Platform: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Review Date: 5/14/20
Twenty-seven characters from various Koei Tecmo properties are summoned to a faraway world that's dying. Its life-giving spring has dried up, and for some contrived reason, only heroes from distant worlds can restore it. There's also a power struggle within the royal family about who should ascend to the throne, and the faction that you're aligned with depends on which character you initially choose to play. The first chunk of the game involves tracking down other heroes and allies that have been magically brought to the world, levelling up your skills, and liberating various shrines so that water starts flowing to the spring again. Unfortunately, I didn't get much further than that, because I completely lost interest after the first six hours and put the game away.
Normally, if I can make it past the first hour of any given game, the only thing that causes me to give up is increased difficulty or getting stuck on a particular level or puzzle. But in this case, I gave up simply because I was bored. This really didn't come as a surprise to me, since the last game I played in this series was "Dynasty Warriors 3" (2001), which I found equally dull and uninteresting. It's amazing how little the series has changed, and the only reason I decided to pick this up was because it featured Kasumi, Ayane, Honoka, and Marie Rose from "Dead Or Alive" as guest characters.
The game reimagines the "Romance Of The Three Kingdoms" theme from "Dynasty Warriors" by replacing the three warring factions with three characters fighting over a vacant throne. The gameplay pits your party of heroes against literally thousands of identical enemy soldiers, and single attacks take out dozens of foes at a time. I suppose the series' appeal is the complete visual chaos of having so many characters onscreen at the same time, and the god-like power trip of being able to wipe them out with immense superhuman force. The downside is that it's both boring and overwhelming, and mostly boils down to simple button mashing of the "normal" and "strong" attack buttons. Combinations of those buttons offer different visual flourishes, and there's also a "special attack" meter and "super attacks" that can be employed when certain criteria are met. On top of that, you can also call on other team members for support and combo attacks, which increases their regard and friendship with you. Additionally, you can equip each character with a customizable hero card that enhances their abilities.
The number of unique special attacks and combos is overwhelming to begin with, but the hero card system goes completely overboard. Its level of customization is so complex and convoluted that you're probably better off ignoring it all together. It reminded me a lot of the overly confusing and woefully undocumented chip system in "NieR: Automata" (2017), except that the game was literally unplayable unless you learned how to optimize your chip layout. Hero cards can be enhanced by purchasing abilities with gold and materials, or they can be sold, combined, or destroyed in order to generate new cards or materials. It's completely ridiculous, but if you're one of those people who loves to tweak EVERYTHING, then you'll probably have a great time hanging out at the card station.
Battles themselves are fast-paced and completely insane. You run back and forth between objectives that change on the fly, with side missions always getting in the way of making progress. As soon as you encounter enemies, you frantically mash the attack buttons until they all disappear, and then you run to the next destination. In addition to the endlessly spawning foes that show up, the camera is also an ever-present enemy. Keeping it oriented is a constant pain, and its jerky movement quickly induces nausea and motion sickness. The camera's range of movement is also limited, so you can't actually look up, and often times you can't even pan around to see what's around you. There's no lock-on feature for boss characters, but there's a button that at least allows you to quickly spin around and point in their direction. But they always end up disappearing, so it's of limited value. Another problem with battle missions is that the characters like a talk A LOT, but since you're focused on defeating the endless hordes that are constantly descending upon you, you can't actually read the subtitles to know what everyone is talking about. This is extremely annoying, and was a problem in "NieR: Automata" as well. It would be much better if people would fight first, then talk later. Or the other way around. Just don't talk and fight at the same time. It's very frustrating.
Between missions, you can revisit the hub area to train, relax, converse with the allies you've unlocked to increase your friendship stats, modify your hero cards, or my personal favorite activity - take a bath. The bathing aspect is like an entire mini-game of its own, and there's an entire menu dedicated to which bath encounters you've had. As far as I can tell, in between battles you get one chance to take your main character into the bath house, where they may encounter other characters and sometimes animals. I ran into a wolf, a bear, and a horse in the bath, which was very odd. And sometimes you can't enter the bath at all, which happens if you change characters when you're in the hub. When you encounter other characters in the bath, your actions and their reactions to your presence are either random, based on status or rank differences, or based on how much friendship and regard you've built up with them through battle. It's all very silly, but it was the one aspect of the game that consistently amused me. There are also various Tecmo arcade game machines stationed in the hub area, but I never figured out how to interact with them, or if it's even possible to do so.
Sadly, after playing the game for several hours on the easiest difficulty, I still hadn't figured out the controls and was only capable of handling Level 1 missions. By the time I'd exhausted all of those, the game started becoming too hard to play and the monotony of it all caused me to lose interest. If you're a veteran of the "Dynasty Warriors" series and enjoy the gameplay, then it's probably worth picking up as a novelty, and seeing all of the various characters and their unique (and often silly) attacks can be a lot of fun. But for the uninitiated, the series is an acquired taste and I never felt inspired enough to master its intricacies and mechanics.