Pity poor Koei Tecmo and developer Omega Force, who’ve found themselves in quite the bind. The musou games, so it goes, are ones that refuse to change – an immobile force that, instead of evolving, simply undergo a costume change whenever the mood takes them. One day they’ll show up for work in a hulking mech suit for the enjoyable Gundam spin-offs; the next, they might don Link’s green hat in the well-received Hyrule Warriors. It’s a formula that’s constantly adapted, and seemingly never-changing – underneath those cosmetics, the well-oiled musou machine grinds away relentlessly.
And yet, for those in thrall to that machine, there’s a mechanical beauty deep at the heart of these distant cousins of classic arcade brawlers such as Golden Axe, Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Omega Force takes that same spirit and outrageously embellishes it, until you’re a swirling dervish in the midst of a crowd of hundreds. After all, who doesn’t like a good dust-up? Even better when it’s tied to a game of ruthless optimisation, where you’re trying to clear a map as efficiently as possible as you level up members of the impossibly large cast. In all that chaos there’s something soothing to be found; if you know what you’re looking for, there’s something quite excellent there too.
Maybe it’s a symptom of over-familiarity with Omega Force’s industrious output – if you’ve inclusive of all the various spin-offs and side entries, it’s easy to count over 50 entries in the series since its inception – but these remain games with more detractors than devotees. Dynasty Warriors, the vanguard of the musou genre having helped start it all some 18 years ago, has born the brunt of the criticisms in recent years, and Dynasty Warriors 9 now has to take the strain of the series’ reinvention. It’s a fairly unimaginative reinvention, at that; this is an open-world game, the more familiar musou action pasted thinly across a staggeringly vast depiction of Three Kingdoms-era China.
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