Many may have heard of the long-running Dynasty Warriors video game series, but the majority of gamers haven't played them. Maybe they hit up the various spin-offs; be they anime like One Piece, Gundam, or Fist of the North Star, or licensed games like Zelda, Fire Emblem, and Dragon Quest. Perhaps one of the spin-offs may have caught one's attention-the Japanese history equivalent Samurai Warriors, or Warriors Orochi, which combined characters from both historical franchises, then tosses random figures from other countries' mythologies and even video game characters.
Dynasty Warriors, as a franchise, loosely adapts the mostly historical events told in Chen Shou's lengthy novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Romance here meaning a romanticizing of what actually happened, including superhuman feats and some mysticism. This telling of third century stories is skewed toward the Shu Kingdom (the Green army in the games), due to the author's loyalties, but doesn't quite villainize anyone not named Cao Cao or Dong Zhou.
The general idea is simple-the player character as a one-man (or woman) army against hundreds if not thousands of foes per stage. Your mostly unique character is part of one side of a conflict, and usually the goal of each level is to take down the enemy's chief officer. One just has to wade through their army and junior officers first. Plus your allies, regardless of whom they are, are often nowhere near as competent as your hero, plus an ever-shiftinf tide of battle/morale meter can really push one side over the other.
But it wasn't always this way.
Dynasty Warriors (1997)
Since 1985, Koei had been releasing a series of strategy games based on the events of the Three Kingdoms era, again "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" after the novel. But in 1997 they took a leap from simulation to...PS1 polygon-based fighting game. This is something I wouldn't learn until I was a few games deep in the series. I'd bought a clearance strategy guide from Electronics Boutiques for an arena battler called "Destrega"-it was like a buck and had nifty CG character art. In a later perusal I found out each character had a bonus skin from Dynasty Warriors. Which I then learned was originally a fghting game I never played.
A trailer and some wiki articles how it to be a contemporary of Soul Edge/Sould Blade, though without a kick button, using a block button a la Mortal Kombat. As the game partly reiamgined these legends as their own larger than life characters (debatable in some cases), this would set the designs for what would follow, including making characters varied beyond traditional swords and spears, giving them unique weapons, fighting styles, and visual flare. The original game had ten characters to start with, with six hidden characters including boss Lu Bu and samurai Hiedyoshi Toyotomi and Nobunaga Oda (whom would appear in their own game series 7 years later and existing 1,200+ years later).
Dynasty Warriors 2 (2000)
Jumping from PS1 to PS2 three years later was the beginning of the long running series as we know it. In Japan it would be a separate series from the fighting game, changing its title from Sangoku Musou (Sangoku the Japanese name for that period in Chinese history, Musou for unrivaled or story in the case of the games) to Shin (True) Sangoku Musou. The west numbered it differently for clarity's sake, avoiding the confusion Square had with it's first three/six Final Fantasy games.
It's time to choose your Kingdom (with color-coded outfits to keep track of them all!):
-Shu (Green)-Three sworn brothers loyal to the ailing Han Dynasty
-Wei (Blue)-An amibitious faction of warriors led by the Cao family
-Wu (Red)-Hearty river folk assembled by the Sun family
But this was it. One warrior and their under-competent allies versus hundreds of enemies in each level. You chose your general and progressed through their Kingdom's storyline until you unified China (this era may be where the first classic blunder, "Never start a land war in Asia", may have originated. China was bigger then than now). As you progressed through the stages, you'd unlock more generals with stories to play through. The character count jumped here to 28 playable characters, with nine to choose from at the start. The game's unaligned characters required playthroughs from at least one general from each Kingdom. The legendary Lu Bu could only be unlocked by defeating 1,000 enemies on the Hu Lao Gate level (from where "Do not pursue Lu Bu!" came from. Seriously don't. He's OP as hell and will murderize you in seconds if given the chance).
