Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter’s Battle | Principal Platforms: Nintendo DS | Developer: Koei | Publisher: Koei, THQ | Genre: Action | Year: 2007

This Nintendo DS rendition is just further proof that the Dynasty Warriors formula doesn't translate well to handheld formats.
Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter's Battle PAL Box Art

Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter’s Battle

You know a game is in trouble when a review note you’ve made says “nice box art”.

Alas, the immediate question when trying to shrink Dynasty Warriors’ unique blend of huge armies and OTT action should be obvious to anyone who has laid eyes on the franchise since its third iteration. Chiefly: how do you recreate the thrill of slaying hundreds of on-screen foot soldiers if your chosen hardware can’t render such a spectacle?

Converting 3D character models to chibi sprites is a familiar route for sure; one that has admittedly afforded Koei some slight success. The action is viewed from an aerial perspective where your 2D avatar crashes around 3D battlefields littered with troops. All of those furious special moves and item bonuses are still there, and Koei has upheld the spirit of Dynasty Warriors by retaining the horses, siege engines, and similar attractions that players must tackle head on. It works. In the most basic sense anyway.

It’s also nice to see the continued inclusion of level gimmicks. The pirate ships in Chi Bi, the Cheng Du maze, the poison swamps of the Nanman empire. It’s just enough to prevent maps from feeling samey; a quality that’s further enhanced by energetic music and some reasonably nice environments decorated with 3D foliage.

But where do I even start when it comes to the gameplay. Dynasty Warriors DS is as repetitive as always, only with reduced depth and fun. The Nintendo DS can’t handle many sprites at once, so the typically frantic hack n’ slash thrills the series is known for are capped by this awkward necessity.

With each stage being segmented into several compact areas, there aren’t many meaningful decisions to be made during battle either. As basic as the core loop is, a good Dynasty Warriors game will deploy you into scenarios where you can at least expect some modicum of strategic input. That feeling is entirely absent here.

You’d probably expect a gimmicky touch screen feature to fill the void, but strangely Dynasty Warriors DS has no use for the second screen aside from a typical auxiliary display involving maps and status bars. You can’t even use the touch screen when entering your profile name via a digital keyboard. It’s bewildering.

A gimmick you do get is a roulette wheel that can be spun once you’ve collected enough coins from fallen enemies. The symbols on the wheel produce a variety of effects. One fills your musou gauge, another damages your opponent or reverses their controls, and another inspired addition does…absolutely nothing. Furthermore, the roulette is linked to customization options that appear during the planning phase of each level. Players can equip cards that decide which allied officers they’ll be taking into battle, with each one adding their symbols to your roulette pool.

If it sounds intriguing, then rest assured it isn’t. A good chunk of those symbols produce effects that you will never see because they involve inhibiting the opposing general who could be out of sight on the other side of the map. In single player sessions, you’ll have to take the software’s word that these power-ups are doing anything useful at all. To me it seems better to only select the power-ups which work within your own character’s radius because at least then you can actually see something happening.

And speaking of characters, don’t go expecting to see all of your favourite warriors here. Compared to the bursting rosters of its sister titles, Dynasty Warriors DS only features a small handful of recognisable faces. Even though players can still choose famous names like Zhao Yun, Cao Cao, and Sun Ce to be their officers, the characters that players can actually control are limited to three generic chuckleheads that Koei have dreamt up!

The marquee character, Red Phoenix, is the weakest of these options too. I mean, if Dynasty Warriors DS can’t even get a basic trope like ‘box art guy = good’ down without issue, then you really have to wonder what hope there was for this experiment to begin with.

I’m really not sure why the real officers are exclusively reserved for the computer to use. You’ll get a chance to fight them in one-on-one battles whenever you both enter a shared area, and from Xiahou Dun to Sun Shangxiang, each officer fights with their recognisable weapons and combat styles intact. It’s extremely strange that you can’t control them because with only three playable warriors to hand, there’s almost no incentive to come back once the campaign is beaten.

The card collecting element doesn’t contribute any lasting appeal either due to how lifeless the prospect is. Officer cards are colour-coded by rarity, but they all use repeated artwork or symbol combinations, and filling your album is pretty much random because neither the game nor its manual provide any clue as to what in-game feats unlock cards in the first place.

Ultimately Dynasty Warriors DS is just a poorly considered game. There is nothing new to see upon finishing the incredibly short campaign (which lasts two and half hours, tops), and whilst a local 3-player mode sounded promising, the lack of download or wi-fi play, or any sort of fun for that matter, is the final nail in the coffin for this unfortunate misfire.