At the start of a Dynasty Warriors review, it's traditional to quote some sage but ultimately meaningless words from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Such as, "All warfare is based on deception" or "Military tactics are like water".
In the case of Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter's Battle, the first DS release of this popular and long-running series, we have our own advice. And this would have to be, "Avoid this mediocre hack 'n' slash".
Because, even compared to the increasingly tiresome button-mashing obsession of the console versions of the game, Fighter's Battle's lack of excitement and polish really lets the side down.
Its basic form follows the templates of the series, with you being offered the choice between three warriors who will lead your forces in an attempt to systematically take over the 11 territories of ancient China.
Each warrior differs in their attributes, although you'll effectively be hard pushed to notice much variation. But for the record: Phoenix is the most balanced fighter, possessing evenly matched attack, defence, and speed abilities; Dragon is considered a speedy fighter; while the hammer-wielding Chimera has the most powerful and long-ranged assaults.
Within each of the territories are individual battlefields on which victory must be gained. A map on the touchscreen charts each territory's assortment of bases, armouries and depots. To conquer a territory means capturing every enemy base and then successfully assaulting the main camp, overcoming its general in single-handed combat. Staking claim to armouries and depots isn't required, but they do afford useful attack and life point bonuses to strengthen your supporting troops.
In terms of going into battle, you execute basic attacks via the B button, while more powerful charge attacks are triggered with A. Any combination of the two is usually enough to kill off enemies so, as a result, you'll find yourself mindlessly pressing those two buttons for most of the game. Assuming Fighter's Battle is intended to be a button-masher, it certainly succeeds in what it set out to be.
Joining your standard moves are Dynasty Warriors' characteristic musou attacks. Every enemy you hit goes toward filling up your musou meter, which acts like a rage or limit break. When full, you can tap X and unleash a powerful attack unique to each of the three warriors.
Obstacles attacks are more interesting, though – and new for Fighter's Battle. You have to gather enough coins from fallen enemies to pull one off and the resulting attacks (which are randomly selected by the computer) range from causing an earthquake or blizzard, to more militarily traditional actions such as rallying your troops. Fun when launched at the enemy, they can also be frustrating when you're 'blizzarded' to another part of the map just as you're about to win.
But since musou attacks are always the same and there are little more than a dozen obstacle attacks, combat gets repetitive very quickly. The ramped up difficulty level as you move through territories is the only thing that keeps the game remotely interesting during the handful of hours it will take a competent gamer to capture China.
One way Koei has attempted to refreshen the action, then, is the addition of a tactical card-based system. Before each battle starts, you can select fighters in the form of cards to support you during the battle. These are stationed at each of your bases and acts as a last line of defence. Equally, whenever you capture an armoury or depot, a fighter will remain there to defend it.
It's meant to instill a strategic element by forcing you to think about where to place your best cards. Unfortunately though, the quality of cards themselves seem to have little impact on whether you win or lose. That depends wholly on your performance as the main warrior, which admittedly has always been the unique selling point of Dynasty Warriors anyhow.
There are other examples of Fighter's Battle lacklustre nature, too. The sprite-based soldier characters look pixelated and don't interact well with the substandard 3D environments in which they battle. In fact, the game doesn't really feel much like a DS game. It doesn't use the touchscreen or microphone, for instance. And with the exception of the ad-hoc three-player option (which sees you doing exactly the same things as in the main campaign mode, albeit against your buddies instead of the computer), this feels like it could have been released on the Game Boy Advance.
So, Dynasty Warriors DS: Fighter's Battle has few redeeming qualities. Even if you could endure the shallow combat and lame visuals, the ridiculously short campaign just doesn't seem worth the effort. This is one battle that's definitely not worth the fight.