Dynasty Warriors, Koei's action-strategy franchise, has gained a loyal following since its first appearance on the PlayStation back in 1997--which is pretty impressive considering that the subject matter deals with historical events in Chinese history. Five games and multiple consoles later, the series has finally come to the Game Boy Advance in the form of Dynasty Warriors Advance. Like its console predecessors, the GBA game strikes a balance between the action and strategy genres, and, at the same time, immerses players in "what-if" storylines concerning famous Chinese generals. Unfortunately, this pint-sized coup d'etat has been scaled back considerably from its console counterparts, to the point that very little of what made the console games enjoyable survived the cutting-room floor.
Watch Chinese history come to life and guide famous generals to victory.
Dynasty Warriors Advance is set during the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, which lasted roughly from AD 184 until AD 280. The Han dynasty ended, leaving three individual kingdoms of Wu, Wei, and Shu to spend the next century fighting for control of China. Many famous generals, such as Cao Cao, Cao Ren, Liu Bei, and Lu Xun, made their mark over the years by claiming victories in battles that literally shifted the balance to one side's favor. In Dynasty Warriors Advance, you can pick one of 13 famous generals and lead their troops through the entire era, possibly altering China's history in the process.
Once you choose a general, you'll find yourself in the first battle--Hu Lao Gate--staring at a map populated with castles, supply depots, and character icons. Gameplay is split into two phases: a strategy phase and an action phase. Neither is very complicated. The strategy phase works just like a board game. There are red and blue character icons situated on the map. The red ones represent your allies, and the blue ones are the enemies. You can move your own general one space per turn, while the CPU takes command of all of the other icons, both ally and enemy. When you make contact with an enemy, the action phase is initiated. This is where the magic happens. Your lone general is thrust onto a battlefield and you have to eliminate groups of enemies in real time by mashing the attack buttons. You can run around, dash, activate booster abilities, and perform different attack combos by keying in various combinations of the A and B buttons.
Even though the premise and gameplay sound esoteric and highfalutin, the console Dynasty Warriors games have no problem making the whole concept seem approachable and interesting. And that's because battles in the console versions resemble the kinds of thousand-man skirmishes you'd see in movies like Braveheart or Troy. Often, dozens, if not hundreds, of soldiers are displayed all at once. This sense of scope and scale is electrifying, especially considering how you can wander the environment and pick fights with lone captains or entire clusters of swordsmen. The GBA game, by contrast, can only display seven characters onscreen at any given time. As such, battles on the handheld lack the scope that battles on the console have.