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Dynasty Warriors 9 Review | War To Do, Less of Note

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Dynasty Warriors 9

In a generation when Japan-developed games are seeing a return to global success, Koei Tecmo has a bright future to look forward to. In the last few years, collaborating with Nintendo on high-end titles such as Hyrule- and Fire Emblem Warriors has seen Koei Tecmo’s critical and sales profile rise around the world. Even better, 2017’s Nioh proved that the publisher’s internal teams and IP can stand toe-to-toe with Bandai Namco and Square Enix.

Now, reflecting Koei’s initial push into action games with the original Dynasty Warriors titles, developer Omega Force has leapt forward again to compete in a radically different genre space. Dynasty Warriors 9 (DW9) retains many of the features of its predecessors, but adapts its traditional combat and mission systems to a brand-new open world structure, closer to Assassin’s Creed than an arcade hack-and-slash.

Unfortunately, the final product cannot quite handle the job. With this project, talented developers are offering wild new options—some unabashedly devoted to player satisfaction, too much so to be simply torn down by cynical prattle. However, a review is not about defending good intentions, and the game is clearly wanting in terms of the point its existence, while also suffering from a myriad of technical and presentation issues.

A game that truly understands itself (for example, Breath of the Wild or even Mario+Rabbids, famous Nintendo polish or not) can be compared to a singular work of art: tell a story, depict a world, convey meaning. Conversely, although one refined idea lays at Dynasty Warriors 9‘s core—attention to over-the-top, superhuman action set during the Three Kingdoms period—many, many tracings of other games are stapled on at every possible angle.

For the uninitiated, Dynasty Warriors (specifically the second in the series) more or less invented the ‘Musou’ genre, where the aforementioned superhumans wade through armies of hapless soldiers using a variety of weapons and attacks. Every game tells of the events surrounding significant battles from Romance of the Three Kingdoms (usually without changing too much entry-to-entry), with dozens of playable storylines that follow different characters from the novel.

Traditionally, these storylines are mission-based, taking place on big square battlefields resembling blown-up versions of PVP maps in ’90s shooters (corridors, cramped courtyards, wide fields, gates, blind alleys, et cetera). Plenty of brawler or hack-and-slash games had done similar work with this formula; what made Dynasty Warriors 2 so incredible at the time was the dedication to portraying soldiers in sheer numbers—a legitimate technical feat on the PlayStation 2. As the Dynasty Warriors series went on, more and more options were added without the core battlefield action changing, leading many critics to decry the series’s calcified structure.

DW9, on the other hand, is nothing if not distinct from its predecessors, boasting a fully open world map with a wealth of missions and side-quests. Rather than entering these missions right away, players can explore towns, craft items, shop, go fishing, or just explore the game’s enormous, sporadically populated map of ancient China. Approaching each of the main missions is gated by certain requirements in the open world and soft-gated by a level cap that can be reached by completing some of the many side quests (though on Normal difficulty, level caps mean almost nothing against the player’s mighty hack-and-slashing). This increased scope and variety, however, raises three co-dependent problems.

dynasty_warriors9_screen

Problem One: a formerly action-based title adopting the RPG-style crafting, questing, and even levelling systems of popular open-world games makes DW9 less of a legitimate sequel to the series than a slow-paced spin-off without a core design concept. Almost none of the optional RPG-style elements are necessary for an initial playthrough. Even the open world makes itself partly useless by offering fast-travel to mission starting points—whether or not the player has been to that location previously.

Problem Two: for long-time fans of Dynasty Warriors, these RPG features dilute the action formula that has served the series in the past. Though the open-world map makes for much of this problem by increasing the time between the satisfaction of smashing through crowds of soldiers, DW9 also counter-intuitively revamps its combat controls. Much as Sega’s RPG series Valkyria attempted to approach the Musou structure, resulting in the risible Valkyria Revolution last year; DW9 tries to make the musou game more akin to an action-RPG with similarly muddy results.

The game eschews the series’s spectacle-fighter controls—think the ‘light attack, light attack, heavy attack’ combo systems of Devil May Cry and God of War—for a shift-key system (hold R1/RB to access special attacks) similar to those found in Kingdom Hearts, Dragon Age Inquisition, and countless MMOs. Though this alteration ultimately means the game is more approachable by non-fans than, say, the Monster Hunter-esque Toukiden, it might as well be a useless change if the vast majority of prospective players are series fans in the first place.

