Dynasty Warriors Advance Preview

We dive into the fray as Koei's historical hack-and-slash goes handheld.


Koei's popular Dynasty Warriors series has turned the grand sweep of ancient Chinese warfare into a recipe for hack-and-slash action success. The upcoming Game Boy Advance version of the venerable franchise may have been condensed to a two-dimensional style, but the experience of pitting a single warrior against hordes of your foes remains at the core of Dynasty Warriors Advance. We met up with old friends like Liu Bei and Cao Cao and took to the (admittedly smaller) fields of battle to see how the historical battles play out on the GBA.

It's still the Yellow Turban Rebellion, it's just smaller and in 2D.
It's still the Yellow Turban Rebellion, it's just smaller and in 2D.

The setting and premise of Dynasty Warriors Advance are the same as that of its forebears--reenacting large-scale battles over the lands of ancient China, letting you pit a single hero against waves of enemy peons destined to die on your blade. There are three different modes in the game: musou mode, free mode, and challenge mode. Musou and free modes let you choose one of the three kingdoms and leap right into historical battles, while challenge mode lets you assail foes with a set goal. One challenge mode option is a fight to simply see how long you can last against outrageous odds; another option times your defeat of 100 men; and the third lets you spend time collecting a variety of delicious treasures. No matter which mode you choose, you'll be whisked into the action quickly, so you'll have plenty of opportunity to test your mettle.

In each of the story modes, you'll choose the empire you want to play as (Shu, Wu, or Wei), and you'll be dropped onto a map. Each map comprises a number of waypoints and any number of paths through them. You'll advance your officer through one point at a time in a turn-based system that's reminiscent of a board game. When you move into a spot that already contains enemy soldiers, you'll engage them in battle. Likewise, if an enemy moves into your area, they'll initiate a fight with you. You can bring up a minimap with the left shoulder button for easy strategizing as you move your forces into place. As you travel, your armies will claim the spots you move through, changing their color from red to blue. While you can only move through one red point at a time, you can move quickly through your own territory, letting you beat a quick retreat if required. And instead of moving, you can also search a given area for resources, like delicious dumplings to refill your health, and so on.

Each map has its own objective (defeat a general, seize a certain location), though you'll have to adapt along the way. For instance, some of your officer brethren may try to write checks that their armies can't cash, and you'll have to temporarily abandon your greater objective in order to go save their artfully dressed rear ends. Enjoining battle changes the view from a Mario Party map-crawl to an open 2D field, and here's where you'll get to smash up enemy units to your heart's content.

Being 2D, the battles are necessarily scaled down from the milling chaos that characterizes the 3D versions of Dynasty Warriors. You'll get plenty of men coming after you, but they'll spawn in small groups of four units or so, and there's plenty of room to maneuver around them. The B button executes a normal slash attack, while the A button is a quick, powerful strike that pushes your enemies back. You can combine the two attacks to string long, powerful combos to assail the unfortunates before you.

As you fight, you'll fill a musou meter that lets you execute a mighty charged attack when it's full. You can also augment a character's abilities by defeating foes and filling another meter that lets you power up attributes like movement, attack power, and so on. You'll keep your power-ups so long as you don't get hit multiple times; let your guard down and your bonuses will be taken away, and you'll have to fight to get them back. As you mow down your opponents, your officers will gain levels and strength.

As well as annihilating mindless foot soldiers, you'll encounter numerous officers of the opposing factions as you move along, and these units are both quick and powerful. In fact, if you're not careful about constantly moving around and using the left shoulder button to block, they'll do ridiculous amounts of damage to you in very short periods of time. They also have musou powers at their disposal, so caution is definitely the better part of valor when engaging officers and generals.

Musou powers remain your army-obliterating staple.
Musou powers remain your army-obliterating staple.

The game's two-dimensional look is simple, with small sprites and a variety of backdrops against which you'll be fighting, such as mountains and snow fields. Player-controlled characters have an extra measure of detail and stern expression on their midget faces, and are easily picked out among sometimes-crowded enemy units. The portrait art for the various series luminaries continues to be detailed and sharp, and also continued is the rock-based theme music for the series. Each map and each battle is punctuated by plenty of strong guitar chords and fast-paced beats to complement the action.

Dynasty Warriors Advance puts a different twist on the action with its 2D look, but seems to retain the series' overall hack-and-slash spirit. Fans eager to put down the Yellow Turban Rebellion on their GBAs should hold their forces at this gamespace, as we'll have more information on the game as its release approaches later this month.

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