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Review: Dynasty Warriors Gundam

Posted Jul-10 2008 by ron, created under common review policies
For PS3, no harddrive install.

Fondly referred to as "cabbage cutting simulations" by its fans and detractors alike, the long-standing Dynasty Warriors series is still not well understood in the west. Gamers who were brought up on the demanding up-close combat of Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry or God Of War are usually quite baffled by the idea of a combat game where 95.45% of all enemies are absolute pushovers. Challenge is the essence of gameplay after all. If your enemies fall so easily, what sense of accomplishment can you hope to get from a game?

Giant robots looking at the sky

Strange game approaching from the east. Sky-scraper sized robots detected within. Need to have a closer look.

Yes, Dynasty Warriors Gundam is a third-person action game where the vast majority of time is spent in the thick of combat. And no, individual enemies do not pose much of a threat. To make up for it somewhat, you face off against whole clumps, dozens of them at once, hundreds and thousands per mission. It's not uncommon to rip through six or seven hundred enemies within the span of a fifteen-minute mission. Combat isn't completely trivial though. Each of the many, many "mobile suits" you can control throughout the game has melee attacks, ranged attacks and an evasive thruster boost. The game implements a combo system where long chains of attacks can be formed from those simple actions, to cause maximum mayhem in your immediate vicinity. It requires a certain rhythm to pull it off, and it's moderately hard to do it consistently. The exact timings and results also vary somewhat for the different mobile suits.
Of course, you don't need to do anything particularly well just to defeat the small-fry enemies individually, and unsurprisingly it's a common criticism of Dynasty Warrior games that you can get by just fine with mashing. This is missing the point however, which is actually not the singular fight, but the dispatching of lots and lots of enemies as quickly as possible.

A giant robot lays into other giant robots with dual laser

Executing a full combo won't do you much good if there are no enemies left standing near you. Picking your targets right, and reserving your most devastating techniques for larger clusters of enemies allows you to finish individual tasks much more quickly.

In Dynasty Warriors Gundam, not all action is centered on the player. You are taking part in large-scale operations where multiple allied and opposing commander characters, similar in capabilities to the player, fight for territorial control across dynamic front-lines, established through what the game calls "fields". Fields can be conquered and lost many times during a mission, and the player's main role is to take enemy fields whenever the opportunity arises, while providing support for weakened allied commanders and fields as necessary. The individual slash of the sword doesn't matter nearly as much as the choice where on the vast battlefield to focus your attention at any given moment. Staying for just one more minute might allow you to conquer another field, but if your allies are deep in trouble, you may not have that time.

Two named commanders
among a clump of faceless enemies

This particular field is guarded by an enemy commander, a much more powerful foe than the regular masses of enemies. If we defeat him, the field will convert to our side and go on to produce friendly hordes of robots.
You can also see a computer-controlled allied commander (Heero, name shown in blue, like every allied thing), who would probably not handle this situation all too well alone.

Each field will regularly spawn some of the small, faceless enemies for its controlling faction, and these will not only defend their home field, but also spill out and invade enemy fields all by themselves. You conquer a field by defeating a certain number of standard enemies within its boundaries within a certain time window, before the field can fill up with enemies again and "recover". The numer of enemies you have to defeat is not strictly constant. When surrounding fields belong to the same faction, they have a support effect, and make it harder to conquer the field at the center.
Many fields also send out a number of strong guards once their regular defense is depleted. These field guards are either beefed up but still faceless enemies, or some of the powerful commanders that have their own story involvement and dialog.

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