Dynasty Warriors 2 (PlayStation 2) Review


I have an ever-growing mental list of video games I want to try before I die. On this list are titles that have been recommended and/or ones I’ve been eying for years. Up until a couple years ago, Dynasty Warriors was one of these games.

I first encountered the Dynasty Warriors series when my brother purchased spinoff Hyrule Warriors for the Wii U. After playing co-op with him a few times, I decided that I needed to try the series proper for myself. I simply had to spend more time with the formula.

Then, about two years ago, I finally stumbled upon a copy of Dynasty Warriors 2 for the PlayStation 2. I booted up, hacked and slashed my way to the third level…and got stuck for very long time.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago. Since I had spent a good chunk of the summer reviewing PS2 games from my library, I knew it was the optimum time to return to the game. Dynasty Warriors and I were reunited—and we were going on one heckuva ride.

Dynasty Warriors 2

Developer: Omega Force Publisher: Koei

Release date: October 26, 2000

Gameplay

Dynasty Warriors 2 is what can best be described as a crowd-combat, hack-and-slash, tactical action game. If that sounds complex, don’t worry—it’s not at all. You’ve got two modes to choose from: Musou Mode, to play through the campaign; and Free Mode, to go back to previous levels and grind.

There are also three difficulties to choose from: easy, normal, and hard. The game is set to normal by default, and to be perfectly honest, even that kicked my butt. After trudging through the ridiculous third level, I broke down and set it to easy. The rest of my playthrough was much less frustrating.

You play as an officer of Chinese army, charging your way through hundreds of foes to secure victory. To truly claim the game, you’ll need to defeat the enemy commander in each level. Picture it as one gigantic arcade beat-em-up set in the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history.

And when I say “gigantic beat-em-up,” I mean it. This is a hack-and-slash adventure on an epic scale, positioned in the midst of two clashing armies. The primary appeal of the Dynasty Warriors series is, of course, the sheer number of enemies onscreen at any given time.

With so many enemies, it’s a good thing the combat is so fun, albeit extremely simplistic. You have a normal attack, charge attack, a Musou (special) attack, and a bow attack. With only four combos plus a bow, don’t expect any depth in this department. I really like this kind of button-mashy fighting, but not everyone does. You have to keep that in mind.

You charge meter for your Musou attack by hitting others and getting hit. (If you’re really low on health, the meter will regenerate automatically.) Once you’ve filled up the bar, you can unleash a powerful, wide-range attack to push back the crowd of enemies swarming you. The attack didn’t feel potent enough for my liking, but it was still pretty wild.

There are a few strategies for success that the instruction manual suggests, including increasing your abilities, developing bodyguards (support characters), changing the difficulty level, and developing playable characters through grinding in Free Mode.

My main strategy was running up to enemies, hitting them a few times, and running way. (Wash, rinse, repeat.) This admittedly was not the best method. I think the reason I found the game so tough was that I didn’t work hard enough at buffing my character, so it’s something I’m considering going back to later.

You’re able to roam the game’s massive environments however you please, but that doesn’t mean you can dawdle about. You’ll remain consistently engaged in battle to have any hope of winning the day. If you or your army’s commander dies—or you run out of time—it’s game over, man.

You’ve got 100 minutes to complete each battle, which should clue you into the scope of the levels. The massive scale of these encounters can be, quite frankly, a little overwhelming. Thankfully, there are a few save points scattered throughout the environments.

Save points, represented by floating memory cards (A.K.A. “black boxes”), are hidden inside of the destructible boxes and pots also scattered throughout levels. You’ll sometimes find a save point, but you’ll mostly just find items.

What are these items, you ask? Well, you’ve got meat buns and dim sum for health recovery; swords to increase you attack; shields and battle armor to increase you defense; Chinese wine and “Emperor’s Seal” to increase your Musou meter; and healing ointment to increase life and Musou. There are also two mystery items that I’ll leave up to you to discover.

Save points were always a relief to find, though I wished they could’ve been just a tad more plentiful. One thing I’ll give this game major points for is allowing you to continue from the point at which you saved at even if you quit the level. Many other games from this time force you restart levels completely—autosaves be darned—so this feature was a boon to my sanity.

The item drops were appreciated but also punishingly random. I hardly ever felt like the game was giving me what I needed when I needed it. When I had plenty of health, I’d see plenty of meat buns. When I was “this” close to death, there’d be nothing. Plus, I really hated that most boxes and pots were empty when broken.

