Since the Nintendo Switch’s launch in 2017, Koei Tecmo has been loading it up with games from their long-running Warriors/Musou action brawler franchise. Fire Emblem Warriors was a great launch game, though light on raw content. Hyrule Warriors got a brand new edition that’s one of the best recent examples of the series. Warriors Orochi 4 was shrunk down from the bigger consoles with only minimal changes. The One Piece Pirate Warriors and Attack on Titan games made their way over. And, there’s also a Persona-based brawler coming sometime in the near future.
In Japan specifically, Koei’s been even more prolific with the releases, porting a huge selection of games from the franchise back catalog to the Switch. Dragon Quest Heroes 1 and 2, Dynasty Warriors 8, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, Warriors Orochi 3, Samurai Warriors 4, and Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada all got ports to the machine, often with new features included or all the DLC bundled in.
Out of these many additional ports, only Dynasty Warriors 8 has made its way to the US, here dubbed “Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends Definitive Edition.” Nothing has stopped the other games on that second list from also launching in more territories, aside from an apparent apathy on Koei’s part. Every single one received language translations on earlier platforms. The Dragon Quest bundle even had a listed release date for the worldwide launch of the Switch, only to vanish into thin air.
DW8XLDE, as I’ll abbreviate it from now on even though that’s still comically long, contains the base game, the Xtreme Legends expansion, and all of the assorted character costumes, music packs, and other special DLC that was originally sold separately. It sells for just $40 on the Nintendo eShop, a phenomenal deal compared to the full price of its current sequel. It contains over 100 hours of content if you’re willing to do absolutely everything.
The core of the game is a 15-hour long campaign mode, charting the story of different warring factions in ancient China, based on the classic epic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The story limits you to three or four different characters per stage in order to craft cinematic cutscenes around those specific heroes. It’s a great introduction to many of the nearly 80 playable characters, and the English voice acting is fun in a delightfully hammy way.
During the game’s battles you’ll sprint on foot and on horseback to different objectives, fighting thousands of guys along the way. Many of the stages have slightly branching story lines depending on how well you perform. The first time through any stage with a lower-level hero is an exciting race against the clock and your own army’s dwindling numbers. Revisiting stages usually allows for your now-overpowered character to make short work of things, and you can unlock some new bonus stages by completing objectives that are obscured the first time around.
After you’ve blasted your way through the story and bonus levels, you can tackle short fun Challenge stages, or the Ambition Mode, which is secretly the heart of the game. I’ve always been frustrated that it’s not more prominently featured on the main menu, as I think a lot of players might enjoy it more than the main story.
Ambition mode is essentially a free-form action RPG, with randomly generated challenges a la Diablo III’s adventure mode, and an overarching strategic framework. You’ll pick one of the game’s characters and wage a campaign across the land from a small village hub. As you complete challenges, gather resources, and recruit other characters, you can also upgrade the village to unlock new bonuses, items, and other goodies.
All of the levels are recycled from the main campaign, but the battles therein are created on the fly, and the top mechanical layer is robust enough to make the game fun in spite of the mode’s relatively light story. It’s a great way to continue the game and max out the level of your favorite character.
Playing on a higher difficulty unlocks better weapons, more gold, and bigger experience point rewards, and the highest settings are quite challenging. The game is missing the online co-op that some of the older versions had (one of the two big reasons I don’t think they can actually call this “Definitive”) but it does have a split-screen mode if you’d like to play with a friend locally.
The game performs well on the Switch, aiming for a full sixty frames per second and mostly hitting it. It has an easier time doing that while docked, while also running at a higher resolution.
Unfortunately, in a second big blow to the “Definitive” moniker, the graphics here are the same assets used in the original PS3 edition of the game. When the game launched on PS4 in 2014, it contained brand new character models with upgraded textures, and a whole host of additional graphical effects. None of those newer visuals are present in this version. Now, it’s true that you’ll need a PS4 Pro with boost mode in order to get that build running at a solid sixty frames per second, but I would have loved to see those visuals on Switch running locked at thirty instead.
It’s a silly personal frustration of mine that these enhanced visuals never made their way off the PS4. Even the PC version of the game uses the PS3 visuals, and in that sense, I guess you’re getting almost as good a graphical experience on Switch as you would on a nice PC. The PC version does offer a higher on-screen enemy count than the Switch, but that’s the only obvious graphical difference. It’s a rare and weird thing that Koei put special time into making unique visuals for the PS4 version of Dynasty Warriors 8 then never put them anywhere else, considering their penchant for recycling content over and over again.
This Switch version is “Definitive” only in the sense that it contains all the DLC, but it’s missing the online co-op and the better raw assets of the PS4 release. If you want the actual Definitive version of the game, that 2014 PS4 edition is the one to buy.
However, DW8XLDE on the Switch is still a massive pile of content with a fast frame rate that only costs 40 bucks. It’s a great raw value proposition if you’re a fan of schlocky action games, and its quality makes me wish even harder that all those other legacy series ports were available more widely on Switch. I can’t think of any good reason the other games aren’t yet out worldwide. I’d joke that Koei “hates money or something,” but I know that’s not true with their aggressive monetization strategies.
Dynasty Warriors is about to celebrate its 20th year as a franchise, and I’d love to see some kind of mammoth classics collection for current hardware. Unfortunately, knowing Koei, they might try to sell all the individual games at full price instead of in one bundle. Even then I’d still be slightly tempted as it’s one of my favorite franchises, and this Switch version can stand proudly near the top third of the pile.