Friday, 7 December 2012

Dynasty Warriors Advance (GBA)

Dynasty Warriors Advance title screen
Alright, today I'm going to see what Dynasty Warriors Advance is, because the internet asked me to.

I have actually played a lot of the main Dynasty Warriors games on consoles, and they're typically about running around on a field slicing through hundreds of rubbish soldiers to an anachronistic rock soundtrack. And this... isn't going to be like that, because it's a handheld game and the hardware just isn't up to it. But at least I can confirm that it does have the correct music, at least on the title screen. Plus it even sounds fairly decent for a GBA game.

I was given a choice between the story mode, Free Mode, and Challenge Mode, so I decided to go straight to the main game and now I get to pick a side.

The game is very roughly based on a true story, and takes place in 3rd century China, with the nation split between three powers: Wei, Shu and Wu. Each is eager to unify the nation under their rule, but only the incredible fighting skills of... whichever character I end up choosing can tip the balance and bring ultimate victory.

I decided to go with team green, and now I've got to pick which of these three famous historical warriors I want to control. The angular green fried egg presumably shows their stats, but I'm going to ignore all that and just go with Zhao Yun, the bloke on the left. Because I like his spear.

Unlike the console games, this has no cutscenes or voices, but it still has a bit of a story. The first level actually has the leaders of the three sides working together to take down a bastard called Dong Zhuo who's been making a lot of people unhappy since claiming power.

Okay, this is actually very much like the other Dynasty Warriors games so far, I'm surprised. I guess I'm the green dot on the top left, and all those little red dots are out to get me. I can't help but notice that I seem to be a little outnumbered here. Maybe we should come back when we've got more dudes?

Okay, this is nothing like the console games. This actually seems to be a turn based tactical game, where I move my character into position and...

...ah, now it's like the console games. A really really scaled down version of the console games.

In the main series, each battle takes place on one huge map that you get to run around freely in third person, cutting through entire armies when necessary. This however is turn based until I encounter an enemy group, then it switches to a small action level a few screens wide, where I get to kick ass in real-time for a bit. You know, if I could just avoid being hit for a second or two.

Button mashing sorted them out in the end, though it took a while. I've got a regular attack, and a strong attack, and combining the two sends enemies raining down across the battlefield. And then once they're down the next group of five comes in and I have to do it all again.

That wheel of icons on the right is presumably powered by the screams of my fallen enemies (or something), and inflicting enough hurt will start one of them blinking. If I choose not to trigger it, inflicting additional hurt will start the next icon blinking instead and so on.

But what do the icons do, you might be wondering? I've got no idea, maybe stat boosts.

Killing all 19 soldiers sent me back to the tactical map where I can take another step forward. Or backwards. Or even sideways! I have options.

I like the idea of this section, as it seems like a reasonable compromise to get the game running on GBA hardware, but I'm not that keen on how slow it is. There can be a ten second wait between each turn as I cycle through all the message boxes and dialogue, and though that might not seem like much, it's a bloody eternity after playing a fast paced action level.

Huh, what the fuck just happened? I was doing really well until this bloke with the black crest came along. Now I've apparently been poisoned, and he's stolen my purple running icon! I spent ages earning that!

Ack... Zhao Yun is defeated. And that's it, back to the title screen. I lasted two battles.

Alright, I think I'm going to give the game a second try. I get the feeling it's just going to be my dude versus 20-something soldiers on a small field from start to finish, but I don't feel I've managed to appreciate all the nuances of that set up just yet.


LATER, AFTER STARTING A NEW GAME.


Agh, they've got fucking archers too! These guys were bad enough in the console games, but here they can knock my coloured icons away with a single arrow! It's one of the fundamental laws of video games that whatever you're playing, archers will always be assholes.

This time I'm playing as Xiahou Dun, the man so badass that he tore out his own eye and ate it. Not through any great desire to wear an eyepatch, he just found he had no further use for the thing after a bloody archer shot an arrow into it.


LATER.


This time around I'm actually making a bit of progress. I'm still on the first map, but at least I've survived a few fights. Also it seems I've discovered a gold plated shoe box left lying here on this empty stretch of road.

Inside was a new weapon! Though it was actually worse than the one I have. In fact I have a few weapons in my bag here, and they're all terrible compared to what I have equipped. Unless smaller numbers are better in this, and I'm actually using the worst weapon. That would explain a lot.

