With a seventh Dynasty Warriors from Japanese developers Koei on the way, I’ve got to admit that even though I am a huge fan and have been since the first release in the UK, I really am amazed at how on earth are they are able to re-release the same basic format every few years and quite literally sell …millions. One of the gaming wonders of the world perhaps? How do they do it? I’ve decided to put my bias aside and have a have a good look at possibly the most recycled, but awesomely fun game ever under the microscope.
Arguably on the back of the success of other fighting games such as virtual fighter and the like, the first dynasty warriors was a sort of 1500 year old fighting extravaganza released in 1997. With a host of legendary martial artists from Chinese history as the cast, each with a back story and tale of vengeance: the game was certainly not without its merits. Not globally released, it enjoyed some success but competition was fierce. A huge host of beat ‘em ups were being born all over the world and most of them still live on to this day.
Players enjoyed being genuine martial arts legends and this was the game’s hook. Very astutely noticing that: who else dreamed of being world-class martial artists than indoorsy, often geeky adolescent gamers?!? This was the key selling point for the franchise and with some serious reworking, the first worldwide instalment: Dynasty warriors 2 was a huge success. An empire was born.
The team at Koei wisely decided to overhaul the game’s premise by placing the gamers at the centre of one of China’s most turbulent historical periods: the famed “three kingdoms era”. Koei already had a series of games based around this but were closer to age of empires, rather than a one against all 3rd person slasher, quite simply placing you in the centre of historically prevalent battles leaving you to hack and slash your way to victory was pretty much it. Of course, levelling up was key as it so often is with games like these, after all what the pointing of surviving a 90 minute battle without getting any stronger?
Dynasty warriors 2 introduced us to a whole host of more than 30 characters with individual weapons, move sets and fighting styles. After playing the story mode for each character, you would actually get to know them pretty well and was another key strength of the game. I must admit, I was a difficult to impress 14-year-old when this came out but I thoroughly loved taking a character, learning their place in this historical epic and taking them to the limit by maxing them out. With a huge range of battles to choose from, a whole host of characters to enjoy and more missions than you could shake a sharpened, razor edged stick at, the combination was a winner. I personally couldn’t get enough of the hacking and slashing, and even when I did, it was simply time to move on to a new character.
Key to the success of any game worth its jade seal is replayabilty. In my book, this is possibly the most important element of a game. What’s the point of loving every aspect and every minute of the most awesome game ever if it’s all over in a few days? I spent a year looking forward to the “force unleashed”‘s sequel but was devastated when the fun was over in just a week! Dynasty Warriors never got tiring. If you’ve got one of the series in your collection, you can pretty much guarantee that you are never going to be bored again! And is the perfect remedy for that odd period when you are desperately waiting for a bug release but dint want to dive into anything serious.
With a winning formula safe in the bag, it was simply a matter of tweaking things and developing more sophisticated visual effects and battle A.I. Dynasty Warriors 3 allowed you to literally face hundreds of peons at one time to slash, club, pound or blast to pieces however you fancied. Not only could you upgrade your character to the max, but the introduction of different levels of weapons and items took this even further including the famed “ultimate weapons”. More battles, more characters and more ways to cut up thousands of helpless nobodies than ever before paved the way for even more success. By Dynasty warriors 5, the same battles and characters were all present and accounted for and not that much different from its predecessors but still continued to sell millions of copies worldwide. It seems we just couldn’t get enough of this ever more sophisticated violence.
Of course this was never actually a particularly violent game. There was never any blood and you were merely rewarded with a K.O. count and bodies simply fading away. It was more about simply bashing buttons in a random order and hopping you surveyed to fight another day. I personally dread to think about the damage I have done to my digits after 10 years of Dynasty Warriors, but all I know is…I struggle to keep it up now. Hmm arthritis at 24, not such a crazy idea…
For some reason, the entire lifespan of the PlayStation 2 was awash with Dynasty Warriors titles: its expansions and eventually “empires” series that merged the idea of building an empire and actually fighting to maintain it together. Barely 12 months went by without a new Dynasty Warriors hitting our consoles in some form or another. Even though, the premise was always the same, the battles rarely ever changed, but millions were still selling. It seemed we loved this and quite literally couldn’t get enough of it. But how long could they keep it up? Surely this could go on?!?
By the 6th release in 2008 though, things were different! More platforms than ever meant a rethink was essential. Opening up the title to the Xbox 360 meant that something had to give. What could have been a huge and limitless experience to ps3 players using Blu-ray was restricted to fit the Xbox and the game itself was rather ironically: hacked to pieces. Everything that was essential to its initial success seemed to vanish. There were fewer characters than ever, fewer battles and weapon types. Some characters had even doubled (or tripled) up on weapons. For whatever reasons, the game was just incomplete and Dynasty warriors 6 lacked most of the winning formula it had so successfully honed. Don’t get me wrong, I still wasted weeks of my life on it, but something was missing. If mindless violence on a massive scale can ever be charming, this one certainly wasn’t and I was very disappointed. The sequel (that by now was traditional) went some to way correct this and appeared like way to give back to the players, but still never quite cut it. Instead we got Dynasty warriors: Strikeforce. A very 2 dimensional and other worldly version of the game that strayed tremendously far from the original flawless formula and it is fair to say that even with downloadable content and online playability, the game was a far cry from the original success of its more rigid predecessors.
So now we look to Dynasty warriors 7, and a chance for redemption. I’ve purposely tried to avoid reviews of the release so far but from what I can gather from my contact in Japan is that it has the feel of the older style games and I hope that an unadulterated leap back in time is nigh. It seems like the old cast is back with a whole host of even more characters than ever before with their unique weapons being returned to them. I must say I am excited though trying not to get my hopes up. With 3D capabilities and a vast new kingdom added to the original 3 (hence the premise of the three kingdoms) taking the game further along the infamous troubled timeline would offer tremendous possibilities the Game should, in theory have more depth than ever. I will of course update those who care about this humble writer’s opinion as soon as I dare play it. But I don’t think I could bare another disappointment, and I don’t think Koei could either, quite literally.