Evolving from a fighter meant a lot of freedom for what your character could do, much of which would become staples of the series. Regular and unique Charge attacks could be chained together and the "Musou" attack was created. Each character has health bar aong with a Musou bar, the latter which grew as you deal and take damage. The Musou attack is a powerful attack capable of destroying crowds of foes or doing heavy damage to a single enemy, and each is dlightfully cinematic and/or over the top. The shoulder buttons allowed for blocking and various ranged bow attacks. Your character could gain permanent stat boosts from power-ups dropped by officers and gate captains-the latter of which normally allowed enemies to spawn at their gates. Horses could be mounted, ridden,a nd battled from, plus your character had assigned bodyguard units that would level up as your character did post-battle based on performance.
In additon to the story/Musou mode, there was also a free mode that allowed any officer to go back and replay a level, because sometimes you just want to grind! I played DW2 when I was about three games into the series (starting with DW3XL), andwas taken aback by how far the game evolved from 2 to 3. everything was stripped down, but it was also a new thing that the company would just get better at over the years. Mostly.
Dynasty Warriors 3 (2001)
This is where the game found its feet. Everything gets a face lift for the better-the crude evolved polygonal models from DW2 got refined and detailed. The blocky textures got a heavy reworking to actually look good, and the eemy AI got an upgrade that made even common foes fight tactically. The game's roster of playable character rose from 28 to 41, nearly doubling the unaligned characters and even adding in a new sub-faction, the elephant riding tribal warriors of the Nanman jungles (now known as Vietnam).
This is also where the game really dove into making the characters a LOT larger than life. Everyone gained (or first appeared with) their signature weapons and attacks. The Shu heroes tended to be built for crowd clearing, Wu built for one-on-one decimation, and Wei a mix of both. Weapons gained tiers-stronger, more ornate gear imbued with elemental powers, and generals could be equipped with various items to boost their stats and gain special abilties.
After skipping the second game, two players could go in on both co-op stories or face head to head in a few modes marshaling army versus army. Players could put toether 6+ hit combos, air recover, and even combine their Musou super-attacks into single screen-wiping onslaughts. DW3 was my introduction to the series, specifically the first of the Xtreme Legends games, which added a fifth weapon level, new difficulty levels, story modes for some of the newer characters, and new challenge modes.
Dynasty Warriors 4 (2003)
DW4 was mostly a refinement of DW3, especially as far as empowering the characters and players. Elemental orbs can be chosen and custom equipped to one's playstyles, and charge attacks can be used mid-air to scatter foes below. When encountering an enemy officers, you might be pulled into a duel, and the game gaoned a parry system to add to these clashes. A neat idea, but I recall the duels beign a pain in the rear. This wasn't helped by some enemies having a hyper mode-nothing like extra health, attack power, and full Musou attacks being available to the foe. In theory it evens the battleground, but allies are usually incompetent. You're still the best weapon your army has.
Luckily you can equip more items, which now have levels so you can farm for the best gear late-game. Some of these are...saddles. But these belong to legendary horses, no joke, though ly one is ever really worth going for-Red Hare, the fastest horse on the planet (apparently). I mean, one of the other horses, Hex Mark, was legendarily unlucky and an unremarkable mount for the game. With all these bonuses, there are no longer stat boosts dropped by gate captains-just health. Which in these games are meat buns, Floor Meat, and wine to fill your Musou meter.
IN DW4, the individual characters don't get individual stories-instead you choose a Kingdom and unlock more characters as levels are completed. Only three new characters were added this time around, with two being removed since three. These two were pretty much generic characters with new weapons but no stories, so no big losses there. In their place? Edit mode. Make your own characters and bodtguards for use in Free Mode. The two removed characters lived on in weapons and movesets for Edit characters.
This time two spin-off games were added-in addition to Xtreme Legends, Empires was added. Empires is a series of a quasi-board games-conquering the map as you build your general, meeting new characters for your army and getting "cards" that gave you new tactics to use. Then you'd fight through levels old and new with new goals for victory. Edit Mode carried over, so you can make a unique officer to unite China under.