One of the most unique aspects of the game by far was the “morale” system, affected by the outcome of conflicts on the battlefield. The blue section of the bar represents your morale, and the red portion represent the opposition’s. I got a real kick out of slaying as many enemy officers as I could to boost my soldiers’ confidence (and, of course, my score).

Speaking of score, the game incentivizes going back in with an excellent scoring system. Adding to your score is your KO count, number of “worthy opponents” (enemy officers) slain, and clear time. Subtracting from your score is the number of special attacks used. You’re also ranked among other officers on your side. I often had the most KOs but a middling score overall.

I’ve gotta say that Dynasty Warriors 2, frustrating as it could get sometimes, was a really solid experience at the end of the day. As a fan of both the beat-em-up and hack-and-slash genres, I found the gameplay to be more than satisfactory.

Content

While I can’t say it’s a super long game when played straight through from beginning to end, I feel very confident saying Dynasty Warriors 2 offers a superbly robust package to enjoy when digested in shorter bouts over a longer period of time.

There are 27 characters and eight stages. From what I could tell, not every character experiences every stage—they each have their own paths—but you’ll eventually unlock all the content if you’re willing to put in the grind.

On my first go-around, each stage took me about 30 minutes to complete, not factoring in retries. (Because let’s be real: I suck at video games.) I was actually kind of surprised by the brevity of the main story. And honestly, I was confused as to why I hadn’t unlocked all eight stages in Free Mode.

Thankfully, I realized soon after completing this playthrough that the real value came from continually replaying the game in both Musou Mode and Free Mode. By the time I finished Musou Mode just once, whatever character I had played as was positively jacked in stats, making it so much easier and—and so much more entertaining—to burn through stages all over again.

Taking into account just how many playable characters I had at my disposal, what initially seemed like a short campaign morphed into a long-term journey that I could work on whenever I had spare time. Moving past my misconception that Dyansty Warriors 2 was a one-time jamboree truly brought the game to life.

With all this in mind, I reasoned that the best way to play Dynasty Warriors 2—if you want to get the most bang for your buck—is to replay the dang thing ad naseum until your characters are inhuman forces of destruction. I’m still not even close to tapping into all the game has to offer.

Your enjoyment of the content will be, like many things, very subjective. How well do you handle repetition? How deeply do you like to explore your games? These are the questions you’ll have to ask yourself. That being said, there’s still a great story mode here if that’s all you’re looking for.

Besides an unlockable music player, there aren’t any extras to speak of, but there’s a good chunk of options to configure. Dynasty Warriors 2 has plenty of stuff.

Controls

The controls in Dynasty Warriors 2, as relatively simple as the may be, tend to work fairly well with few exceptions.

You can perform a normal attack with the square button, a charge attack with the triangle button, and a Musou attack with the circle button. After pressing the R1 button to raise your bow, you can perform a normal bow attack with the square button, a paralyzing bow attack with the triangle, and a special bow attack with the circle button. The cross button is used to jump and mount/dismount horses.

There are four combos you can pull off utilizing the normal and charge attack. To fans of hyper-complex fighting games, the total number of combos may sound pitiful, but I promise you it works super well in practice. Dynasty Warriors plays more like a mindless brawler than a calculated fighter. As such, the available combos were plenty suitable.

All things considered, the basic control scheme was easy to pick up and quite effective, but I have to admit that the controls felt a tad clunky at first. Movement was much slower and more deliberate than I expected. However, once I took attack speed into consideration, I was quickly able to come to grips with the controls.

The bow is the only attack that honestly fails to function to a ridiculous degree. When you pull out your bow, the game switches to a first person perspective. This would be fine if the reticle wasn’t so slow and the auto-aiming feature was so finicky. In the heat of the battle, the bow attack was often way too annoying to even bother with.

I should also mention the horse controls. Walking is a breeze; that should be obvious. But hopping onto a horse and riding off did not feel good at all. Due to their massive turning radius, I could never get horses to do exactly what I wanted. As with the bow, I eventually ignored horses in favor of traveling by foot.

These minor grievances are compounded by camera controls that…well, don’t exist. As much as I adored this game, I yearned for a free-moving camera the entire time I played. You literally can’t manipulate the camera angle, even though the right analog stick isn’t utilized for any other in-game function. This oversight made it tougher to navigate environments than I would’ve preferred.

Looking past these shortcomings, the controls weren’t horrible—far from it. Just keep in mind that you may have to get acquainted with certain unruly aspects. Remember, too, that the default button layout can be edited in the options menu.

Graphics/Presentation

For a title released in the year 2000, Dynasty Warriors 2 is still quite the looker. The sheer detail of character models, the sheer number of onscreen enemies, the sheer expanse of environments—I’m rather impressed by it even now.

