Dynasty Warriors 3 is a brawler-style fighting game that Koei, its creator, bills as a "tactical action" game. Set in the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, Dynasty Warriors 3 places you into the role of one of several historical figures who must use his or her sword, axe, or polearm to defeat hordes of enemies in an attempt to turn the tide of history. Originally released for the PlayStation 2 late in 2001, the game has now made its way to the Xbox. Although it's certainly as solid a game as it was on the PS2, the Xbox version of Dynasty Warriors 3 provides only minor enhancements that won't serve as much of a purchase incentive for owners of the original.
Dynasty Warriors 3 shares its setting and characters with Koei's major strategy series, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. While that series relies on statistics, slow pacing, and careful deliberation of your every move, the Dynasty Warriors games take the struggle for power in ancient China to the ground level, presenting you with a hack-and-slash-fest on an almost absurdly large scale. You pick a general from one of the historic three kingdoms and proceed through a series of battles based loosely on actual history, attacking wave after wave of enemy foot soldiers. In true beat-'em-up style, your character is vastly more powerful than most enemies, and some of the massive attacks at your disposal will allow you to clear out 20 or 30 of them at a time. The battles are epic in Dynasty Warriors 3, but the combat is hardly realistic. That doesn't mean it's not fun, though.
The nine initially selectable generals all have different weapons, physical statures, and fighting styles, but they all feature with the same basic combat system. Simply flailing on the main attack button will execute a multiple-hit combo that can knock down an entire group of enemies at once. For more variety and to perform more powerful attacks, you can integrate charge attacks into your combos in different ways. To achieve ultimate stopping power, you'll need to make use of your musou attack. As you fight, your musou meter will charge up quickly, and when you hit the musou button, you'll transform into a whirling dervish of destruction who will knock down pretty much everybody in the area. Your character can also be upgraded as you defeat high-ranking enemy officers. You can improve your offensive and defensive abilities, gain items, and acquire new weapons, which give you new abilities and attacks. A few extra, more powerful characters can also be unlocked by completing certain game tasks.
If Dynasty Warriors 3 were simply about killing enemies en masse, it would get boring pretty fast. Fortunately, there's more to the game than that. In each battle, your objective is to take down the final enemy commander, who is usually some recognizable name from Chinese history. You'll be on the battlefield with massive forces of your own that are led by other allied generals, and the opposing forces are similarly well manned. The game has a minimap that effectively displays the distribution of troops across the battlefield, and a morale meter further informs you as to the progress of the battle. Koei's label of "tactical action" is indeed an accurate one, because you can see your actions have an effect on the overall progress of a conflict. It's gratifying to watch the tide of battle turn in your favor based on the decisions you've made during the course of the mission.
In addition to the linear, story-driven musou mode, Dynasty Warriors 3 offers a few other gameplay modes. Free mode lets you play any mission you've unlocked without making you go through the entire game. Challenge mode lets you take on a couple of endurance and time attack missions, just for kicks. Finally, the game has a fairly fleshed-out versus mode. It lets you play eight different missions that are tailored for multiplayer. Strangely, the versus mode supports only two players, so the Xbox's four-player capability isn't exploited. You can also play through musou mode with two players in a cooperative style, though. Finally, the game features a database that provides historical information on the characters and setting in the game.
Graphically, Dynasty Warriors 3 is nice enough, but it's certainly not the game you'll pull out to show off your Xbox with. The characters are nicely detailed and animate fluidly, and the engine really shines when there are 50 soldiers rushing around onscreen at once in a frenzied clash of weapons. The frame rate takes some slight dips, but they're infrequent. The game's backgrounds are surprisingly spartan, usually consisting of flat terrain and walls. Presumably, this keeps the polygon count low in the scenery to accommodate more soldiers, which is the point of the game, so this is forgivable. The sounds in the game are also a mixed bag. The voice acting is laughably awful, and if you have an ear for quality acting you'll cringe every time a character opens his or her mouth. Fortunately, you can also use the Japanese dialogue, which is quite a bit better. The music is full of power-chord guitar riffs and '80s-style hair metal solos, which seems kind of absurd given its historical context. This isn't really a bad thing, though--it just lends a sort of "extreme" quality to the game.
Dynasty Warriors 3 is a good, solid beat-'em-up with enough variety to stay fresh throughout. Unfortunately, the Xbox version offers very little to tempt gamers who are familiar with the PS2 version. New difficulty levels are available, and the characters have new costumes. You're also allowed more save data, thanks to the Xbox hard drive. Overall, though, this is pretty much the same game we saw last year. It's still a good one, though, so if you haven't played Dynasty Warriors 3 before, this is the version to play.