For better or worse, I did promise this was going to be a series – and I do intend to keep that promise. I know, you can thank me later. So, let’s kick on from where we left off with a short disclaimer in case you’re new and missed the last article.
‘Bad Games, Fond Memories’ is a series where I take games that I deem substandard, ones that are critically panned or ones that are surrounded by negativity, and instead look to the positives as I regale you with tales from my earlier years. By the nature of the subject matter, these articles could get quite personal, so be warned because I won’t be holding back. Who knows, this could be pretty cathartic – maybe even for you as well!
So, without much further ado, let’s dive into this week’s unlucky (or lucky?) victim, Dynasty Warriors. Whilst I still have you, I must clarify that I will mostly be referring to Dynasty Warriors 2 and 3, but since this series has followed me throughout my life, and almost all mainline games have been subject to a fair bit of criticism (often justifiably), I feel it’s only right to cover the franchise as a whole. Sorry for that, I did promise that the disclaimer was out of the way, but, well… I lied.
In case you weren’t aware, Dynasty Warriors is a cult classic game series belonging to both the hack and slash and Musou genres. The series is set in Ancient China; where, as the player, you control one of a large roster of characters as you cut, bludgeon or even fan (not even as weird as it gets) your way through hordes of generic enemies. The series is loosely based on the pseudo-historical text ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Guanzhong, and the characters you play as vary from historical figures, to semi-fictional characters, to even a couple of literal Gods (well, for one game at least).
Referring to one of my earlier points, Dynasty Warriors – or, more aptly, the Musou genre in general – has a lot, and I mean, A LOT of enemies to mow down. It’s the core appeal of the franchise, as well as the main selling point for these types of games (see: Sengoku Basara or any other Warriors title). There’s nothing more satisfying than being an all-conquering, unstoppable force of nature bulldozing through troops like their collective sole purpose in life was to get decimated (well, to a large extent it was).
I’ll be honest, I’m a very big fan of Dynasty Warriors (it’s in my bio after all), as well as other Koei Tecmo franchises like Samurai Warriors and Warriors Orochi. So that’s my bias confirmed for you all. I have played these games since I was four. They have followed me from early childhood to semi-functioning adulthood, and bar Dynasty Warriors 9 (which was abysmal), I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. Hell, I have the platinum in Samurai Warriors 4 Empires (did I mention almost all mainline games have their own spin-offs because they do), a game many would consider quite dull; so, there’s no questioning my dedication.
I unashamedly enjoy this genre of gaming; it is undoubtedly my guiltiest pleasure. These games are basic and very formulaic: you make your way through the battlefield, defeat generic troops, defeat officer, clear objective, repeat, encounter minor inconvenience that you must scramble back for, repeat steps 1-4, defeat commander. Rinse, repeat, game. That’s the general layout of a Warriors experience, and strangely enough, I like it. From the swathes of fodder to be cut down, to the cheesy Kung-Fu movie dialogue of the earlier installments, to my continuous (and often foolish) pursuit of Lu Bu – I love these games. I really cannot repeat that sentiment enough.
So, now we get onto the topic of the article. The aspects of the game that I’ve affectionately listed off, whilst easily forgiven, and even cherished by some fans of the genre, are not so freely welcomed by the majority of the gaming public – this includes critics. Dynasty Warriors, as well as games of its ilk, have long been criticised and derided for the things I’ve just listed, and in a lot of ways, rightfully so. I cannot deny that these games have a lot of flaws. I also cannot refute many assertions of monotonous gameplay, reused assets and unimaginative game elements (there’s a lot of them, let’s face it), and conversely, I can understand how these draw the ire of someone not entrenched in the fan base. Yet, I do see a lot of positives in this series – completely disregarding Dynasty Warriors 9 (seriously, I despise that ‘game’) – it is still a franchise that holds a very special place in my heart… well, memories. If we’re honest, the only things in my heart are things crucial to my state of living, age-defying cholesterol that threatens the former, and a soul-crushing sadness. But anyway, let’s move on.
