Spicing Up the Past
Human history is full of fascinating subjects and epic stories. Wars that tear countries asunder, struggles of entire nations of people, the rise and fall of civilizations…but no, that’s much too boring. History is a dull subject! How do we liven up all of these tedious tales?
It’s easy, really! We just have to add in some fictional elements! And thus, we come to the aptly titled genre of historical fiction. Stories that set themselves within a certain period of history, perhaps using people and events that occurred within that time, but add in some fictional elements.
Many pieces of entertainment in this genre attempt to make their fiction believable in the historical context. James Cameron’s Titanic fit the fictional stories of protagonists Jack and Rose into the history of the Titanic disaster, but these characters are presented as if they were a part of the actual history, rather than obvious fantasy.
Of course, we can go in the other direction and add some fantasy elements – I’m fairly certain that Nazis having their faces melted off by the power of God never happened in history, but Raiders of the Lost Ark presents it as so.
Gaming company Koei Tecmo seems to be a fan of the historical fiction genre, incorporating it into many of their games. Two of their main franchises focus on one part of history – the Three Kingdoms period in China. One franchise, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, leans on the realistic side of the genre, presenting this time period in more of a historical manner. The Dynasty Warriors franchise, though, gets a bit more…creative…with historical texts.
Developed by Omega Force and published by Koei Tecmo, Dynasty Warriors: Godseekers was released digitally on January 31st, 2017, for the PlayStation 4 and Vita. This review will focus on the PS4 release.
A Bit of Magic
Godseekers follows the story of Chinese historical figure Zhao Yun and his fictional childhood friend Lei Bin. At the game’s outset, Yun and Bin stumble across of group of bandits, leftover dregs from the recently quelled Yellow Turban Rebellion. Fending off their attack, they find something within the cave the bandits were hiding out in – a girl encased in ice.
Bin unwittingly releases her, and she introduces herself as Lixia, appearing to be some kind of magical being. Almost immediately, Lixia decides to set out across China to find a set of orbs that hold her powers, practically forcing Yun and Bei to join her. Along the way, they become involved in historical moments and battles from the Three Kingdoms period.
While there were some impressive moments within the plot, Godseekers didn’t really manage to hook me in overall with what it presented. The historical drama is intriguing, but the journey of the three main protagonists and the fantasy elements introduced by Lixia didn’t hold my interest.
To be fair, though, the way these fantasy elements are worked into the historical plot can be interesting. For example, early in the game, your party joins up with a coalition attempting to depose the current ruler of the city of Luoyang, Dong Zhuo. Historically, when Zhuo saw he was about to lose against the coalition, he burned Luoyang to the ground before fleeing. In Godseekers, Zhou accidentally sets Luoyang ablaze through the use of one of Lixia’s orbs.
The Dynasty Warriors franchise is most famously a part of the musou genre. Hell, it named the genre, and most games in the genre are developed by Omega Force, the creators of the franchise. With Godseekers, the button-mash-hack-and-slash series goes somewhere different: turn-based grid-based strategy.
In each battle, you’ll be taking control of Yun and Bin, along with other story-relevant characters and/or others you can recruit to your party. You’ll navigate each character around a grid, attacking enemies while aiming to accomplish a surprisingly varied set of goals in each stage. Most of the time your goal is never as simple as “eliminate the enemy.” You may be tasked with targeting a certain unit, or occupying portions of the map, with goals changing in the midst of battle as ambushes occur or allied AI characters fall into danger.
Each of your units has a set of attacks available to them, covering different areas and costing certain amounts of energy. Each unit can attack as many times as they want each turn, so long as they have enough energy to do so. Only a small amount of energy is replenished each turn, though, so you need to weigh the costs of going all out versus attacking with restraint.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Dynasty Warriors title without overpowered characters, and Godseekers manages to convey that sense of power well without breaking the tactical gameplay. As a unit attacks, they build up a gauge that can allow them to unleash a Musou attack – a super-powered attack that cuts to a scene of the character slaughtering an entire battalion.
Also built up during battle is the Sync gauge. When full, you can link multiple units together to perform their attacks all at once, followed up by an extremely powerful area attack. I did have this option break the difficulty of a few battles, though. A well-executed sync attack can earn you enough energy to perform another one immediately, and sync attacks also allow you to give an already-used unit another turn. Used right, these attacks can wipe the battlefield within moments.
Outside of battle, there is some light customization available for each of your units. You can select what weapon and items each unit should bring to battle; purchase, fuse, and upgrade weapons; and upgrade the units themselves by spending ability points on a grid unique to each of them.
As a whole, Godseekers plays as a relatively simple strategy game. Not “dumbed down,” but rather that its more straightforward with its engines compared to the complexities of other genre titles…although there are times when I’d say the game does feel a bit too simplistic.
The graphical presentation of Godseekers is…well, I wouldn’t call it amazing, but it’s better than average. The level of detail is pretty good considering the title was also released on the Vita, but despite that, this console release feels like it could’ve been pulled off just as well on the PS3.
Cutscenes are animated fluidly with a nice amount of detail given to environments and character models. Featured characters in these scenes are surprisingly expressive, although some character’s faces seem to be weirdly lacking detail.
Once in-game, this titles suffers from some repetitive environments and (ever the annoyance for me) a lack of color, opting for dull and dirty shades of brown. This becomes especially noticeable when contrasted against the colorful designs of the main characters – generic groups of units are also designed rather dull, but the main officer characters have great levels of color and detail.
The soundtrack here is mostly what I’ve come to expect from the Dynasty Warriors franchise. Bombastic orchestras with punching brass and pounding drums, with occasional electric guitar wailing through. Not much really stood out to me, but it does fit the feel of the game. I am a sucker for modern orchestral music though, and the composition here is done quite well.
Like I said in our Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII review, though, I’m still confused as to why a game so steeped in Chinese history opts for such a Western-influenced soundtrack.
There is also a decent amount of voice acting here, done in the original Japanese. The performances here are done relatively well, and for the most part, do a great job at capturing the character’s personalities. The only performance I really took issue with was Lixia’s; her voice performance sounds much more mature than her character design and actions in the plot.
A Springboard to Something Better
Overall, Dynasty Warriors: Godseekers is a solid game with a lot going for it, but I just couldn’t manage to get invested in it. The fantasy elements detract from the underlying story, gameplay feels a bit too simple at times, and the graphical presentation as a whole just feels adequate.
There’s a solid base here underneath the parts I take issue with, though. It feels like Omega Force put in a great amount of effort to translate their mindless button-mashing franchise to tactical gameplay, and I would say that they managed to pull it off mostly successfully. The greatest achievement here is retaining the sense of overwhelming power you get from slaughtering thousands of faceless units in the musou entries, of which I’m impressed translated so well to a turn-based title.
I would highly encourage Omega Force and Koei Tecmo to continue this tactical spinoff into its own franchise. While Godseekers is somewhat mediocre, there’s a lot of promise here that could be built upon to create something great.
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo. Screenshots taken by reviewer.