China 184 AD. A group of soldiers murder wave after wave of weaker opponents. In response, the remnants of the Han clan lead this horizontally-scrolling quest for revenge through ancient China, splatting anything in sight.
The horseback heroes can either fire fast, stabbing short-range shots or store them up into one massively mean megablast.
The evil General's minions aren't tough; one quick poke in the head and they're history. Save up a big shot, by holding the fire button down, and a single blast can bag three at once. The end-of-level Generals are a different kettle of foe, though. They've mounts, decent armour and extremely large weapons. They'd pose no real problem if you could face them one on one, but they pop up when the screen's already undergone a population explosion.
This is where the Dynasty Warriors play their trump card - tactics! Rather like a medieval air strike, with rocks or fireballs instead of Napalm, magic cleanses the area. Tactics kill all normal folk and weaken the Generals, but leave you unharmed.
The four Han clan warriors who are on offer vary in ability, with the amount of damage they can take balanced inversely with the amount they dish out. A real big hitter is needed to waste the Generals, but a durable weak-weaponed guy has the advantage of surviving long enough to actually meet them. And of course famous warriors like these can't wander round with a wimp's weapon all their lives, so en route there are more powerful blades to collect and keep, as well as extra hit points which help to cure any warrior who is careless enough to get sliced.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The introductory screens create an atmosphere of legend and these pictures are echoed on the playing screen with animated faces that contort in anger and pain, but this level isn't carried into the battle. The backgrounds are excellent, but the playing area is too small to cram in the detail, especially at the end-of-level showdown: there are so many people on screen it's hard to know who you're killing. All very realistic, but not helpful.
Annoyingly, the music plays throughout the game. Not that the music is bad - it's atmospheric, if a tad up-tempo. The irritant is simply the fact that there are no sound effects. All the obvious opportunities for blood-curdling martial arts battle cries and the crisp swish of blades have been missed, which is sad.
Dynasty Wars' core problem is that there isn't an awful lot to do! With only two modes of attack you either have to use spear power to spike enemies or call in magical tactics. And with only tiny guys on horseback to look at - some of whom apparently ride side saddle! - there's not much to keep you rivetted to the screen.
The similarity of foes too, makes the game easy, with the higher levels reachable in the first few attempts. The war, it seems, will definitely be over before Christmas, maybe even August!
In spite these factors and the deliberately slow pace Dynasty Wars has an undefinable charm. There's a sense of tension, while the sheer number of opponents makes life awkward. The levels, while similar in concept, are very different in design, ranging from burning bridges to snow-swept wastes. It's worth getting to each new level just to have a look at the scenery.
A reasonable chop-em-up which has the distinction of horse-riding heroes, enough original elements and is bound together with a certain slick style. Once it's finished - which shouldn't take long - it's unlikely you'll ever play Dynasty Wars again. But while you're still trying to top the big nasty who ruined the Han Clan, Dynasty Wars should prove an enjoyable diversion.