See, Dynasty Warriors is still a series I fondly remember. It’s simultaneously a game I first picked up at four years old and struggled with due to obtuse controls, borderline unfair AI (bloody archers) and the condition of being four, as well as a game that I capped off my first year of uni with. It’s an ever-present throughout my life; and yes, I’m also questioning whether or not that is profoundly tragic. I still recall the day I finally beat the game with one of the characters, Zhang Fei. A big, brutish and beefy lad who allowed me to overcome the Yellow Turban Rebellion, survive Hu Lao Gate and decisively defeat every enemy that came my way on Changban bridge (these are all stages in the game, probably should have mentioned that). The game’s stages, for a toddler at least, were a tall task. They were punishing. I struggled, I died (often), the game over screen and accompanying guitar riff were a familiar occurrence at this point; and eventually, after lots of trial and error, I did it. I beat the game. It was the first game I had ever truly beaten.
Through all of this, I had my older brother proudly observing as he encouraged and guided me, whilst I, sporting a troubling smile, eagerly flung a slew of poor peasants left and right with a comically oversized weapon. I remember excitedly waiting for him to return home from school, camping out my front door, and proceeding to relentlessly bother him about the progress I had made while he had been at school studying. I had many joyful times playing this series, and looking back to Dynasty Warriors 3 and the Christmas of 2002, I can vividly recollect one such instance.
It all took place on a morning where an understandably excitable, sleep-deprived six-year-old rushed to wake up his family and get Christmas going. After I had been lectured about waking everyone at 6 am, my brother and I got our hands on the aforementioned game and played it nonstop for the rest of the holiday. The best part, the game was couch co-op, and I had a lifelong best friend to sink many hours into it with. We had our favourites (Wu’s roster was hands down the best), we had great times taking turns juggling enemies, fleeing from Lu Bu and clearing difficult stages. We had not-so-great times frantically breaking pots to find health, being slaughtered by Lu Bu and desperately trying to avoid the archers who were somehow a bigger threat. And of course, we still have many fond memories of these times.
As I had touched on in my previous article, my association with these games are some of my oldest memories. Of course, they’re special to me; it would be weird if they weren’t. And Dynasty Warriors’ state as one of the first games I played certainly feeds into the high regard I hold it in. It was after all, the first co-op gaming experience I had ever had, and it wouldn’t be the last time I would sit down with my brother to play this game. As all things do, that eventually came to an end. My brother left for university, leaving a very lonely, as well as exceptionally socially awkward, child back home.
While the dynamic in my life had significantly changed, one remaining constant was my obsession with this series; even if I knew that it wasn’t the greatest game and at times it could wear thin. But still, it was something my brother and I bonded over. It was ‘our thing’. During his absence, it remained a game I held on to and played throughout my early to late teens – it had become ‘my thing’. It reminded me of a simpler time; when my mind was plagued with issues at school, it was almost therapeutic to come home, switch on the console, start the game and wipe the floor with NPC’s that never really stood a chance. It helped me forget about my problems for a short while, and looking back, I’m thankful it allowed me to do so.
For all the deserved criticism the series faces – believe me, I’ll get into that in a future article – someone like me who grew up with these games can still remember them quite fondly (especially the hilarious voice acting of the earlier titles). Dynasty Warriors was, and in many ways, still is one of my favourite franchises of all time, as well as the source for many precious memories. Despite the negative light that is often shone on it, I can’t help but still come back to the series every so often and resume being the bane of conscripted peasants the land over. I love this series.
Except Dynasty Warriors 9. Seriously, f**k Dynasty Warriors 9 and everything that constitutes its existence. Absolute mockery of a game.
Now that I’m finished with that particular tangent, as well as the article I suppose, let me know if there were any bad games that left a good impression on you. I would be especially delighted if you are a kindred spirit and they happen to be of the Musou variety. Even if you just want to chastise me for rightfully labelling Dynasty Warriors 9 as the abomination it is, I still want to read it. Whatever you write in the comments, I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it. Till then, “feel the power of my magic!”.
P.S. If you haven’t watched Jim Sterling’s supercut of Dynasty Warriors 3’s stellar voice acting, you really are missing out.
Tags: Ancient China, Bad Games Fond Memories, Christmas, Dynasty Warriors, Dynasty Warriors 2, Dynasty Warriors 3, Dynasty Warriors 9, Hack and Slash, Jim Sterling, Koei Tecmo, Lu Bu, Musou, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Samurai Warriors, Sengoku Basara, Warriors Orochi