At this point, the launch of a new Sony platform would feel incomplete without a new installment of the Dynasty Warriors franchise right alongside it. Luckily, here comes Koei with--you guessed it--Dynasty Warriors for the PSP. The popular hack-and-slash franchise's first portable outing pares down the complexity seen in past console-based titles, distilling the experience to the core large-scale combat that's driven this series for years now. Diehard fans of the series will probably be pleased simply because they can take Dynasty Warriors with them everywhere, though if you haven't been impressed by the series lately, this simplified handheld installment won't do anything to reel you in.
If you've played any of the myriad entries in the Dynasty Warriors series, you'll know the drill here. It's ancient China, and three warring states are disputing control of the vast nation in the wake of the sundered Han dynasty. You'll choose from a large stable of legendary heroes hailing from each of these three factions and then you'll plow your way through one (presumably loose) historical scenario after another as you attempt to unite China under your own banner. This is extremely familiar territory for players who've got some Dynasty Warriors experience under their belts, as you'll again be fighting in the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Battle at Hu Lao Gate for the nth time. But this time, the flow of the action has been changed substantially.
In the console versions of Dynasty Warriors, each major skirmish takes place on one massive battlefield, and a typical level can take close to an hour to complete if you take your time. However, Koei rightfully seems to have taken the portable nature of the PSP into account here by breaking up every big battle into many smaller parts, represented on a tactical map with each node connected to other nodes by varying paths. Each section of the battle has its own type, from fortress to supply depot to simple open field, giving some areas a greater degree of strategic importance than others. To some extent, you can choose the path you take through the battle by selecting which areas you want to attack next, based on where the enemy's troops are concentrated. However, you can also just plow your way through, without much consideration for strategy, by attacking the next available node.
Each minor skirmish is very brief; you'll generally spend between two to five minutes hacking away at the enemy hordes before you've liberated that area and can move on to the next. You can save after any of these quick action sequences, power off the PSP, and then pick back up where you left off at a later time. Compared to the console Dynasty Warrior games, this version certainly makes it feel like less of a commitment to begin a new major battle, though the brevity of most of the stages can occasionally make the action feel a little trivial.
In any event, once you get inside a battle, the gameplay should feel awfully familiar to anyone who's played one of these games before. You'll button-mash your way through literally hundreds of enemies over the course of a battle, targeting group leaders and named enemy officers in order to reduce your foe's overall morale. As in past games, you've got a musou special attack that can be used to clear even more enemies at once (at the expense of your filled musou meter), along with a charge move and a ranged bow-and-arrow attack. The basic gameplay is easy to pick up if you haven't played a Dynasty Warriors game before, and it can be pretty entertaining in short bursts, though not as much over long sessions.
The PSP version of Dynasty Warriors takes the original concept of bodyguards, or second-in-command officers, and beefs it up a bit to provide some extra strategy. Before heading into a large-scale battle, you'll be able to select up to four secondary officers from a stable who will grow as you play through the game. The officers each carry an array of skills and special abilities that will confer both passive bonuses and active special abilities on you in battle. One officer may increase your life bar, for instance, while another will have a special ability that lets you go into a berserker rage during battle. Your choice of accompaniment has a noticeable effect on the flow of the battle, and indeed the officer setup provides a great deal of the game's available strategy. You'll unlock new officers as you play, and there are so many officers with so many mixtures of special attributes that the more interested players will likely spend a lot of time experimenting with new combinations to find what works best. You can even trade officers with other players to put together the optimal team.
The graphics and presentation of Dynasty Warriors PSP are similar to that of the game's PS2 counterpart in spirit, if not in specific detail and fidelity. The bland, planar battlefields are only occasionally interrupted by any kind of surface features, like walls or fences. The character models are noticeably (and understandably) less detailed than those seen on the PS2, though the game does seem to get almost as many of them onscreen at once. We experienced a severe drop in frame rate a couple of times, though these seemed tied to specific areas of certain levels rather than the amount of activity going on. On the plus side, the designers have made good use of the PSP screen's extra width by providing a tactical display with a battlefield map and troop morale indicator that help keep you appraised of the battle's progress. Rounding out the presentation is a soundtrack that seems lifted straight from the recent Dynasty Warriors games on the PS2 (which is to say, it's just as head bangin'). Alas, there's not much voice work to speak of, unlike on the PS2.
If you're looking for an action game to play on your PSP in quick bursts, or you're simply a hardcore fan who wants to take one of your favorites with you on the go, Dynasty Warriors for the PSP will likely fit the bill. The action is repetitive enough, especially in light of its many existing console-bound iterations, so that those who've already had their fill of the Dynasty Warriors formula won't find much new here. There are plenty of extra characters to unlock beyond the initially available 15, which, coupled with the many possible officer combinations, makes for a lot of replay value. But that's only if you enjoy the core gameplay enough to replay the game for dozens of hours, and that's a big if.