The Simple Joy of Dynasty Warriors
I’ve quelled the Yellow Turban Rebellion, cowered before the mighty Lu Bu, captured hundreds of gates, and conquered the Three Kingdoms countless times. I’ve got a good feeling that you’re wondering why I’ve subjected myself to this supposed torture.
Remember that moment in The Fellowship of the Ring during the Last Alliance when Sauron joined the battle? Everyone in his vicinity just stops and gazes upon him in horror, unable move until he starts clubbing them like a drunken sailor surrounded by baby seals. Dynasty Warriors is all about placing the player in that role. I truly don’t believe that the lack of resistance from the average enemy grunts is due to bad AI, a criticism I often hear of the series. Based on my conversations with programmers, the scripting required to make an enemy to lock onto the player character and attack it is one of the easiest things to do. The truth is these nameless Chinese soldiers are petrified of you. You’re a renowned general with a ridiculously oversized weapon who has killed thousands of them. Your average soldier is just some kid that was handed a spear and sent off to war. If enemy morale is high enough one might occasionally work up the courage to take a shot at you, but that won’t stop you from ending his meaningless existence.
How often do you get the impression that your enemies fear you when playing an action game? Wouldn’t it be great if every once in a while when Kratos entered a room full of minotaurs one said, “I’d rather not have my fucking horns broken off of my head and shoved into my eye sockets, thanks” and ran the hell out of there? Isn’t it always a riot when Covenant grunts run away in fear after Master Chief drops their commanding elite? I wish more random mercenaries would say “Commander Shepard? Dude that guy headbutts Krogans, no pay is worth my life.” Sure, it feels great when I finally take down tough boss in Devil May Cry, but the times I feel the most like a badass in video games are when my enemies are aware of who I am and crap their pants. The Dynasty Warriors series, in my opinion, does a better job of delivering this sense of power better than any other games I’ve played.
Of course, these games would be pretty boring if all enemies behaved this way, but they don’t. Archers will gladly fire at will until you notice them. Higher ranking enemies will deliberately attack you and the personal guard of each enemy general will come at you like a flock of angry hornets. Then there’s the generals themselves, your equals, who come at you in full force and require skill to take down. In Dynasty Warriors 6, you could actually be challenged to a one-on-one duel by an enemy general and it becomes a “Morpheus is fighting Neo!” moment with soldiers from both sides forming a ring around you and your foe. That is the simple joy of Dynasty Warriors. These games give you a sense of power equaled only by those of your stature. It’s just fun to tower over the lesser men that stand in your way waiting to be tossed aside like the weaklings that they are (while cackling maniacally like an idiot if you’re like me). Then, when you face an enemy general, you get your game face on and the real fighting begins.
While there are plenty of other heroes taking part in the slaughter of useless peons alongside you, Dynasty Warriors makes sure that you are the hero that matters. The battles are designed to grant an edge to your enemies over your companions without your divine, badass intervention. I remember one scenario where a friend and I played the Battle of Hu Lao Gate (Dynasty Warriors 4 version) under Dong Zhuo’s command, meaning we were defending said gate. We left the game running with both of our characters behind the gate and went out to lunch. By the time we got back, the enemy force was making short work our last friendly officers defending the gate, leaving us, a gaggle of archers, and our main commander as the only men left against the entire opposing force. We shared a battle cry, put on some epic music, and flung ourselves at the horde of foes that awaited us. Eventually we succeeded in defending Hu Lao Gate with our combined mighty justice each with kill counts in the thousands. It was a glorious victory and still ranks higher than any of my Shadow of the Colossus super jumps as one of the best moments of my personal gaming history.
Call it juvenile, repetitive, or stagnant, but I’m never going to get tired of this series. It’s just good, simple fun. Until another game manages to deliver the immense satisfaction I experience every time I pelvic thrust 50 pathetic peons skyward, I’ll continue to play Dynasty Warriors games. My gaming experiences would be incomplete without these imperfect, but truly invigorating games. Keep em coming, Koei.