Dynasty Warriors 8 versus Dynasty Warriors 9 – it’s like the Transformers, Matrix film franchises, where earlier titles outshine later titles by keeping it simple

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The 14th century Chinese, historical novel of Romance of the Three Kingdoms has been adapted to television shows, films and even video games. It’s fanbase is huge and its stories are well known among mainland Chinese people. Outside of mainland China, many people have come to know of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms or even the historical period, in which this novel is set, through the popular and often criticized video game franchise Dynasty Warriors. Dynasty Warriors, although clearly Chinese, has been longed developed by a Japanese company Koei and has been doing so since the 2000s. They do a good job of it.

Of course you may be one of those people who joined the fray watching films like Red Cliff, the Lost Bladesman or Three Kingdoms or even the other video games “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (by Koei as well) or Total War: Three Kingdoms. If you are, I think you will appreciate what the Dynasty Warriors franchise has done in many ways to popularize this novel and to some extent, the historical period.

In brief

Despite what I say in this review, I am a fan of the Dynasty Warriors series. It is my guilty pleasure, because I do enjoy watching the narrative play it out in new ways, from different angles each time (even though its the same overall story), and it’s a game that I can mindlessly play without needing to consult a guide or a walkthrough.

Out of the two games, I prefer to pick up and play Dynasty Warriors 8 over Dynasty Warriors 9 because I love the structure of the gameplay and how the narrative unfolds. Dynasty Warriors 8 gets it right in terms of gameplay and being concise to keep the game interesting. I think Dynasty Warriors 9 is too overwhelming in terms of narrative, the gameplay is shockingly bland and it’s too spacious and dull.

Introduction

The Dynasty Warriors series is a hack and slash, except the very first one which was a 1v1 arcade fighter like Soul Caliber, with the same story being hashed out time and time again with small changes that keep the fans coming back. The small changes that get added usually revolve around new characters being added and how their stories add to the rich narrative that Romance of the Three Kingdoms offers. There are a lot of characters in the novel, so is always someone new to add to the game and fans are always wanting new characters.

The problem with each new entry to the franchise is that each game feels very similar to the last. Ever since Dynasty Warriors 2 (which is actually Dynasty Warriors 1 in Japan and in my honest opinion they should have just stuck with the Japanese numbering) the game has had the same formula, in that you play a ridiculously overpowered Chinese person from the novel who with a simple sword swipe can clear the screen of 5 enemies in the vicinity of the swipe. (The sword swipe doesn’t need to touch them by the way, but needs to land close to the enemy.) With pretty much all missions, your characters just has literally walk from A to B while hacking and slashing his or her way to the boss whom can be defeated using the developer’s intended manner or by galloping on your horse and running around the boss’ headquarters in circles pressing the attack button multiple times while hoping enough slashes put a dent into their health points until you either get knocked off your horse (but then you get back up and do it again) or deal the finishing blow. It is that mindless in many cases.

Yes, there are times when you have to escort an non-playable character or reach a location to do something, but they are usually very vanilla.

In each of the games, it is incredible how powerful your character is. That is until you put the game on Extreme difficulty and then die to a few arrows or slashes from common enemies. The developers need to work on this. I think some of the elements from Dynasty Warriors 6 with enemies being able to dodge (albeit slightly) being improved upon and a mechanic like in the Batman Arkham series where triggers can toggle a dodge (but no counterattack unless the player decides to counter).

Gameplay

Dynasty Warriors 8’s gameplay feels familiar to literally all the previous iterations, except Dynasty Warriors 6, where pressing the attack button and then chaining with the special button unleashes is at the core of the game. This game enhances that mechanic by adding two special attacks for each character when they input a certain combo while wielding their favorite weapon. In addition, Dynasty Warriors 8 has the largest roster of weapons in the game and they all offer different play styles. Though, if you ask me, most of the characters and their weapons don’t seem too different. I give Koei credit that at least the illusion of difference is there.

Dynasty Warriors 8 also improves on the weapon switching mechanic from Dynasty Warriors 7 by adding either a Heaven, Earth and Man which can make the battles feel like there is a challenge.

Also, Dynasty Warriors 8 offers a very condensed, structured gameplay where the map sets the boundary for your character and all the events of the mission. This allows for better story telling during missions where certain locations can serve as checkpoints and blockers to ensure you play the mission as it was intended. Dynasty Warriors 8, with the lessons of all previous games, seems to get the mission structure right.

Guan Yu in a cutscene in Dynasty Warriors 8

Dynasty Warriors 9’s gameplay is a hot mess. The attack combos are boring and uninteresting. There is simply no challenge to executing whatever combo you want. You can just trigger an attack with a simple R1 and face button when the attack is charged. Worse, some enemies will have a button trigger over their heads which usually means you can rush to the enemy and insta-kill that enemy. This button trigger can also be found on bosses. After doing this for the 20th time, fighting just seemed pointless.

