This means war, Koei!
The Dynasty Warriors franchise is known for being pretty similar throughout the various iterations, instead relying on the fun of slashing through gigantic hordes of enemies. With that in mind, I went into the GBA version without expecting too much – just your average beat ‘em up. Unfortunately, the total lack of gameplay finesse makes DWA a very repetitive, and mostly boring experience.
The story quest, Musou Mode, has you pick your side among three different armies in feudal China, each with three of its own leader (and therefore player) choices. There are mentions of a conflict between the Emperor and the people, but don’t be fooled, there’s not much of a story to be told here. Once you get started, you’ll notice two things right off the bat.
First off, movement is far from being easily managed. Much like a strategy game, you’ll make your way through the environment by walking from one designated spot to the other, using a turn-based system. It’s in this way that you’ll spend more time walking around than actually fighting anyone. Dead-ends are frequent since you’re not given too much of an objective to begin with. Your goal is basically to obliterate any enemies in your path.
Luckily, that’s pretty fun (at first). If the spot you land on contains an enemy troop or official, you’ll go into battle mode, where the game feels a lot more like Dynasty Warriors – hack and slash and button mash your way to victory. The controls are for the most part intuitive and responsive, making it easy to coordinate your way through the crowd. The number of enemies you fight and the time you defeat them in directly correlates to your experience, ergo the more you fight (taking the least amount of time possible), the more you’ll level up. Through your travels you’ll also pick up new items and weapons.
The real problem with the fighting is that it’s extremely repetitive. Although the armies you face off against usually number in the 20s and above, only five can appear on-screen at once. And even then, there are very few warrior types (swordsman, archer, etc.), meaning once you figure out that type’s strategy; you’re pretty much doing it over and over again for the whole game.
You’ll want to get scuffles over and done with as soon as possible, and so Koei threw in a meter at the bottom right corner of your screen. While you're fighting, it’ll steadily grow. Once filled, you can use it to power up for strength and vitality. This is really the best way to go, although brawls are normally so easy, power-ups aren’t necessary.
Now, this may not seem so bad, but imagine doing it again and again and again until your hands feel like they’re going to fall off. Dynasty Warriors Advance is fun at first, but it just gets old fast, and after it does, the whole experience is ruined.
There are extra play modes, such as Free Mode, where you’ll get to replay areas that you’ve beaten, and Challenge Mode, full of endurance and lottery trials. But really, once you’re done with the first burst through story mode, you won’t have much incentive to keep going.
In the presentation department, DWA is just okay. The animation and character sprites look nice, and portraits contain a lot of detail, but there’s nothing specifically great about it – there’s nothing that stands out. As for sound, generic midi rock tunes take precedence, which is okay if you like generic midi rock tunes, I guess.
In the end, Dynasty Warriors Advance is a mediocre game in just about every department. There are way better action games on the GBA, and so I’d have to only recommend this game as a rental if you’re a fan of the series desperate to give this one a try. Everyone else, look elsewhere.