Dynasty Warriors 5 (2005)
It's a return to character-based stories as opposed to being locked into Kingdoms to play as this time around. The roster is now up to 48 playable characters, with a few of the newbies being the next generation of heroes as character models are static despite the length of the campaigns. Som eof these characters were around for a good 40 years or so, but their game's models may look to be about 30.
New ways to fight are introduced, including aspecial Musou Rages and Evolutionary Attacks, the latter which allows extra-long combos to be strung together. Your bodyguards drop down to one, albeit a stronger ally with access to elemental attacks. Another Musou is added, True Musou; an extra-powerful Musou attack that can only be triggered when at critically low health (a level that causes your Musou bar to charge automatically, giving you more of a last wind to try and survive).
A new twist to the battlefield are bases-they are constantly contested, and whomever controls a base gets a perk to their army. Attack and Defense bases give related boosts to the armies of the controller, and Supply bases regularly spawn power ups and health items. Versus Mode has been removed for this version, possibly to make space for all the extra characters and battlefield extras.
Dynasty Warriors 6 (2007-8)
It was time for a new console generation, so Koei decided to take Dynasty Warriors and change just about, oh, EVERYTHING. Seven characters were removed (technically eight, but eng Huo got a DLC comeback) and the fantastic signature weapons? GONE. Eveyrhting goes traditonal save for what was explicitly in the book. My tomboy princess Sun Shang Xiang lost her twin chakrams and got...a bow.
Musou Rage is gone, as are power-up items-instead Koei created the Renbu ("Chain Dance")system-a Renbu gauge is added for combos. Instead of the old weapon/character level reliant combos, there's a meter that fills as more and more attacks are linked and landed. Activatin Renbu allows progressively longer combos to be chained together-tothe point where "Infinite Renbu", an infinite-hitting combo, is possible as long as there are targets to hit. Your character kind of floats through the enemy swarms, a shout-out to wuxia films.
Characters, for the first time, can now swim through waterways, and ladders allow ascension to upper levels and guard towers. Bases have been reworked-instead of finishing off the base's captain to conquer it, one just needs to take out a certain amount of stationed troops, with officers counting more towards these totals. On-field engineers accompany and help deploy siege weapons, and standard bearers can increase morale and combat ability while alied troops are nearby. Tomes dropped by support captains could call in elemental attacks and tactical support such as volleys of arrows.
Fans hated this game for all the changes made. Many characters, battle-wise, now had cloned movesets-only thei models and voices differed more often than not. The game's new look was a step backward, and the loss of characters people loved did not sit well.
Dynasty Warriors 7 (2011)
The franchise's 10th anniversary, more or less, was Koei's attempt to rebuild the game from scratch again, but in a way that would win their fans back. The roster was now up to 62 characters, with the addition of the fourth Kingdom, Jin, being almost completely new characters. The earlier games concentrated on the main Three Kingdoms, while now the later days of the conflict were now being added. Shu was the first to fall as the Liu clan could no longer lead, and the Jin Kingdom emerged from Wei crumbling after the loss of the Cao family. After everything fans had known, it was time for the war between Wu and Jin for finally uniting China under a single banner again.
Koei went to say it wasn't the deletion of what was done with DW6, nor a return of DW5. It was a new game built from the lessons learned over the past decade. The individuality of the characters were restored and the Renbu system removed. Aerial Charges were gone, but Aerial Musous have been added-not to mention a character could stock mulitple Musou bars for multiple attacks or unified, super-powerful ones. Along with horses (and the return of elepjant mounts), your character could also have an animal companion-a falcon, bear, panda, wolf, or a tiger.
