DYNASTY TACTICS / Koei / PlayStation 2

Koei was always first and foremost a purveyor of intricate, Asia-based strategy games. Even after catching lightning in a bottle with the more action-focused Dynasty Warriors games, Koei held to their strategy roots all the way up to their 2009 merger with Tecmo. Dynasty Tactics is one of those efforts, and it's basically an attempt to bring together the Dynasty Warriors games and the contemporary Kessen series with the more stripped-down and turn-based titles they had been known for before.

It isn't exactly like any of their other games, though. It borrows some art assets and scenarios from Dynasty Warriors, and the general cinematic style of Kessen, but otherwise isn't like either of those series. The gameplay is more reminiscent of some of Koei's 8- and 16-bit era turn-based strategy titles, but there isn't one I can think of that's directly comparable. Dynasty Tactics ends up being more of an SRPG that has an unusual focus on combination attacks.

One thing's for sure - it ain't no Dynasty Warriors, despite sharing the name. There's no action at all, and no butt rock ... instead it's a very leisurely pace and atmosphere accompanied by slow traditional Chinese music. And Koei was never known for blowout graphical spectacles or big visual budgets, but graphics here are even more spartan and basic than usual. The battle maps, where you spend most gameplay time, are surrounded by darkness and use about the most meager tiles you'll see on the PS2. Animation is also extremely minimal, with the only real effort in the presentation going into short bursts of cinematics that advance the story and accompany some of the battle actions.

The game's central gimmick is using each commander's unique "Tactics" commands to create chain combos. Tactics often push an enemy unit some amount of squares in some direction or another, and the idea is to have one tactic push an enemy to a waiting ally who will automatically use one of their own tactics. There's also some "link" system that the game never adequately explained and that I never fully understood.

The emphasis on real-world tactics could have been a cool concept, but all of this has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Instead, you're basically just memorizing the game's own fussy internal logic. It's like learning the rules of a new collectible card game.

Anyway, the chain combos are requisite as they not only do huge damage but are also the only way to stock your larders with recruited enemy generals (for whatever reason).

Outside of battle, the presentation is just as spartan but actually a bit more interesting. You pick one of the usual Wu, Wei or Shu forces and play through their standard Three Kingdoms series of events, but the game gives you more leeway than usual to alter history and make different choices / send your forces in different directions. All of this accompanied by unique dialogue and cutscenes, so I guess that could be interesting if you're deeply into this story. You aren't able to move totally freely, though - you're often given specific objectives (like conquering a particular enemy) that have to be accomplished in "X" turns, or you lose the game.

It all comes back to the battles being a boring grind, though. Once each character runs dry of their tactics (you can generally only use each once per battle), or if you just can't get the chain combo positioning right due to terrain or enemy movements, you're reduced to just chipping away tiny amounts of damage per turn. You have to play a perfect and super-fussy chain combo game not just to win, but for it to even be basically entertaining.

Dynasty Tactics ends up being more of a "puzzle SRPG" than anything, one of those games where there's a specific pattern of moves and characters you're supposed to use in most maps and the whole game centers around sussing that out rather than coming up with your own organic strategies. Maybe that style of game works for you, but if it doesn't the boring story and spartan production values really don't add any reason to beat your head against this one.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video