Granted, the graphics aren’t perfect. The environments—as huge as they may be—are quite flat in design, and the draw distance—masked by dreary fog—is downright crippling by today’s standards. Under especially hectic conditions, the otherwise consistent framerate would even start to chug.

None of that comes close to tarnishing all this game achieves from a technical standpoint. Dynasty Warriors 2 was the first entry to bring the intricacies of crowd combat to life in a series now noted for its epic, “one-man army” scale. That should be celebrated.

It’s not like the game doesn’t have a lot going for it visually either. I found the heads-up display super concise and useful in the heat of battle. Fun touches like the giant digits that flashed across the screen at the fall of every 50thenemy were also appreciated. I like highly exaggerated, game-y elements. They excite me.

The presentation does a pretty good job of making up for some very slight technical issues. First off, I’ve gotta say that I love the story. Based on the Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dynasty Warriors 2 sees the player character taking on three dominating warlords: Cao Cao of the Wei kingdom, Sun Qian of the Wu kingdom, and Liu Bei of the Shu kigdom.

If you’re looking for perfect historical accuracy, you’ll likely be disappointed, but the narrative functions superbly as a grand fictionalization of famous figures. Even with a nonexistent background in Chinese history, I was able to appreciate the plot for the concept alone.

The multitude of playable characters at my disposal made for riveting heroes at the center of this legendary tale. I used Zhou Yu and Zhao Yun for my first two playthroughs, but I fully intend to try out other characters, like Sun Shang Xiang, whenever I get the chance. (That’s what Free Mode is for, right?)

In spite of my praise, it pains me to say that the game does a really, really poor job of conveying the narrative through its vague cutscenes. These brief diversions prior to levels told me next to nothing about what I was getting into—raising way more questions than were ever answered.

On the bright side, the instruction manual does a much better of contextualizing everything in its “The Story” and “Officer Information” sections. Plus, there’s a lot of useful information here if you ever get stuck or forget how to do something. (Y’all know I consult instruction manuals pretty regularly. Is that weird or normal?)

The last part I’ll mention is the opening movies, which are truly spectacular displays of early 2000s prerendered CGI action. Watching these cinematics is one of the best ways to prepare yourself for the many battles you’ll soon wage.

Regardless of the occasional goof, I thought Dynasty Warriors did a fine job capturing its intended vibe through its technical prowess and generally spot-on presentation. You’ll get your fair share of eye candy here.

Sound/Music

For the most part, Dynasty Warriors 2 boasts some pretty good audio design all around. Level positively exuberate all the ambiance of a battlefield, from the clash of weapons and cries of victory to the trotting of horses and marching of troops. The sheer activity of the world around me was a pleasure to take in.

I also really enjoyed the soundtrack. There was so much raw energy to each composition, pumping me up for levels and menus alike. The pulsating beats and electric bass immediately signaled to me that I had stepped onto the battlefield—and that it was time for war.

As tough as it was choose, I’d have to say that my favorite tracks were “Opening Theme”, “Yellow Storm”, “Gravity”, and “Dynasty Warriors”. Oh, and who could forget “Can’t Quit This”, the gleefully groovy credits theme? Don’t even get me started on that boppin’ anthem.

I honestly think every song in the game perfectly encapsulated its intended mood. Most were killer enough, in fact, to listen to outside of the game, as well. If you fancy upbeat underscore, this soundtrack is sure to give you the fits.

Despite the otherwise pristine audio experience, I must admit that the voice acting is pretty bad. The localization effort in general is average at best, but I cringe particularly hard whenever a character opens his or her mouth.

Thankfully, this relatively minor qualm is fairly easy to brush aside considering the superb quality of everything else. Make no mistake: the sound effects and soundtrack coalesce to provide a truly exquisite—darn near immersive—listening experience.

As my first “real” exposure to the mainline Dynasty Warriors series, the second installment was a challenging yet rewarding journey through and through. All things considered, Dynasty Warriors 2 is a delightful title.

Once I’ve trudged through all the “grind-y” leveling-up I want to do with most of the characters, I honestly think I’ll jump right into the rest of the series. Dynasty Warriors is exactly the kind of experience I like, with plenty of action and not too much thinking. Does that make me sound dumb?

I obviously can’t be sure what you took from this review, but I hope you came to see that the slipups do not outweigh the achievements. This game is simply a product of its time.

With all that being said, if you like the idea of a hack-and-slash on a grand scale, there’s absolutely no way you can go wrong with Dynasty Warriors 2. At the very least, you can rest easy knowing it has the Wilcox Arcade “seal of approval”.

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