The open world map is just disappointing and dull. There is so much nothing to be done in this grand world. While there are battles that happen here and there and you get a better sense of how grand these battles get, you just feel like “what’s the point”. For me, I would just dash through all the fodder and go straight to the boss. I would whack them a bit until the button trigger appears and then insta-kill them to end the campaign. You can do this in every campaign. It’s so pointless. What makes it a fine strategy is that the rewards for dealing with the sub-missions and fodder are usually useless. The lack of structure and interesting game mechanics really bring this game down. \

Gameplay goes to Dynasty Warriors 8. Dynasty Warriors 8: 1 and Dynasty Warriors 9: 0

Sun Shangxiang in Chi Bi in Dynasty Warriors 8

Presentation

Dynasty Warriors 8’s visuals are okay. The most intriguing visuals for the game can be found on the PlayStation 5 where the armor actually shines and the character faces are given a nice smoothing and realism. In addition, the PlayStation 5 version offers more enemies on screen and runs very smoothly. The PlayStation 4 and Steam versions are similar in terms of visuals where the faces are blocky and it looks like mid-high PlayStation 3 era visuals.

The battlefields and events are similar in terms of visuals. I like how there is usually something interesting on screen at any given moment.

The best thing about Dynasty Warriors 9 is its visuals. Finally we have a game where it actually looks pretty decent across all platforms. Not only that, all the characters look really stunning with their glossy armor, their detailed facial expressions in movies and the fact that they have multiple costumes (like the one below where Xiahou Dun is covered in mud). In addition, the cutscenes are so much more action packed and thrilling to watch. They have really upped the quality of these cutscenes. It’s a real pleasure to unlock them.

In addition, the presentation of the scenario which shows the map of China and the play by play is so well done that it definitely adds value to the overall grandeur that this game is trying to offer by setting the scene and providing that brief synopsis before we play.

I dislike the motion capture characters that appear from time to time that announce things. The mouth flaps are usually out of sync and its tends to be creepy than awe inspiring.

But overall the presentation of Dynasty Warriors 9, minus the dullness that open world offers the franchise, is superior to Dynasty Warriors 8. Presentation goes to Dynasty Warriors 9. Dynasty Warriors 8: 1 and Dynasty Warriors 9: 1

A mud covered Xiahou Dun taking on the Yellow Turbans in Dynasty Warriors 9

Sound

The soundtrack in both Dynasty Warriors 8 and 9 are very similar to me. I don’t buy the game for the soundtracks, but I can tell a Dynasty Warriors soundtrack when I hear it. Lu Bu’s Theme is always in my head when I think Dynasty Warriors. In both games, Koei always has a feature that lets you play soundtracks from whatever game you want.

The one thing I will say is that the English dubbing is pathetic. I loved the corny dialogue we had in Dynasty Warriors 7 and 8. A lot of those voice actors and actresses did an excellent job, but these new voice actors and actress are not worth listening to (though I can tell they had a horrific voice direction and little time to prepare). Sun Ce is just jarring… I am sorry to whoever that is, because I chose him and every time I listened, the voice and its delivery were just way off.

For Dynasty Warriors 9, I recommend putting in the dialogue in Mandarin or Japanese. For voice acting alone Sound goes to Dynasty Warriors 8. Dynasty Warriors 8: 2 and Dynasty Warriors 9: 1

Lu Bu on this famed stead Red Hare in a cutscene in Dynasty Warriors 9

Story

It’s the same story isn’t it? Yellow Turban, Hu Lao Gate, Xia Pi, Guan Du, Chang Ban, Chi Bi, etc. You can tell that I know the story back to front and its order. It’s the same every game.

What Dynasty Warriors 8 does better is that it actually gives some weight to each of the characters. Each character actually does something in the story. Some characters will simply be in more parts of the story than others, but each character has been brought into the the game due to the heroics and/or deeds. Dynasty Warriors 8 gives those moments a spotlight and does a decent job of it all. While you don’t get all the story elements, you get the concise chunk and feel all the wiser.

The story campaign in Dynasty Warriors 8 is great because you had historical missions, optional objectives that impact future missions and what-if missions. It’s a gold standard in blending the best of Dynasty Warriors 7’s excellent story telling with Dynasty Warriors 4’s campaign (where Guan Yu takes part in Yi Ling and no one actually dies). What I also like is that the Xtreme Legends addition (which is part of the Complete Edition) is that we get a fully fleshed out Lu Bu historic and what-if campaign plus his officers Chen Gong and Lu Lingqi. It’s awesome.

Dynasty Warriors 9 tells a grander story. I felt like I learnt so much more about each of the characters, from their backgrounds to their motives. The game tells these stories through in-game interactions where characters gather together and talk and talk and talk and… Yeah. A lot of the talk is pointless. I would have preferred an amazing cutscene instead. I hope Koei puts an end to these boring interactions that serve as in-game cutscenes. It started with Samurai Warriors 4 and continued into Warriors Orochi 3. It’s awful story telling and needs to stop. Concise story telling will always win the day.

Dynasty Warriors 9 also has the largest character roster and adds a lot of non-aligned characters like Hua Xiong, Yuan Shu and a host of other characters. Many of these characters have their own mini-story if you purchase their downloadable content, but even if they are good they are locked behind having to pay for it.

If you have all the time in the world then Dynasty Warriors 9’s story is for you, but serious Story goes to Dynasty Warriors 8. Dynasty Warriors 8: 3 and Dynasty Warriors 9: 1

Overall

If you had to pick between Dynasty Warriors 8 and Dynasty Warriors 9, I would pick Dynasty Warriors 8. Both have Complete Editions released and I’d get the Dynasty Warriors 8: Complete Edition which comes with all the content and downloadable content as well. While the visuals are not as great, you will at least have a great time and many countless hours of content.

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