Priggish PC snob that I am, it is incumbent upon me to poo-poo the achievements of those console monstrosities at every available opportunity. And we have a here a console conversion. I had my big bashing hammer of damnation, and my scythed tongue of vilification at the ready, but sadly it looks like I won’t have much opportunity to use them after all. Dynasty Warriors 4 is actually a reasonable conversion, so I shall have to make do with snorts of mild derision.
The game is set in one of the bloodiest periods in Chinese history – The Three Kingdoms. This was a campaign between the Wei, Shu and Wu dynasties and consisted of endless warring between these three bloodthirsty factions. According to a reference work I examined, the population of China was around 56 million before this historic period, and fell to 16 million at its lowest ebb before peace was restored. A rather excellent setting on which to base a game then, with endless potential for mass oriental-style slaughtering.
An in-game encyclopaedia of the period, as well as tactical strategy maps further the idea that this RPG is somewhat strategy orientated. 5 minutes into your first game and that thought will be banished completely. DW4 is frenetic arcade action of the most superficial kind. Aside from the names of Chinese leaders, historical battle authenticity is flung aside as callously as a suspiciously malodorous Won Ton.
Quite simply, your chosen battle character recklessly charges at the enemy lines and pounds them all with his giant smashy swords and various other exotic Eastern tools of limb-disposal. He has a variety of different attacks with which to dispose of enemy blood, the most impressive of which are the Musou moves. According to a knowledgeable Chinese fly residing on my wall, Musou can be described as a kind of Chi, an inner strength with which you can perform almost superhuman feats. This allows for some damn impressive spins, twirls, thrusts, lunges and slashes.
And quite simply, that is about the limit of your battlefield activities. Pound the enemies mercilessly, taking down hundreds of them on every single map, while your decidedly vacuously brained AI soldiers slowly poke at the enemy hordes with their giant toothpicks, and at the pace of sloth-drawn rickshaw. Repetition is something you will be comfortable with if you intend on seeing the campaign mode through to its conclusion.
Conversion from the PS2 has been almost successful. Pleasing is the fact that the whole experience is faithfully recreated and shaped to fit nicely onto the PC, but bearing the obvious console limitations. Graphics are a bit crusty, since they were created with the aged, frail body of the PS2 in mind, and the aforementioned shallow gameplay doing nothing to aid the ‘dumbed-down’ stereotype that consoles are sadly branded with. But with re-aligned controls that fit the keyboard nicely, and the reasonable degree of polish, we can overlook these unfortunate genetic foibles inherited from our gawky console brethren.
The camera that follows the movement of your character is unfortunately bred from the same intelligence tree as your soldiers. It trails miserably around behind you perfectly for ages, but the second you get involved in battle it gets all excited and roams around uncontrollably, leading to many a spectacular attack into thin air in entirely the wrong direction, whilst your foes attack your labouring posterior with unbridled glee.
At some point in the game, you will stop and question whether closing your eyes and hammering the same keys will make any difference at all to your success rate. And laughably, it doesn’t really make a lot of difference either way. It is possible to pull off some impressive combos and launched attacks, but a simple button bash of your primary attack, mixed in with a bit of Musou when your bar is full, and you can prevail in almost any situation. A great way to achieve acute RSI, but not really the most satisfying way to play a game.
At its heart though, DW4 is an arcade slice-em-up with little aspiration for any greater accolade. And credit where due, it does it pretty well. You won’t use an awful lot of grey cells thrashing your way through the frenetic missions, but it still maintains the irresistible arcade appeal of overpowered abilities for mass destruction. If you fancy waggling your axe at something a little more brainsome than a duck-brained AI general, there is a multiplayer option allowing two players on the same PC to face off with their chosen characters. Not exactly long-term fun, but useful for resolving arguments over whose katana is the most awesome.
RPG status is granted by the addition of upgradeable stats and various other lightweight options, but don’t expect much more than a glorified arcade slasher. It is certainly fun, but doesn’t really grab the attention for more than short bursts of a few hours at a time. Just make sure you buy the PC version, because the PS2 version smells of Stinky Tofu. Honest!