Dynasty Warriors 8/Shin Sangoku Musuo 7
Background on the opinion you are about to read:
I got into Dynasty Warriors from DW3 onwards. I absolutely LOVE DW3 and every DW afterwards has not been as good but still quite fun. I've yet to play a terrible DW game but I do wish Koei would provide some more innovation.
DW8 is a map based hack and slash game made by Koei, the king of map based hack and slash games. This game is set in ancient China around the time of the Three Kingdoms/Romance of the Three Kingdoms. A tumultuous time where several kingdoms are vying for power and wrap the country in battles. This is probably the best next gen iteration of the DW series. There are various gameplay changes that really mix things up which are a welcome addition. There are still some areas that are lacking though so this is far from a perfect DW game.
DW8 is based on the same graphics engine used for DW7 so the game looks very similar BUT Koei has quite obviously polished certain things. Many textures in the environment, the art design of stages, the number of enemies on screen at once and the cloaks/hair/dresses of the characters all look much better than in DW7. This is a welcome improvement and these little tweaks do impress me, particularly the art design of the all new stages which are more natural and thoughtfully made and not just the same few walls and huts dotted all over a large map.
This is a game that lends itself to many many hours of gameplay. There are 77 characters that all play differently and all possess their own special attacks. In this game every character has a special EX attack, 3 types of musuos (an invincible and powerful special attack) and also a new rage musou mechanic which harkens back to old school DW musous where you hold down the button as the combos rack up. This rage musuo becomes a true rage musuo if you KO enough enemies during it, which is very powerful. I found that I rarely used the rage mode but I enjoyed having several musuos to play with and really liked having every character be unique.
I must clarify something though, there are 77 characters and 77 weapons you can choose from. Any character can equip any weapon but any one character can only use one weapon particularly well enough to do an EX attack with it, which gives you an incentive to give certain characters certain moves. Also, despite being able to wield every weapon any particular character can only wield a few weapons with high efficiency, a few with medium efficiency and the rest with poor efficiency. Again, this makes the characters more unique which is quite welcome.
Another new aspect of gameplay is the weapon type system. It is basically a rock ,paper, scissors system where if you have a weapon type that beats whatever the enemy is carrying you will be able to launch a special flurry attack against them and if you have something that loses to their weapon you can do a special parry that auto switches your weapon and bumps up your rage gauge. I have to say that I like this system and am glad it was introduced, it definitely encourages you to use the weapon switching mechanic which I neglected in the previous title.
There are about 40 stages in this game, they are all quite different and very well designed compared to past installments. I have to give Koei props here. I enjoyed these stages. Koei has also seemed to bump up the number of enemies you can slaughter per stage too; you will easily KO 1000 every stage.
Hard and Chaos mode are still just not that fun; the typical enemies with huge health bars and crazy damage and no change in AI. I wish Koei would improve on this.
There are two main modes in this game to play. Story, which is as you would imagine so I will not go into it much (i.e. it is a cheesy and passable affair that gives you a background on most of the characters plus a few liberties that I won't spoil for you) and the ambition mode. The ambition mode is a new feature which basically involves you fighting in tweaked maps from story mode doing missions and collecting officers, weapons, steeds and parts for a tower that you are making that will attract the emperor to your city. This is a very mundane and unimaginative game mode that I found added very little to the game. The money spent on this part of the game was wasted in my opinion. A versus mode, empire mode or damn near anything else from previous DW games would have been better. I was hoping for a create a warrior mode but surprisngly there is none, despite Koei adding it in an expansion for DW7. This game does have a free mode though, which lets you use any character in any stage.
The music in this game is a mix of new and old. The old tracks are tracks from games dating back to DW3 and they tend to be put on certain stages of story mode that I won't spoil for you. The new tracks are quite decent but not the best I have ever heard.....but don't worry! This is the first DW game that lets you use your own music! (although I found that my own music is played waaaay too loudly and overpowers that game's voice and SFX sounds which is a real shame)
Odds and ends for the DW fan:
There are several new characters. I personally found all of them quite fun. My favourite would be Wang Yi (who is technically new). 5th weapons return in this game but they are completely outclassed by custom 4th weapons (there are also special 1st, 2nd and third weapons but these are also quite terrible). The encyclopedia is probably the best featured since they introduced the encyclopedia. It now lets you jump to related pages when looking at a battle/character page. The online is hit and miss, mostly miss. It doesn't really add anything in my opinion. Alternate costumes you bought in DW7 do NOT carry over. This game includes alternate costumes from DW7 for everyone who was in that game or it's expansions but nothing else which is a shame seeing as how they have those ready already, Koei really dropped the ball here. Koei will be releasing a JP voice over pack soon, this not only turns the English to Japanese but also provides voice overs for parts of the game that have no voice overs in the English version (namely talking in the camp before battles in story mode and the narration during story mode).
If you have never played a DW game this is the best time to jump aboard. If you played DW7 and liked it, this is more of the same but different enough to justify buying the game. If you are a DW fanatic, I probably just reaffirmed your purchase decision. This is a very solid game and the best of the current gen DW games. Koei has dropped the ball on certain things but they managed to deliver on the main areas, namely characters, weapons and fun stages.
Overall score: 8/10