As we await Dynasty Warriors 7, Fist of the North Star Warriors and Warriors: Legends of Troy, Koei have taken it upon themselves to release another game where warriors chop down thousands of enemies in minutes. But it seems they can't allow us to go without a dose of Dynasty Warriors for more than three months. That's why they decided to port last year's PSP title Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce unto home consoles. So we won't forget about Lu Bu, Zhao Yun and the rest of the crew.
In Koei's defence it must be said that Strikeforce is a fairly different take on the series. While the main series offer tactical beat 'em ups, and the Empire games off more strategy and planning before each battle, Strikeforce is more action oriented and carries RPG traits from the likes of Phantasy Star and Monster Hunter; games that may be even more popular in Japan than the Dynasty Warriors series.
This means that the giant battlefields are gone, replaced by sealed off rooms filled to the brim with enemy soldiers. Instead of a dynamic set up where you are only one part of a bigger event, it is you alone who is fighting. There are no longer any new weapons spread across the battlefield, instead you get different materials to carry home in order to improve your equipment. Home camp works like a RPG hub city, where you can recruit AI controlled partners, buy new skills and weapons, healing herbs and other stuff.
Another thing that sets Strikeforce apart is that you can invite three friends to join in the battle. That is of course always nice, and the only drawback is that if your partners die a bit too often everyone loses.
And that happens a lot. Strikeforce is more challenging than previous titles, in part because of the higher pace, and in part due to the controls borrowed from the PSP edition, that aren't totally crisp. The camera is not always co-operating, and it zooms in too much making it difficult to get a good overview. I often find myself fighting foes off screen.
If you've ever played a Dynasty Warriors title you will recognise the characters on offer. Classic characters such as "beardmaster" Guan Yu, eternal badass Lu Bu, überhero Zhao Yun, ladies' man Xhou Yu, one-eyed Xiahou Dun och the super strategist Zhuge Liang, plus a few lesser known characters. They all carry the weapons as in Dynasty Warriors 6, but also have the possibility of carrying one optional weapon, if you for instance want to give Dian Wei back his giant axe, instead of the rather dull hammer he has had as of late.
All the heroes can also go Dragon Ball (ancient Chinese tradition), activating a special mode, where your hair do gets spiky and everyone starts to glow. You do more damage in this mode, jump higher and fly further. When you have upgraded your abilities fully, you hardly have to touch the ground at all.
The problem is that the engine, at its core the same one used in Dynasty Warriors 2 from the year 2000, is not at all designed with this kind of movement in mind. Flying enemies can't be tracked and frustration mounts as some annoying magician or ballista stands on a ledge 20 yards away teeing off on you. The lock-on sight is also unreliable.
It is also apparent that the budget for Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is almost zero. The cramped environments are repeated over and over and over again, the character models have been taken straight from Dynasty Warriors 6 (including the stills in the load screens), and it has the same terrible voices as always. And despite the simple graphics, the framerate crawls to a halt at times, for some reason more frequently in the Xbox 360 version.
To criticise Koei for releasing one too many games based on the Three Kingdoms is a bit like complaining about too many World War II games. Afterall, it is an exciting era with famous people and events. And if Koei had been making World War II games we would have playing as Winston Churchill, as he personally flew a Spitfire to Berlin, parachuted down on the streets taking down thousands of Nazis with an oversized umbrella before finishing of Hitler on the roof of a burning Reichstag building. That would have been something...