See this ugly bastard with the stupid hat or the weird hair or whatever it is?
Got a good look?
I HATE HIM!
Thats Lu Bu. So what? SO WHAT? I HATE LU BU!
Lu Bu is some kind of monster demon god warrior. You know how in most games (generalizing about RPGs here mostly) you hear of some massive powerful guy that everyone is afraid of and you go off and fight him and you either win right then or they defeat you but eventually you overcome them in some drawn out victory? LU BU ISN'T LIKE THAT. He kicks your butt, and then you run away, and he follows behind you and continues to kick your butt until you are dead, and then he kicks it a little more. When he first appears in the game, your soldiers run away from him screaming "OH GOD! IT'S LU BU!" THIS IS THE RIGHT MOVE. His plot also involves him betraying everyone and being a general butt and a complete jerk which gives him bonus points on the hated bad guy scale.
Before Dynasty Warriors 4, I had never played any of the previous Koei Dynasty games. Apparently there are many of them, dating back to the NES, and spanning a number of genres... and, get this, THEY ALL HAVE LU BU IN THEM! Erh, I mean, they all have the same plot... Which is based on what I can only gather is the semi-realistic history of China. Koei has milked this plot into 8 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms' games, 4 Dynasty Warriors games, Dynasty Tactics, and probably 11 different breakfast cereals and a line of women's panties for for Japanese vending machines. That's a lot of longevity for a plot line. Square can't even make a sequel to a Final Fantasy game.
So what is this game actually like? I'm glad I asked. Basically, you choose a character from one of 3 (initial) groups (that would be the aforementioned Kingdoms). Your character is either the leader of a Kingdom, one of his Generals, or one of the subgenerals. It doesn't really matter though, because whatever they call you, you are actually a butt kicking machine. The game play is basically one part strategy, in that your character has a group of bodygaurds and soldiers (fodder) who follow you around as you try to take out your opponents soldiers (fodder) and their sub/generals, one part hell because IT HAS LU BU IN IT, one part RPG in that your character levels up as he slaughters worthless soldiers and generals and you can equip various items before fights which increase your ability to kick butt or give you magic abilities, and 97 parts straight up, brain-dead action. Sure, the game gives you a group to lead around, and generally you have objectives on each level, but in the end the objectives break down to kill EVERYONE on the other team, which is simple and straightforward except for the fact that on some of the levels YOU HAVE TO KILL LU BU.
The gameplay is non-deceptively simple. You have a weapon, which varies between characters, and a set of moves, which also varies. Every character has a couple combos and some 'charge' moves which have different effects and areas that they damage; some attacks are huge sweeping afairs which do little damage but knock everyone in a 5 mile radius down, and some are straight forward hacks which do big damage, and sometimes you play a friggin flute and it makes a little ball that explodes, but despite all these options you always run into crowds of enemy soldiers and mow down as many as you possibly can. On a bad level, you kill 250 of them. On a good level, you kill many, many more.
It's probably the most mindlessly fun game I've played in quite some time. The joy of slashing 5 soldiers with a single swing of my sword, and running into a crowd only to kill all 50 men without so much as taking a hit. Even a good brawler doesn't give you that kind of visceral thrill.
As you continue to slaughter the opposing forces, you unlock more characters from your squad. There are something like 40 of them in all that you can play as, but NONE OF THEM CAN KILL LU BU. Being able to play as so many characters gives the game a good amount of replay value; sure it's repetative, but at least it isn't running around rooms and picking up obscure items, it's slaughtering millions of waves of drones in interesting ways - and yes, eventually you can play AS LU BU... You know how in fighting games, you play against the computer controlled character, and they have some secret character who whoops your butt completely, and you think that when you unlock them, you'll be able to trample all over everyone because they are so powerful, but when you actually unlock the character they are toned down from the computer controlled version or you can't pull off the cheap tactics the computer can use against you? LU BU IS NOT LIKE THAT. When you unlock Lu Bu, the game is unplayble easy. His attacks are so much more powerful than everyone elses' it makes levels a cake walk. So, not only is he unbeatably hard when the computer controls him, but when you play him, he makes the game so easy that playing it as anyone else is pointless. He gets to screw up the same game twice.
Could the game be improved? Sure, more combos, more variety in attacks between characters, more special moves, a better versus system, those would all be improvements. But as it is the game is vastly entertaining and complaining that "it could be better" seems petty. I absolutely love this game, and you should too. I give Dynasty Warriors 4 a 9/10.