Do you prefer Wu, Shu, or Wei?
If that makes no sense then you’re clearly not a fan of Tecmo Koei’s long running cult smash Dynasty Warriors.
Dynasty Warriors is a hack and slash action game based on Romance of the three kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong. A highly regarded work based around the ‘Three Kingdoms’ era of Chinese history which blends history with myth and dramatises the lives of numerous fuedal lords and their retainers.
The franchise now on its eighth instalment (or seventh in Japan) has sold millions in it’s native Japan where the last title Shin Sangoku Musou 6 or Dynasty Warriors 7 topped the charts with many fans cosplaying as their favourite characters in the West however it’s more of a niche title.
Dynasty Warriors is also one of the most maligned titles in gaming, with detractors stating it is bland, ugly, shallow and completely lacking in any innovation for such a long running series.
Most of these arguments and criticisms are misguided. Casually dismissing it as a mindless button mashing game is dictating that players aren’t allowed to play games the way they want to play them, although contrary to popular opinion it’s pretty difficult to make it through a battle just pressing square repeatedly.
It’s not mindless either with strategy and awareness being more crucial than ever in the latest game. Ploughing through the enemy army without paying attention to what’s happening elesewhere on the battlefield is almost guaranteed to result in failure.
Ambushes, siege engines, betrayals and more occur in the heat of battle. Fail to stop a messenger and your supply depot could get burnt down crushing your army’s morale
prompting half your army to flee the battle field. Fail to come to a generals aid and your base camp could get swamped by enemy soldiers. There’s more to most battles than just killing the enemy general.
Other stages may feature something entirely different like infiltrating a supply depot unseen or escaping from a burning castle, your allies can vary from whole armys to none at all leaving you to fight your way to victory single handed.
Dismissing it as just being about fighting an opposing army is the same as dismissing Street Fighter II for being just about one on one fights.
One of the major appeals of the game is its characters, with each new game in the series adding previously non-playable characters to the roster which now stands at 70. This isn’t like Mortal Kombat of old either where half of them are the same but a different colour.
Much like Game of Thrones it’s impossible to have just one favourite and in a refreshing change to the vast majority of characters in gaming they’re not just buff alpha males either. Whilst there’s clearly some dramatic license taken with its portrayal of characters Dynasty Warriors still remains the only game where not only are several characters considerably older than the norm but it also features numerous warrior women from barbarian queen Zhurong to the more traditionally attired Zhen Ji.
These characters stories are what lies at the heart of the game with each new entry in the series regularly adding another element of a characters story that was only mentioned briefly previously. Xiahou Dun takes an arrow to the eye at the battle of Xiaopei and keeps on fighting, Zhang Fei secures the retreat of his sworn brother Liu Bei and a score of peasants at the battle of Chang Ban Bridge by intimidating their pursuers with a fearsome war cry, Zhou Tai rescues Sun Quan from certain death after fighting off a horde of bandits at Xuancheng, Dian Wei secures Cao Cao’s retreat by fighting off numerous enemy soldiers after Zhang Xiu betrays him in Wan Castle.
It’s not hard to see why this story has been around for generations.
The differences between these characters are more than cosmetic, each officer has his own preferred weapon from the traditionally fitting like Zhao Yun’s Dragon spear to the more anachronistic like Sun Ce’s Tonfa. Some handle crowds better than others and musou attacks, special attacks that require a meter to fill up, vary massively with some
being more suited to taking out an enemy officer like Zhang Fei’s and some being more suited to taking out a crowd like Guan Yu’s.
They also have their own personality’s too and despite problems with pronounciations in the earlier games the voice acting fits well due
to the same voice actors voicing the same characters over several games.
Despite the large number of characters they are easily distinguishable so there’s no way Cao Cao could be mistaken for Zhou Yu.
The games story mode with a seperate campaign for each kingdom unlike earlier games is now more in fitting with the source material with only certain officers being available for certain battles and officers dying in specific battles too.
In terms of sheer value for money, 3 lengthy campaigns alongside another for a new kingdom is pretty good going.
Dynasty Warriors despite it’s dramatic licence can also teach you quite a bit about The Three Kingdoms era which is ironic for a game perceived as being brainless and being able to research the real historical figures behind the characters in the game is something pretty much unique to Dynasty Warriors and the similar Samurai Warriors which is based on the Sengoku period of Japanese history .
So it might have flaws, its never been one of the most polished games but each game does look noticably better and its A.I might be pretty poor but then if every soldier on the battle field was your equal, a) it would make your legendary character seem pretty unlegendary and b) it wouldn’t be much fun as each battle would probably take hours.
Everytime a Dynasty Warriors game appears there’s the usual questions of ‘Who actually buys this?’ and ‘When are they going to change things?’ and it will sell to the usual niche core of fans as it usually does in the West but a new Call Of Duty which can be accused of being just as lacking in innovation ,especially to an outsider, is released and it will sell millions of units and people will be talking about it as though not playing Call of Duty means you’re weird, it’s a striking contrast.