Problem Three: the dubiously entertaining side-content, glitched traversal animations and hilariously cheap cutscenes of DW9 are clunky in comparison with any other game in the open-world genre. Swathes of countryside go by between the battles (the meat of the game) and in between is nothing to do with Dynasty Warriors: collecting altogether too many ingredients for crafting, Skyrim-ing up slopes, climbing towers to reveal points of interest, and struggling with the awkward objective marker system. All are features intended to draw new fans to the series at the expense of, for example, true refinement and advancement of the formula that already existed in umpteen numbered entries and spin-offs. In other words, gamers who want to play Assassin’s Creed or The Witcher will do exactly that, not jump into the ninth entry of a series they have not previously cared for—especially without a key value proposition such as mechanical innovation or an appealing level of polish.

Yes, Koei Tecmo, fans who appreciate the simulation aspect of the game above all else will always exist, and a few will be genuinely excited by the move to an open-world setting. Visually, too, despite not matching up to any other franchises in the field, DW9 is still an advancement within its own series. The typically over-the-top Three Kingdoms storyline is always interesting, and the voice acting is as good as ever—that is, bad, if one chooses English, but enjoyably bad. The possibility even exists that through some unique transmutation of expectations, a group of fans will find herein an experience they never knew they wanted: they might consider this review a “PASS”.

However, the majority of prospective customers—wishing for a core Dynasty Warriors experience—will find DW9 lacking, for all of its stapled-on features and vestigial systems. At the same time, the audience that Koei Tecmo is seeking by abandoning its core will find little that is not better experienced in half a dozen other franchises. Dynasty Warriors 9 is a valiant effort, certainly more worthy than Valkyria Revolution, but a game that does not know itself is nearly impossible to recommend to others.

FAIL

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.

Mitchell is a writer from Currawang, Australia, where his metaphorical sword-pen cleaves fiction from reality daily. When he's not writing, he plays video games and watches movies. While thinking about writing.

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Epic Expectations and Epic Games Store: Storm in a Teacup on Creating Close to the Sun — Exclusive Interview

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Close to the Sun

Storm in a Teacup’s Close to the Sun released a month ago, but much remains for fans to learn about the project. Though the inspired game has plenty of clear influences, its differences from what came before are what make Close to the Sun a standout title in its genre.

In OnlySP’s interview with Storm in a Teacup’s creative director and CEO Carlo Ivo Alimo Bianchi below, Bianchi talks about his influences, the studio’s future, Bioshock, and Epic Games’s contribution to the project.

OnlySP’s Amy Campbell gave Close to the Sun an impressive High Distinction, thus adding the horror title to a list filled with some of the best games available.

OnlySP: We see this happen all the time where indie games will get a lot of attention simply for the premise alone. Some are watching Close to the Sun for this very reason. What is that sudden pressure like and what is Storm in a Teacup doing to make sure expectations are met?

Bianchi: We’re incredibly humbled by all of the hype we’ve seen around Close to the Sun, we’ve been working hard with a small team to make sure we met the bar for a title like this, and the last six months have been spent polishing the title to make the experience what it is today.

OnlySP: Obviously, a lot of people are comparing BioShock and System Shock to Close to the Sun. What makes Close to the Sun similar but different when compared to those games?

Bianchi: It’s a flattering comparison which we feel comes mostly from the design language within the game—when you see Art Deco in a video game BioShock is by far the biggest point of reference for gamers, for us though, it’s more about what was visually right to bring to the game. In our version of history science has accelerated the progression of society—bringing 1930s styling to the end of the 19th century, it’s also a suitably opulent aesthetic for our Tesla who sees himself as a modern-day Prometheus.

When you look at the gameplay itself, it’s really very different—Close to the Sun is more like SOMA or Outlast. To be honest we tried to stay away a little from the BioShock comparison not because it isn’t an incredible game, (it is a masterpiece) but because we wanted to align the expectations of consumers for Close to the Sun—it’s not an FPS.

soma

OnlySP: What are some of the game’s that got you, not only into gaming, but into making games? What games are you looking toward for inspiration when developing Close to the Sun?