Previously one had to wait until the end of battle to see the spoils such as new items and weapons. Now weapons could be dropped by enemy officers and equipped in the heat of battle. Considering the strongest weapons usually had to be won on higher difficulties under specific conditions, this was one boon to the battlefield. Characters could now use EX attacks tied to their weapons-new character-exclusive attacks and combos to give them more individuality. This only makes ense due to new flexibility-you could equip two weapons at once and swap between them freely (no dual wielding unless your character had a paired weapon, like twin fans or tonfas).
Dynasty Warriors 8 (2013-4)
Like Dynasty Warriors 4 was to DW3, DW8 was to DW7. More fo the same, but with more refinement. A new lighting system was introduced, and character models were rebuilt to work with said lighting. I'm finding conflicting lists of characters-the Koei Wiki makes it at 77 characters, with DW8 Xtreme Legends added about 6 more on top of that! 83 playable characters, a huge leap from the 16 of the original game!
Characters now have three Musous-a default, an alternate, and an aerial; and can bank up to three Musou bars. Weapons can now be customized at blacksmiths, something added from the Warriors Orochi games. This includes weapon affinties in a rock-paper-scissor system, each of which has its own battle power, plus additional skills that can be added to suit your play style.
A new mode, Ambition, is a new addition. Your character has a village and is charged with a task to build a special ceremonial tower to garner the Emperor's favor. The better you perform in various battle types; the more shops, citizens, and allies you'll get to make your own bustling little town. It's a fun break from the standard campaign without buying the spinoff titles.
Dynasty Warriors 9 (2018)
"Y'all ****ed it up!" -"Angry Joe" Vargas
I don't recall if Angry Joe played this game, and for his sake I hope he didn't. Koei decided to jump on the bandwagon and go all Open World with the ninth installment.
Now...China. It's freaking BIG. Like I said before-land wars here are THE Classic Blunder to top all others. Now, every stage, as before, takes place over one or two major locations in ancient China. But now you can just go off ANYWHERE at any time. There are cities here and there, as are various bases and homes. I remember reading about the game gaining "radio towers" in a Destructoid article about the game, which I assumed meant it was a thing in other games. The only open world I had experience with before hand was Skyrim, so this was a new concept to me. I didn't care enough to Google it and just shrugged. But yeah, there are huge-ass watchtowers here and there to help fill out the ginormous map.
The game was buggy, and several large patches fixed most the problems eventually. Humongous palaces would only partly render, letting you fall into the void. This still happens The scope was epic-and let me tell you swimming across miles-long rivers suck if there's not a boat launch nearby.
Ancient China, though, as full of a lot of NOTHING. The borders of the map were wither desert wasteland full of tigers and wolves, or thick jungles full of tigers and bears...and bandits. You could have a maxed out character with the best, highest level pimped out gear in the game and be taken out by these random "Mobs", I guess is the right term? I mean, yo could hunt for meat or safety from freaking tigers, but usually they'd come after you and you better hope you have a fast horse.
The roster? Bigger than ever. With DLC there were now 94 characters. The cities were now huge, with all kinds of side quest goodness and crafting to drive you crazy. Of course you can fish. Gotta craft food in your home somehow. Yes. Home. You now could buy homes to decorate and furnish, with paid DLC providing more cosmetic options. The game is just so damned ridiculously big. It was too much and too little for the fan base in general. Personally I don't mind it. Might be my only Platinum trophy.
DW9 has no spinoffs. That was it. DW8 had FIVE spinoffs, and DW5 had 6 back in the day! But everything was put into DW9, then even more to make it at least a satisfying game. To the right players. I have to admit, some of the new areas are downright breathtaking at the right times. And the photo mode lets you play with every aspect of the pictures you take. There are a few galleries online with some gorgeous and/or crazy photos people have made completely out of gameplay actions. Like this:
Dynasty Warriors 10 (20??)
Nothing's really known, if and/or when it happens, now that the franchise is at its 20th anniversary...here's hoping for something awesome.
In Part 2 we'll be checking out the officers of one of the Kingdoms. Probably Shu first. Thanks for reading!