Dynasty Warriors is my snack food of choice. It's the bag of potato chips I rip open after long days of productivity roadblocks. The instant gratification of plowing through hoards of inept nobodies is potent enough to excuse the repetition of the gameplay and voice acting cheese. The latest entry in this long-running series sadly features a decidedly different taste of incongruity.
Dynasty Warriors 9 is not an action-packed serving of romanticised China. Oddly, it is an open-world action RPG masquerading as a military simulator. The player will complete main and side quests, buy or craft weapons, accessories and items, explore, fish, hunt, and level up. In some respects this is an evolution, but in throwing out the mission maps for a larger sandbox many of Dynasty Warriors' best elements have been compromised.
Environmental design has always been a weakness of the franchise and absolutely handicaps the vibrancy of Dynasty Warriors 9's open world. A limited smattering of unique locations on a largely empty map make ancient China feel uninteresting. The grey-toned jagged polygons are further let down by cut-and-paste environment assets. It’s disappointing that a game made from the ground up for modern consoles looks so antiquated.
There are rivers to fish, mountains to climb, and fields to gather crafting materials, but none of it feels necessary or rewarding. They are there because nothing else is. The amount of vendors for items has become tedious and it is frustrating that using in-game currency has become so unfriendly. Inversely, NPCs are few in number and rarely say anything relevant to the situation at hand. Dynasty Warriors 9's urban locations are a Truman Show fever dream in which you get what you'd expect but nothing feels quite right.
In most Musou games you have a limited map to traverse within a limited timeframe. Objectives are clear and there is an emphasis on high combos amidst changing priorities. That's harder to achieve when pockets of enemies are spread across a large map and some of these scenarios are so lengthy that momentum is lost. Similarly, I used to feel accomplished in hitting 1000 KOs in Musou missions, but it isn't uncommon in Dynasty Warriors 9 to get well over 3000 KOs over the course of a lengthy battle. The instant gratification has evaporated.
In previous installments the player would select a 20-40 minute scenario with a good chunk of narrative exposition before, during, and after battle. Dynasty Warriors 9 offers those same scenarios, except the player must now proceed to a specified point in the open world. You can choose to lower the difficulty of the final conflict by traveling to listed objectives and KO-ing the highlighted enemy. The player won't need to take any bases or crush any waves of enemies to succeed, and with the new grapple hook any stronghold can be scaled and final boss put down without much resistance. This tool makes the action mostly irrelevant.
Combat has been tweaked so that "flow attacks" are chained by pressing the Square button and the Triangle button is used exclusively for quick-time counters or finishers. The Launch, Stun, Special, and Knockdown attacks have been mapped to the R1-button and can be combined with the flow attacks to create relatively short combos. Longtime fans of the franchise may be let down by this change, but it's certainly not worse than the Renbu system introduced in Dynasty Warriors 6. The larger problem is that gameplay itself isn't much fun.
Players will regularly be forced to cut away from the action to check the pause menu map. The map size and the amount of enemy bases feel intimidating until you realize most of what you see can and should be ignored. This map features content to be reached by foot, horse, or fast travel. Fast travel makes sense in most open world games, but warping through a warring battlefield doesn’t feel right even if it's the best option. Your horse can use stamina to sprint for limited periods and has an auto-run feature to keeps it on a waypoint track, however, it will run into every physical object in the way of that track. This further breaks immersion.
With more freedom the player can now miss historically important chunks of battle. I chose to tackle every mission or objective to beef up the narrative as much as possible, but the dialogue and event scenarios felt paltry compared to Dynasty Warriors 8. Ideally, the lack of meat to sink your teeth into would be remedied by plenty of warrior scenarios to explore. Such is not the case.
Dynasty Warriors 9 has the largest cast yet, but character development is limited. The more interesting characters have been shortchanged by cloned weapons and stilted voice acting. The localization does not feature familiar voices and the delivery for many characters is jarring. Alienating, even.
The RPG elements are among the few enjoyable additions. Completing main scenario quests, side objectives, or randomized missions for townsfolk provide decent experience. Leveling up will boost stats as well as generate upgrade points that can be used to further improve certain parameters. The crafting system isn't necessary, but there is a lot of depth for those willing to find the schematics and materials, and there are dividends for investing a lot of time with one character.
There was a feeling of uneasiness leading up to the launch of Dynasty Warriors 9. The enemies still are incompetent and the voice acting still awful, but neither are enjoyably bad. I didn’t realize the full scope of how lacking the experience was until playing the game alongside Dynasty Warriors 8. The presentation, narrative, and fun factor have all been compromised for an open-world approach that don’t hold up. It's heartbreaking but my favourite potato chip franchise has become an overcooked steak.