Bianchi: The first games I ever played were on Commodore 64 and, as every guy coming from that era knows, just launching games at the time took some experience. It was fascinating for me at the point that I started writing my first code in Basic for fun. After that consoles came out and things got much easier, just buy a NES game, blow inside the cartridge like there is no tomorrow. Games became just something to play with, not something to think over. Even by my 18th birthday games were just something fun to play—I could never imagine I would end up developing games.

The first game that made me think was Resident Evil, it was an action game with interesting puzzles, a good story and a horror mark that executed splendidly (for the times) all of its aspects. It taught me that games could be more than just a shooter OR a puzzle solver, they could be both if executed well. The second game that comes to my mind is for sure Final Fantasy VII, still today my favourite game of all time. That game taught me that story telling could be way deeper than what I was used to. I loved the combat system and still think it’s the best turn-based system ever, but the lore in that game together with characters’ depth was something else. Another game I want to mention is Tomb Raider, that has been the first 3D game where I really felt depth! I felt so immersed in its environments that sometimes I dived from higher grounds to certain death just to enjoy the amazing vertical depth of the game. Tomb Raider was the first game that made me think: what if I could create something like this? There are many more games I could mention but these three are for sure the most important for my life as a developer.

When we started our design work on Close to the Sun we had three key pillars we wanted to use to create the game, these were: we wanted to create a suspense filled horror game, we wanted it to be on a boat (it’s the perfect setting to convey vulnerability and isolation to the player) and we wanted to include Tesla as a historical figure (and personal hero of mine). When it comes to the titles that inspired the team for Close to the Sun, we loved SOMA, Layers of Fear, Firewatch—these are all incredible titles.

Epic Games Store

OnlySP: So, the Epic Games Store controversy has gotten the entire PC gaming market riled up. A recent press release not only doubled down on the fact that Close to the Sun will launch first on the Epic Games Store, but that the partnership with Epic actually “accelerated development.” Could you elaborate on some of the ways the partnership sped things up?

Bianchi: Epic have been pivotal in the creation of Close to the Sun—they’ve been behind the project from an early stage and even provided a development grant for the game early on with no obligation. With the support they had given us and the project it felt completely natural and right to bring the game to the Epic Games Store.

On a technical development level I think it’s really easy to underestimate the value of the tools they provide—creating a horror game requires a lot of testing to see the reaction you want from the player, our team spent a lot of time using Unreal to create rapid prototypes for the final version of the game, something stuck, some things didn’t, but what was left perfectly fulfilled what we wanted to achieve and with the visual fidelity the Unreal Engine provides.

OnlySP: What do you have to say to those who are bad-mouthing the game simply because of the exclusivity period?

Bianchi: We understand fully why players feel so passionately about their launchers, but we felt the Epic Games Store was the right fit for the game, for the reasons already outlined already but also for visibility. The game will come to other storefronts in time, but right now we’re working on the console release so we can make the game available to even more players.

OnlySP: How much time can players expect to sink into the game’s story mode on the first go around? Does the game’s story offer anything for players who dive back in for a second playthrough?

Bianchi: Your first play through on Close to the Sun will take between 4 and 7 hours depending on the type of player you are. The game is rich in environmental storytelling and collectables and if you want to find and understand all these it may even take you longer. As for replay value there are some environmental elements that you’ll only truly understand once you finish the game, these are great to look out for the second time around.

close to the sun

OnlySP: Where does Storm in a Teacup go from here?

Bianchi: We have some ideas; we’d love to go on to create another game in this same universe but for now our focus is on the console versions of the game that will launch later in 2019.

OnlySP: Forgive me, but I’ve got to ask: Do you have any updates for Switch owners who want to play Close to the Sun on that platform? The ‘accelerated development’ comment discussed earlier definitely had me wondering.

Bianchi: We’re always open to looking at new platforms but we don’t have any news to share on this at the moment.

OnlySP: Why should people who may not already be interested in your game look into Close to the Sun?

Bianchi: Close to the Sun offers a unique experience—looking at the ideas and inventions of Tesla and what he might have gone on to achieve if he hadn’t been outmaneuvered during his years in industry. Tesla died near penniless in a hotel in New York but the world could have been so different—in 2019 we’re still barely scratching the surface of his ideas.

OnlySP: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Bianchi: Thank you for reading and a special thanks to anyone who goes out to buy the game.


For all the latest on Storm in a Teacup, be sure to follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

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