I've always been a supporter of Koei, drooling over games like Nobunaga's Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms 7, so I tend to have very high hopes for games they put out.
Add to that the fact that I'm a big fan of the Strategy RPG genre, I always seem to get all hyped up about new ones that are announced and end up having a mildly pleasant time with the finished product. With these two factors stacked onto Koei's shoulders, you can imagine how frightened I was of picking this game up. Maybe that's why so many people have stayed clear of this game, but I'm crazy!
Why do I continuously subject myself to such torture? Because of games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre (take your pick, they're all excellent TO games), the far and few quality games that light the dim flame of hope within me.
Chess and Beyond!
Much like any good SRPG, Dynasty Tactics tries to give us a few spins on the traditional. Most noticeable would be the lack hit points, mana points, ability points…points period. In its place we get a set number of soldiers and tactics. The amount of soldiers in a given party is determined by the General's level. Each level gives him 1000 more soldiers to command. This helps Koei maintain their "vast war" feel with armies in the tens of thousands.
Also, in Dynasty Tactics, there are 2 distinctive types of experience to be gained. They are both gained after each battle, but are used for very different purposes.
The first, known as "Deeds" in Dynasty Tactics, is to gain level in order to control more soldiers on the battlefield. This is pretty straightforward, the more a party does the more experience the general will gain. After gaining said level, the general's stats (Strength, Intelligence, Leadership) will increase depending on their historical traits. You'll also have a chance at gaining a new tactic, which I'll explain in more detail later in the review.
Now, you're probably scratching your head, wondering what I mean by "historical traits", right? Well, like any Koei game, the characters are based on real people from China's great history. As record show, certain Generals were more gifted in certain areas. For instance, Liu Bei was never very strong physically so that will reflect in the game as he progresses in level but he was a great leader, which means his Leadership will rocket.
The second, known simply as "EXP", will help unlock better troop types that are available from the four categories; Infantry, Archers, Cavalry and Special. This plays a major role, though it'll probably be the most overlooked aspect of the game. In the beginning, your troops will be well rounded, but as you get higher-class troops, their focus becomes obvious and it's time to plan your battles in advance. Do you want to be the army that crushes their opponents, or wear them down? Also, your General's stats will play a role in this as well. A General with high strength, say Zhang Fei, will want to have powerful troops to crush his enemies with since most of his tactics will be STR based but Liu Bei is a man of Leadership qualities and you'd be best to give him troops that can follow orders because his tactics will require unified movements.
Who needs gold for war?
Obviously not Liu Bei, Cao Cao or Sun Ce. Its clear that Koei wanted to make a game that could appeal to more people than their Romance series, so all political and financial aspects of war has been stripped and we're left with only the brutal battles to entertain us. But this also means Koei put a lot of work in the battles, and it shows.
But no money doesn't mean no items. In Dynasty Tactics, items do a number of things from changing a General's skill to increasing his "EXP". They don't play an integral part, but they do add a certain historical spice to the game.
Weapons like Guan Yu's Blue Dragon and Lu Bu's Crescent are all here to add flavour, a taste I love.
Acquiring these items mean you must occupy towns, capture Generals on the battlefield or recruit them on the main map.
This is the moment of truth!
Like I've stated before, these battles are the real reason you would enjoy this game, and let me tell you, if you think chess had strategy, wait till you get a load of this.
For starters, each Army consist of up to 4 Generals, you cannot have more than 2 armies on the battlefield 'cept an envoy which you must appoint before the battle. So you can have a maximum of 9 Generals in a battle at anytime.
Whoever has the highest morale will be given the opportunity to start the round, so building a high morale for your Generals is a huge step in winning a battle. You have a total of 30 days (rounds) to crush your enemy.
There are a number of "Skills" that are given to certain Generals, a way to define them in history you could say. Again, this game is founded on a very rich history and it is reflected very well. From Fame to Genius, you really get a quick understand of the General in question just by looking at his Skill. Each skill gives that General a different ability; most of them have to do with battle, such as Strategy will give him the ability to use his Leadership tactics as often as he likes if his morale is 80 or higher.
Now comes the most important aspect of Dynasty Tactics, the tactics…
Tactics are moves or strategies that do damage to your enemies while leaving you unharmed, for this reason, tactics are your greatest weapon. Each of them has certain requirements to be filled. Ambush requires that you be in a grass or forest type terrain while Flank requires that you be at your opponent's side. Likewise, each of them affects the enemy party differently. Send a Volley towards your enemy and have them take a step back, have a party do Decoy and make the group run after you.
At first, the reactions your opponent has doesn't mean much to you, until you figure out just how important Tactics Combo is. The more Generals involved in a combo the more soldiers you'll do away with. This is where you'll be dealing your biggest hurts and taking down enemies with one combo. But don't get too excited because combos are hard to pull off. Sure, getting 2 or 3 Generals around an enemy is easy, but try bouncing that enemy around hitting 5 or 6 Generals. It's near impossible but oh my god, the joys that it brings.
And if you're bored of fighting the computer, plug in a second controller and take it out on one of your friends. The computer will randomly generate 2 balanced armies, so your friend doesn't have to worry about you loading your super duper army with level 50 Generals.
Like any recent Koei game, Dynasty Tactics is as wonderful to play, as it is beautiful to look at. At this point, Koei is at the top of its game and it won't let graphics get in the way of domination.
I've always thought of Koei as a company that makes great games that are a joy to play, but its obvious that they don't want people to frown on them just because they don't have the best eye candy.
They did a great job with this game, though it's not a step up from games like Dynasty Warriors 3. Honestly, it's amazing they had time to do such great work with the graphics when the rest of the game is so solid, they're not out for the greatest graphics award, but they won't be bested anytime soon.
Dynasty Tactics gives you the choice of playing one of the three legends of the Han Dynasty - Liu Bei, Cao Cao and Sun Ce.
These three are the leaders who usher China into the Three Kingdoms era. Each with their own reasons for China's reunification, this gives us reason to replay the game.
The main drive of this game is "Objectives" given to you. In order to advance in the game, you'll need to accomplish them. Once you've done that, the story will be pushed forward with some cutscenes and narration.
The high point for me is the brief history the game gives you about all the Generals who are in your militia. So much can be learned from browsing the database that I've found myself spending countless hours reading.
Feel the melody of ancient China…
Koei has always been able to make incredible music that transports you to China every time you turn on the game. One of the greatest things about Koei is its ability to produce such good music on a constant basis.
This time around, the music is good, but after playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms 7 just before, I feel it was a step backwards in quality. What if I hadn't played RotTK7 prior? This would have been a masterpiece for sure.
Sound effects are in place and are well done, it fits and doesn't shout out "look at me, I suck." Which is pretty much what sound effects should do, subtly make you feel like you're there.
One beef I have with this game, and its hard to appease me in this department, is the voice acting. The main characters of the game are fine, but once you get to the repetitive second strings, they get annoying and you just want to find out whom he is and ask him to never do VA ever again.
Pillows are the saviours of my controller…
Why you might ask? Because this game is HARD! Not cheap hard, but a lot of strategy is involved hard. You could be doing fine, thinking you've won the battle and then, out of no where, your enemy pulls a Tactic Combo on you and it's anyone's fight.
Lord knows how many times In Battle saving has kept me from starting a battle over from scratch, but with fights lasting up to an hour, you'll have 2 reasons to cherish In Battle saving.
Dynasty Tactics takes Koei into the world of Strategy Role Playing Games with style and substance. It's not just something they threw around, you can tell a lot of planning went into this debut and I love them for it.