The game lets me backtrack and return to areas I've already visited to collect the health items there a second time. Apparently the food hidden in these boxes is 'dim sum', which wikipedia assures me is a kind of Chinese snack food.

Coming back here wastes a turn though, which... possibly means something bad, though I can't think what right now. Well I suppose my allies could march forward without me and get themselves killed, which would probably ruin everything. Hasn't happened yet though.

I'm getting the hang of this combat now, it's all about using button combos to trigger moves. Pressing B, then A activates a stun attack that leaves little cartoon stars spinning around the enemy's heads. Then while they're entirely unable to fight back for a second or two, I can press B, B, then A to unleash CONTINUOUS ASSAULT, which pretty much does what you think it does.

The trick is to get the first hit in before they do and to make sure that nobody catches me from behind while I'm busy hitting people. Or shoots me with an arrow.

Hey, I got a level up! And it only took me 104 kills to get it. Though they've called it a 1up over on the right to raise false hopes.

I don't get any choices here though, as my stats are increased automatically.

Hang on a sec, there's been a quick save option here in the menu the whole time? That is... awesome! This map is going to take a while to finish, and I wouldn't want to have to repeat it all because of one fuck up near the end.


LATER.


Agh, I've fucked up near the end! To be fair, the level boss is using magical fireballs, which is kind of cheating in my opinion (and not very historically accurate I'm assuming). There was a lot of health items hidden around, but unfortunately I've already used them all up, so I'm entirely screwed here.

I need to load my save and try again, because this was just a slaughter, and not the good kind like you want.

Second time around though I was ready for him, and got in early with a super powered musou attack. This burns up the musou bar I've been charging up through the game by presumably stealing the souls of my fallen enemies (or something). Musou basically translates as 'without equal', so I basically killed this guy with my pure focused arrogance and sense of superiority.

And that's the first battle complete!


BATTLE 2.


Damn, it looks like I'm back in the snow again. Hey, this is Hu Lao Gate, the first map I visited as Zhao Yun. And only lasted two fights on.

The story plays out on the map as I progress, with the characters yelling things to each other, despite often being half a mile away from the people they're talking to. I kinda wish they wouldn't though, as it slows the game down.

I love how my dude looks like he's wearing boxer shorts.

Also I've maxed out the abilities on that icon circle, and I've collected a new sword that makes people explode. Things are actually working out pretty well now I've gotten into the rhythm of it, B, B, Aing enemies from one side of the screen to the other.

And then Lu Bu turned up. Oh balls.

Lu Bu's often one of the toughest enemies to fight in the Dynasty Warriors games. In my experience this guy is to the playable characters what they are to common spearsmen. In other words, he could take on five of me at a time. Fortunately I'm pretty sure I could just walk around the guy on the map, but you know, I don't really want to. I think I can take him.

Oh Lu Bu doesn't like my musou attack, not one bit. Though I'm loving this music. When Lu Bu shows up, he doesn't just bring 25 soldiers with him, he brings out his own bloody theme tune as well. Here, you can listen to it yourself on youtube: Lu Bu Theme.

The soundtrack of the Dynasty Warriors games has gotten a fair bit of criticism in reviews for putting hard rock and metal over the ancient battles of the Han Dynasty, and while I respect the reviewers' opinions and their taste in music, I have to point out that this music is actually awesome and perfectly fits what's basically a fantasy action game. I mean c'mon how can anyone not like that tune?

Well I knew it was going to end like this, but at least I slowed him down for a minute or two, no doubt allowing my allies to reach their goal and depose Dong Zhou!

Doesn't help me much though.


I don't think Dynasty Warriors Advance is actually a terrible game, but it's definitely a very repetitive one. Every battle comes down to beating up 20-30 people in a patch of land maybe three screens square, and beating those people up comes down to remembering to press B twice before pressing A. But it's slick, it looks reasonably good, the battle music sounds like this: youtube link... there's a lot to like and there's nothing obviously broken about it I could see. It's just kinda tedious.

The console games can be repetitive and boring themselves, but they're saved by something this game doesn't have: co-op. Somehow I find the games come alive with two players on the field, and this just doesn't have that feature. Plus the console games let you run around an open battlefield engaging tens of soldiers at once, which also helps to stave off the tedium.


If you want to comment on Dynasty Warriors Advance, the Dynasty Warriors games in general, how much you hate the soundtrack, or anything else halfway relevant, you're in luck, as there's a convenient comment box for you just under this message!

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