Dynasty Warriors has always been an acquired taste, a bit like Marmite. For some, its button mashing madness goes down like cheesecake. For others, it's the button mashing madness that makes it repulsive. PSP-exclusive Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is unlikely to change anyone's taste buds either way: if you love it, you'll love it. If you don't, you won't.
That somewhat simplified summing up is of course no good to those who are yet to decide which side of the fence they should perch upon. Dynasty Warriors is a third-person action series loosely based around the Chinese epic poem Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a yarn that's full of massive battles and brave warriors who can take on thousands of ordinary soldiers. It's famed for simulating huge battles, with massive numbers of soldiers on screen at any one time. It's also famed for being one hell of a button masher. Perhaps the most button mashing button masher ever. The series is a big hit in Japan, but in the West it's so far been one of those games that enjoys a loyal but small following. Publisher Koei hopes Strikeforce will change all that.
How? By streamlining the traditional Dynasty Warriors format for PSP play and sprinkling it with a dash of Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G and a pinch of Dragon Ball Z. Monster Hunter, as any Japan-ophile knows, is a PSP game that's pretty much transformed what it means to play the PSP in Japan. People gather together to play cooperatively, linking their PSPs wirelessly at train stations, bus stops, parks and schools. It's a proper phenomenon, and a huge sales success.
Dynasty Warriors veterans will, however, first notice how the game's been altered by developer Omega Force to fit the PSP. The arenas have been downsized and divided up into separate areas that require a brief load, and the number of enemies on screen at any one time has, inevitably, been drastically reduced. The idea here is to be able to take on a mission and finish it in around 10 minutes - perfect for your average commute.
But the core Dynasty Warriors spirit remains. You begin the game by selecting one of the many characters fans will know well from the series. There's absolutely loads of them, each with their own signature weapon, fighting style, advantages and disadvantages. After some lovely FMVs, which do a decent job of giving you a history lesson on ancient China without making your eyes bleed, it's off to the main hub: a Chinese village of some sort. From there you can jump straight into the action, taking on side missions from the noticeboard and key story missions from the village guard.
Missions have pre-set goals: kill the enemy general or capture the enemy base, for example, and a time limit within which to achieve them. To win you invariably need to wade through scores of grunts with combinations of light and heavy attacks, occasionally stopping to pick up items dropped as loot. Once you've completed your mission, it's level up time - back to the hub, rinse and repeat.
It's in the hubs that the Monster Hunter influence is felt strongest. Character customisation, one of that series' hallmarks, has been ramped up by allowing you to select any weapon type as a secondary weapon. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a big deal for Dynasty Warriors - the series has traditionally restricted the weapons used by the game's characters in an effort to retain a historically accurate feel.
In each hub (as you progress through the story the village you're staying at will change) a handful of stores allow you to purchase new items and abilities. Chi powers can be bought from the Academy, which give you new abilities like a double jump or an extra dash. These powers are equipped to one of four limbs, and are not only extremely useful out on the battlefield, but give your character model nice sparkly bits on their wrists and ankles. Lovely.