and bursts of energy from special attacks. Although they don't look too different from stuff we've already seen, they certainly aren't bad and fits the game quite well.

There is not much to mention on the music department. The music are the typical stuff you'd expect to hear from previous games, decent but not too memorable but nothing that will make your ears bleed. The sound effects are pretty good and character voice acting is a plus. Although certain characters can tend to get annoying for repeating the same catchphrase for doing the same attacks.

Gameplay and Innovation:
I will start with the biggest, and most obvious change to the series. In this game, every character have an "Awakened" form. This will turn your character from the one-man-army into an unstoppable engine of destruction and give your characters a whole new look. You have your typical musou meter below your life gauge. As usual attacking fills up the meter, and once it is full, rather than performing your musou attack, you can press Triangle + Circle to transform into your awakened form. During this form parameters are increased and your musou gauge slowly depletes itself. By pressing Triangle + Circle while in this state will activate your character's musou attack. At the beginning, Awakened Form may not seem too impressive. But as you progress through the game and gain proper skills that works in conjunction to your character's awakened state, that is when it's true potential is revealed, and later portions of the game will make this form crucial to the success of your mission.

Next is controls. You have your standard attack button, a charge attack, weapon change, jump, dash, and block. Holding the block button allows you to lock on to the nearest enemy while your charge attack will vary depending on whether you press the button or hold it. Holding Block also allows you to strafe sideways. Most of this are typical DW stuff, but the new features requires a more in-depth explanation.

Weapon change. Each character can equip two weapons before sortie. They have a primary weapon and a secondary weapon. Your secondary weapon can be any type of your choosing, provided you have one to equip before a mission. During a mission, simply press Circle to switch weapons, which can even be done during mid combos. This allows for some pretty fancy combos depending on your combination.

Next is the freedom of movements. This game have removed the laws of physics on your characters, allowing them to fly and hover similar to Chinese kung-fu movies. Depending on the character, some may double jump or fly, while other characters can do so by having the proper skills equipped. Aerial battles is a prominent part of the game play, and it should be mastered quickly.

Another neat feature is that you can now carry items with you before going on a mission. During intermissions, you are where I will call "camp". In this place you can talk to NPCs, purchase items such as healing or musou recovery items with you to battle, as well as purchase skills to equip and forge new weapons out of materials that enemies dropped or found, and much more. This feature make the game feel a lot more like your traditional action game, where you stock up on healing items and only use them when you want to. This means you no longer need to run from bosses when you are low on life hoping to find that one crate with meat buns inside to recover some life.

The game also have many new kind of enemies to fully take advantage of the flight system. Enemies such as flying sorcerers glides around the screen blasting you with magic, which requires you to take advantage of aerial combat to defeat them. Maps are also filled with traps and devices that may shoot at you, which you need to destroy or be hindered while battling a boss. Also, aside from your typical enemy officer bosses, this game have now the new addition of giant monsters as bosses. Many of these beasts are even accompanied by a powerful enemy officer, which can get quite difficult at times. These new giant bosses are a great new addition to fight and forces you to use your awakened form wisely.

The stage maps are considerably smaller and stages are much quicker to finish compared to a console DW game, which is to be expected. In order to make the loading time manageable, this is the best route to take. As a consequence you won't be fighting hordes of enemies on screen at once. In fact don't expect to enter a stage and end with 1000s of kills. While the core of the game remains the same, you have a lot more goals than just "defeat enemy officer", while not much, at least adds a bit of variety to the stages.

Customization in this game is one of the deepest system introduced so far for a DW game. As mentioned, your character can equip almost any weapons as their secondary weapon. To do this you must first create a weapon in the first place. Through missions you can find materials for item creation back at the camp. Gathering enough of these allows you to forge new weapons to equip. Weapons may gain additional effects depending on the material and the resulting weapon. While this may seem to take away a character's uniqueness, keep in mind that each character have a certain proficiency with a weapon type, so to get the best results, use weapons that a character is proficient with. Weapon proficiency will increase after each mission depending on what you have equipped. Many higher level weapons requires a certain level of proficiency to equip. Skills can also be purchased at the camp for gold, there are various skills in these game, some typical stuff like no flinching during charge attack, while others are pretty advanced, such as cannot die while awakened, to regaining health from damage during awaken form. You can also infuse your weapons with a certain element. Many enemies and bosses have elemental weaknesses, therefore the proper preparation can give you an easier time to take down your foes.

One of the best features of this game is the multiplayer mode. You can work together with up to three other friends through the PSP's built-in wireless system to tackle stages and big bosses together. This may not seem like much but it opens the door for many possibilities. What makes a game like Monster Hunter so addicting is the multiplayer co-op modes that allows you to hunt for items and take down bosses together. The same holds true to this game. You can even trade materials and items that you've gathered or created with a friend, giving item collectors another goal than merely beating the game.

As you can expect, replay value is extremely high. Each character can level up to level 50, and you got over 40+ to chose from. As a result, you'll end up playing with a friend many times to power up your characters and collect more materials to customize them, as well as enlisting their help to take down difficult big bosses.

To conclude, this is the one Dynasty Warriors game that have finally stepped beyond its predecessors and finally delivers to us a whole new experience. The new battle system, weapon switching, and awakening mode gives almost a Devil May Cry feel to the game. At the same time, the co-operation, material hunting and customization gives the game a Monster Hunter feeling as well. Consider this the best of both worlds, all mixed in with Classic Dynasty Warriors. While reading words and trying to imagine what the game is like won't do it much justice, as you won't realize how addicting and fun it is unless you experience it hands on. The game is being released late April 2009 in the US, hopefully you will go out and give this game a try. This is definitely a huge step towards the right direction for Dynasty Warriors.

PROs:
-Awakening Mode for all characters with all different looks.
-Fun and addicting combat system that feels almost like Devil May Cry.
-Deep customization system gives a better RPG feel.
-New enemies and bosses provide a nice challenge.
-Multi-player mode is as addicting as Monster Hunter.

CONs:
-Music are upbeat, but not too memorable and lacks variation in genre.
-Not too much things to fight most of the time, which may bore certain gamers.
-Game can get extremely repetitive, stages are generally very short.

Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 7/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Innovation: 10/10
Replay Value: 9/10

Final Score: 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Shin Sangoku Musou: Multi Raid (JP, 02/26/09)

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