In my last post I'd mentioned that I'd been trying out various Dynasty Warriors games I had lying around. I had tried and failed to get into Dynasty Warriors 2 for PS2 before playing Hyrule Warriors, but I thought now would be a good time to give it another go and take a close look at the origins of what has become a big franchise (well, excepting the original Dynasty Warriors game, which was a traditional fighter).

Dynasty Warriors 2 definitely feels like a huge step back coming right off of playing Samurai Warriors 3, but it was interesting to see how all the main elements of the series were in place at the start. You're still tasked with single-handedly turning the tide of a large-scale battle, although the levels aren't really broken up into specific missions like in the other games I've played. It's easy to see why I found the game so aimless when I first tried it out, because you're not really told that you're supposed to defeat the named opponents and help our your allies. The battles often have different sections, but unlike the other games I've played the dialog is minimal and you're not constantly being bombarded by requests for help from them.

On the normal difficulty, the game is much more difficult than the others I've played in the series. The grunts you're battling against are much more powerful than in other games, and the game is much stingier about providing items, especially health-restoring items. You have to level up your character, not by accruing experience points, but by defeating higher-ranking opponents. The characters also have a much smaller set of regular attacks and special moves, and the characters themselves don't seem to have as much variety as the later games. The game does include horseback riding, although I didn't find it to be particularly useful, and you can also shoot a bow and arrow, which also seemed fairly useless. You're also given four bodyguards at the start of every battle that level up if they manage to survive to the end of the stage, but this seems like more effort than it's worth.

The game requires grinding, which is definitely annoying, but even more frustrating that that is the scarcity of save points. Apparently the original Japanese game didn't have save points at all, but in this version save points are hidden inside pots and boxes that you have to break. I suppose once you know where all the save points are you can save at strategic moments, but going into it blindly I invariably saved at a bad time or missed the save points altogether. Ugh! The game also suffers from some serious pop-in during crowded scenes, which makes some difficult sections even more frustrating than they would be otherwise. Also the more powerful enemy combatants can heal themselves and gain bonuses like higher attack and defense when you knock them down, which is annoying and pointless.

As with Samurai Warriors 3, each character has a five-stage story line, but there are only eight unique stages total (although as with the other games, different characters will see shared battles from different perspectives). You can drop into Free Mode at any time to grind and then go back to the story mode, but the game feels pretty poorly paced; in particular the third stage seems to have a huge jump in difficulty (and it looks like I'm not the only one who thought so).

Overall the game suffers in the same way that initial games in franchises often do: although the core elements of fun are there, it's clear that there's still a lot of untapped potential. I've already dipped into Dynasty Warriors 3, and already that feels like leaps and bounds more fun than this game, with everything running much more smoothly and looking much better. I'm looking forward to playing that game more, although I'll probably wait until after I've had a chance to play Fire Emblem Warriors when it comes out in October.

Check out the start of the dynasty of Dynasty Warriors 2 with these links:
- Entry at koei.wikia.com
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Positive review at IGN, to help put the game in the context of when it was released

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