I must admit, I have enjoyed earlier Dynasty Warriors installments on the PS2, but I wondered if it would translate well to the PSP. I was skeptical that the PSP would be able handle the sheer amount of characters that appear on screen at any one time, a hallmark of Koei's "Warriors" franchise. I can say that although this title doesn't quite have the level of polish its console brothers do, it retains enough of what makes the series so popular that it's worth having a look at.
This title has retained a few annoying traits common to this series in its handheld format, like musou mode's standard non-existent story and character development and its needlessly complex option menus whose sole purpose seem to be to delay getting into the core action. I only mention the story and characters because the initial presentation, which boils down to a series of subtitled tableaus of various officers spouting off about honor and vengeance, seems to attempt to flesh out some context for battle. They don't. I would generally find myself more confused after watching them. Following that are option menus and sub menus that allow you to alter your forces, weapons, and mounts and survey the landscape before battle. Granted, series veterans might feel that the lead up and preparation for battle adds a level of depth or strategy to the game. Personally, I've always found it unnecessary, as the features that you can change don't significantly affect gameplay. I always felt like I was mashing buttons constantly to get through all of the introductory stuff so I could just play the game. I would've rather they had streamlined these features a little or at least made certain elements automatic by now.
So, the half-baked story and gameplay features don't matter much. The ferocity with which I hammer the square button seems to be of profound importance however. This series defined the button mashing, hack and slash genre, and the gameplay in Dynasty Warriors Vol.2, despite some small short comings mentioned later, is as fun and addictive as any other title in the series, if not remotely original. This certainly isn't any improvement or refinement on the gameplay mechanics in past titles, but being on a portable console renews the novelty of playing a game like this somewhat. This is the kind of action that at first seems totally hollow and then grows on you, after you learn some more advanced moves and get into a rhythm of sorts. Players get two main attacks. A normal attack can be jammed repeatedly for combos and evolution attacks. A stronger charge attack can be used on its own or following a series of normal attacks in succession for a powerful and stylish finishing move. Then you have Musou attacks that come in several forms, all of which render you more powerful and invincible for a limited period of time. Once one learns to time and alternate between these different types of attacks they will find that a certain cadence to the action begins to surface as they string these moves together in succession. That, above all else is at the heart of why this franchise is so successful. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, choosing to ally with officers or mount certain horses has little effect if any on the outcome of a majority of the battles. Some officers, when allied with you, offer combinations for health recovery or lessen supply depletion as you progress through the map, others make your character stronger or enable the powerful double musou attack, certain horses allow you quicker travel across rivers etc, etc. After playing this game for some time, I found features like these had a negligible effect on my success in battle. Your assigned officers do little to aid you in battle and the horses are really hard to control. I eventually lost interest in creating a "well-balanced" team, as the instructions suggest and spent a majority of my time battling on foot.
Dynasty Warriors is a good-looking game with the exception of a few minor gripes. I found the frame rate to be pretty solid overall despite the amount of characters on screen at once, although the limitations of the PSP manifest themselves in different ways for the same reasons. Groups of foes will fade in and out of battle from time to time, and the draw distance is noticeably short. It's almost as if you can see the system compensating for its technical shortcomings in real-time by fading visible enemies in the background out, so it can focus on the cluster you are engage in battle against. Most grunts have limited polygons due to the sheer number of them on screen at any one time. Officers and higher rank enemies get a bit more detail. The player character fares the best with a nice amount of detail and fluid animations. What I liked were the glowing effects for hands and weapons when doing charge and musou attacks. Effects like these seem to be better than those on the PS2 and are really a sight to behold on a handheld. The sound has always been adequate for this series, if just a bit sparse. There are only a handful of standard screams and death moans employed by the enemy as you dispatch them. Tearing into a group of infantry will always trigger the same moan, multiplied by how many guys you just tagged. You will hear this one very distinct moan a lot. The music is the same Japanese techno rock stuff you have come to expect from the series. The tableaus and subtitles preceding battle are a glaring omission audio wise in my opinion. It would have been nice to see actual cut scenes with voice acting when attempting to flesh out a plot. If anything, this brand is consistent.
As far as replay value goes, this is the type of title that has it in spades mainly because of the gameplay. Once players become proficient at darting from one cluster of soldiers to the next sending enemies spinning into the air with stylish attacks, this game is likely to become a fun way to pass time during commercials, like it did with me. It's worth noting that there is a separate free mode that allows you to build custom scenarios as well, but to me it was irrelevant what the context of the battle was so long as I was in battle. The ability to pick this game up in short bursts makes it perfectly fitted to a handheld platform. Series veterans and newcomers alike should pick this one up on the PSP if only for a weekend. Anyone who can't stand the frenetic hack and slash action, which really is Dynasty Warriors' core trait, would be advised to look elsewhere.