Shin Sangoku Musou 5: Empires (otherwise known as Dynasty Warriors 6: Empires outside of Japan) is the latest instalment in the long running franchise published by Koei in conjunction with the Omega Force development team. Set in the historic backdrops of the Three Kingdoms of ancient China, I have been an avid fan of this hack and slash strategy based game since it first appeared on the PS2 back in 2000. The game features an abundance of real life historical figures to choose from and as you guide your army to war, there are literally hundreds of characters on screen at once when you take to the battlefield. It’s a free for all ancient Chinese button mashing extravaganza. Add to that a strategic element where you are able to plan your attack and power up your characters, prior to the major battles taking place. Shin Sangoku Musou 5: Empires for the first time in the series, allows the player to play as either a ruler and dictate your army’s plan of attack from behind the scenes, or as an officer and carry out those orders in the frontline of battle.
The game play premise follows closely to the previous titles in the Shin Sangoku Musou series. The hack and slash attack mode that fans have become familiar with, is back in all its glory. The fatality rate in this game is extremely high as you go on a mass killing spree in your quest to unify ancient China under one ruler. In order to achieve this you must conquer all twenty four provinces scattered throughout the land. Depending on what role you select, be it a ruler or officer, you will have a host of different tasks to take on board. To begin with, you have a large selection of different characters to choose from. Build your character’s rank, level and weapons up as you complete missions to advance further through your campaign.
The game play action mirrors the earlier titles and the Renbu system which allows the character to perform continuous combos, and was introduced in the previous version of the game has been kept in this latest offering. You have your standard attack, jump and block buttons along with your Musou meter. This Musou meter allows your character to unleash a special move when the gauge is full. Your character is able to possess different special moves depending on what abilities you purchase and what weapons your character uses. This function certainly comes in handy, especially when you might be in a bit of a tight spot and taking a severe battering at the hands of the enemy. It’s also useful to discharge your Musou when your power is low and you are within a whisker of death. The special powers make you temporarily invincible and will decimate all those in your close proximity. There are four slots to place your purchased abilities, so you will have to pick and choose the right combination wisely before tackling your missions head on. As was the case with all previous renditions of the game, level ups and experience are gained by the number of kills and power ups you execute during the battles.
What really stood out for me was the fluency in which the game flowed between the different roles you can undertake as either ruler or officer. An example would be if you were playing the game as an officer and were not happy with the direction your ruler was taking, then it’s possible to overthrow your leader in a coup. On the other hand, playing as a ruler can get stressful and if the burden of running your own army become too great, then it’s possible to step down as ruler and join the battle on the frontlines as an officer. You can also play the role of a mercenary officer and travel the lands looking for employment and support a cause for the right price. Shin Sangoku Musou 5: Empires provides a lot of flexibility with regards to being able to switch roles throughout the campaign, and I found this to be a very useful tool to employ when things weren’t going my way.
Choosing to play as officer in Empire mode is probably the most straightforward of the three selectable roles. This is a matter of abiding by the orders your ruler will dictate and then implementing them in battle. The main interface is setup on a calender based timeline. Every few months your ruler will chair meetings to discuss the direction of your army and others facets of government such as diplomacy and the economy. You will be issued with various assignments and tasks to carry out in the monthly cycles, and this is pretty much a follow the leader type scenario. Playing the ruler and dictator differs in that it’s a lot more hands on. You have to decide how to govern and command your people and what measures to take when plotting your next attack. Make sure you don’t exhaust your resources as invading clans from neighbouring areas can spring surprise attacks when you least expect it. Finally the mercenary mode follows the same concept as an officer in Empire mode, but you are able to pick and choose your alliances freely and for the right price.
The graphics in the Shin Sangoku Musou series have always been criticised for not expanding a great deal from its last generation predecessors. I tend to agree but as a big fan of the series, I’ve overlooked this area time and time again. Shin Sangoku Musou 5: Empires hasn’t really made a big leap visually in this latest chapter but there are slight improvements noticeable. The character models are tweaked but I did encounter some ugly pop-in issues throughout the battles. I found it pleasing that there wasn’t as much slow down when the screen was overcrowded with combatants, but the vast expansive panoramas still seem rather monotonous. Hopefully the developers at Omega Force can look to provide the next release, a proper HD sheen, but I won’t be holding my breath on this one.
The voice over work is fairly solid in this Japanese version. There still are some moments where the narration makes you want to cringe, but having said that, the dialogue is done exceptionally well given the large cast of characters used. The soundtrack boasts over 100 tracks that covers the entire Shin Sangoku Musou archive. However these tracks are quite robust and can become repetitive due to their generic nature. There really weren’t any tracks that stood out in my mind, but the added feature to edit the list was a cool function.
Shin Sangoku Musou 5: Empires as a game is pretty much comparable to all the previous games in the franchise. There are slight improvements here and there but these are fairly minor and the crux of the game remains the same. This reminds me of a sports series such as Pro Evolution Soccer or NBA 2K, where every year the game is enhanced to a degree whilst maintaining the same gaming engine. The changes are cosmetic but fans who have grown to love the game will not mind this at all. The underlying fact which remains to be seen is that if you enjoy slaughtering en masse, then you are going to lap this mouth watering hack and slash right up. The strategic side of the game adds some more depth, but you really want your value for money when it comes to the more meatier and action packed side of things. The create a character is a welcome addition and the promise of downloadable content is worth keeping tabs on. Bonus materials such as artwork and voice samples can also be unlocked and mastering the harder difficulty settings will no doubt extend the replay value of the game.
My final thoughts on Shin Sangoku Musou 5: Empires was a positive one. I’ve long been a fan of this type of genre of gaming, but it really is a bit of a hit and miss with the general gaming public. You are either going to love this or hate this. One could dismiss this as a washed up and recycled franchise where the combat is out dated and repetitive elements come into play. I on the other hand, can’t speak more highly of it. Yes, I am aware of its shortcomings but as I stated before, this type of gaming really does appeal to me quite a bit. Empires provides you with some interesting features and options in campaign mode and there’s a good mix of combat and strategy to keep fans set for a while. For those new to the series, a rental wouldn’t hurt. Long time fans will no doubt enjoy this new release and will pretty much not require me to forecast what to expect, as you’d probably already know what to expect. As that saying goes, this is a tried and tested formula that will only appeal to a minority of gamers out there. But I say, if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.
AAG Score: 8.0/10
1. Empire mode has an abundance of content and features to last you a while and provides good replay value.
2. New strategic elements are a welcome addition but don’t alleviate too much away from the main game.
3. Levelling up your character and improving their stats and weaponry is half the fun.
1. Graphics are outdated and really need to be revamped.
2. Combat can be repetitive at times.
3. Some really cheesy dialogue, even if it is in Japanese.
Reviewed and Written By Yuto Hayasaka