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Shin-Sangokumusou (Dynasty Warriors 2)
Platform:  Playstation 2
# of Players:  1
Developer:  W-Omega Force
Publisher:  Koei
Features:  Dual Shock 2 Control, Vibration Function
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  8MB Memory Card: 128KB
So far, the developer to watch on the PS2 (at least until Hideo Kojima
finishes Zone of the Enders and Metal Gear Solid 2) has been Koei. First,
they produce one of the best (and definitely the best-looking) strategy
games on console, Kessen, now they've revitalized the fighting genre with
the absolutely amazing sequel to an equally surprising three-year old
Playstation game. Shin-Sangokumusou (Dynasty Warriors 2) is here, and brings
with it the most frantic adrenaline rush I've had from since Soul Calibur on
the Dreamcast. It even surpasses that game in terms of it's amazing replay
value and pure kinetic action. Imagine the weapons based action of SC, but
in a huge, free roaming environment with up to a thousand enemies to defeat
in each level, and you get the idea of not only the sheer scale of DW2, but
of some really talented programmers working with the PS2.

Like the first Sangokumusou, the sequel is loosely based on some actual
Chinese historical characters, using real weapons of the period. But where
the first game was a solid one on one fighter sporting flashy graphics and
effects, Developer W-Omega Force (Destrega) pulls every rabbit out of their
hats, and using what looks very much like a modified battle engine from
Kessen, presents an original take on both fighting and strategy games. You
have to not only see this game in motion to truly appreciate it, you need to
get your hands around a Dual Shock 2 and play it. Imagine a cross between
Romance of the Three Kingdoms and a 3D version of Capcom's Dungeon and
Dragons arcade games, and you'll get an idea of how much of a blast this
game is to play.

There are two modes in the game Musou and Free. Musou Mode follows your
selected character as he or she aids in cutting a path through swarms of
enemies to defeat the boss character at the end of each map. You haven't
seen it all, until your character runs up a ladder, takes out four archers
who previously had been raining down arrows on your men, and leaps over a
wall into a pack of 20 enemies, catching them off guard. Really. DW2 is a
game that represents the first real change in fighting games in quite some
time, and it's hard to go back to playing tripe like X-Men: Mutant Academy
or yet another Street Fighter game after spending some quality time with
this one. Free Mode allows you to pick a stage and play it through with any
character, in any order. There are only two stages open at first, and
judging from the size of the map, there are a lot more to choose from as you
clear stages in Musou Mode. This is a great way to practice areas that
you're having trouble clearing, and trust me- on Hard, you will have a tough
time with some of the later stages.

After you choose your mode and one of nine different characters, you're
presented with a map of the first stage and a brief story detailing your
mission objectives. You can also see the positions of your fellow generals,
as well as the enemies' locations and entry points. Depending on who you
choose, you start from one of a few spots on the map, and then the level
begins. The first thing you'll notice is that there are about ten to twenty
enemy soldiers coming your way once you take a few steps, and they all have
their own AI routines. Some will make a beeline straight for your position,
while others will break right or left and actually run past you, heading for
the other troops. It's time to get busy, and the control scheme is quite
intuitive, and well up to the task at hand.

The moves are really simple to pull off- the Square button is your basic
attack, and a few rapid taps produces a character-specific combo. Your
attack also changes if you're running forward or jumping. The "X" button is
for jumping and mounting any stray horses that you find. Triangle is a
charged attack, good for when you really need to open up a path in a hurry.
And finally, getting hit builds up a Musou bar under your life meter, and
when it's full and flashing, tapping the Circle button once unleashes a
massive special attack, which works wonders if you're surrounded, or want to
lay some major lumps on one of the enemy commanders or bosses. Oh, by the
way, mounting a horse in the game changes your attacks somewhat, and lets
you plow through the enemy like an Army barber giving 10-second buzz cuts.
There are also power-ups, weapon and armor upgrades, arrows and Musou boosts
dropped by some enemies, or hidden in assorted breakable objects that come
in handy once you penetrate the enemy fortresses. But wait, there's more!
Your character can use arrows by picking them up, finding a safe spot to
stand and tapping the R1 button. This puts the game into a first person mode
which includes an auto-targeting feature, as well as the ability to manually
ain your shots. Let the computer decide the shots- the manual aim is too
tricky to use if you're not the patient sort. You also can't move or defend
yourself, so don't try this if you're surrounded, or in range of the
enemies' archers. Combat is bloodless, but the game really doesn't need it,
as it manages to convey the power and desperation of it's battles through
some really great animation.

Thanks to multiple paths, each map has more than one way to clear it, and on
the top right side, you can see not only the concentration of enemies, but
the morale of the force you're part of. Spend too much time in one area with
no enemies, and morale drops, but should you rush headlong into battle
buliding up a huge body count (shown on the lower left), you'll help raise
the morale, and the men will fight better! The fighting itself is so
exhilarating, yet the average battle will last anywhere from 30 minutes to
over an hour, depending on the route you take. You'll also rack up anywhere
between 500 to 800 personal kills in each battle- an astounding amount, to
say the least. If you thought the Tekken Force Mode in Tekken 3 was tough,
this game will break you in two. The paths in the game are all pretty
treacherous going, with wizards casting wind spells that not only blow you
back and keep you from progressing, but also sends wave after wave of troops
down on your position as archers rain death dow on your men. Another path
has a wizard created rockslide, which makes it the tougher of the two- one
hit from a boulder takes of like 80% of your life, forcing you to retreat
and track down some health- ouch.

Even with all this going on, the graphics and animation are simply
incredible. From the elegant details on the costumes, to the powerful
lighting from the special attacks, you'll never want to stop playing DW2,
just because you'll want to see just what your PS2 can do. Characters even
kick up dust when they run, and in one level, a sudden snowfall gives the
battlefield a gray, wintry look an feel for a few minutes. During each
battle, brief cutscenes will show the progress of your army, often as you're
in mid-strike, then switch back to your character as
(s)he finishes the movement. Excellent stuff. The opening CG is great as
well, just slightly below the one in Kessen, but a lot more abstract, with
its firey tiger skylines and dragons sweeping through the battlefields. If
you win a battle in Musou Mode, you're treated to a nice replay of your
movements on the battle map, sort of like watching a touchdown drive in a
football game, complete with comments on your performance. You also receive
and lose points based on the time it took to complete each section, the
number of KOs, and how many time you used your special and charged attacks.
Then, you get a rendered victory cinema before the next map, and you also
get to see who you're up against in the next battle.

The music is also fantastic- a nice blend of what sounds like traditional
Chinese insturments with some modern orchestration, and like Kessen,
dramatic and powerful, yet with a sensitive undertone. The voice work is
wonderful as well, and I hope they leave it in and go with subtitles for the
U.S. version. The only small flaws are the occasional bit of slowdown when
the screen is loaded with about 40 enemies, the lack of a two-player mode,
and the slighly foggy backgrounds, but again, the scope of the game crushes
all complaints.

If you've been feeling gloomy about the quality of import PS2 titles,
Shin-Sangokumusou will more than make up for the games you didn't like-
Track down a copy, and prepare to be amazed every time you turn your system
on. I don't even want to know what part 3 is going to look like....

Greg Wilcox

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