Back in the day, when I was at college, during lunch I went into Andover town centre and visited Gamestation (now GAME obviously), and picked up an interesting-looking game called Dynasty Warriors 3.
A variety of characters, hack-n-slashy action reminiscent of Devil May Cry, only with MANY foes at once, and the latest cutting-edge graphics!
I mean, this was late 2001, this was practically photorealistic for the time.
This game, this bloody game, sparked a love affair with this series that I’m still neck-deep in.
WHAT THE HELL IS IT?
Dynasty Warriors, made by Koei (later Tecmo Koei, even later Koei Tecmo), is an incredibly long-running hack ‘n’ slash series that serve as a spinoff from their Romance of the Three Kingdoms series of historical strategy games, themselves based off the Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, a historical novel mixed with the mythical and legendary stories of the era. The novel (and games) tell the story of the fall of the Han dynasty, sparked by the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the formation of three warring kingdoms seeking to unify China (Wei, Wu, Shu), and the eventual unification of China and the formation of the Jin dynasty by Sima Yan.
The books have a definite bias towards the Shu kingdom, glorifying Liu Bei and his people, while Wu and Wei (the latter in particular) serve as the antagonists, with their negative qualities enhanced and their positives minimized, especially when it comes to Cao Cao. Initially, the Dynasty Warriors games followed suit, with Cao Cao and Sima Yi being Very Definitely Evil, with their ambition and ruthlessness amplified.
Even in 9, Sima Yi looks like he enjoys evil laughter a little too much, but he’s not portrayed as evil, just ambitious
Later games in the series (6 onwards) would attempt to bring a more balanced approach to everyone’s portrayals, with Liu Bei’s more questionable qualities being highlighted (in particular, his tendency to be blinded by anger, which led to an absolutely devastating defeat at Yiling and Xiaoting), and Cao Cao’s more benevolent qualities also featuring (his penchant for seeing those who do good work to be properly rewarded, and to recognise and admit when he messed things up and accept criticism). This sees a slight divergence in characterization from the novels to more reflect real life, which is pretty damn cool to me.
FEEL THE POWER OF MY MAAAAAAAAAAGIIIIIIIC
The very first stage of most Dynasty Warriors games is the retelling of the Yellow Turban Rebellion, where Zhang Jiao, in a response to the increasing corruption of the Han dynasty thanks to treacherous eunuchs and officials, leads a peasant uprising in the hopes of overthrowing the evil empire. Under the imperial general He Jin, various lords and commoners alike unite to defeat them!
This was the first ever stage of a Dynasty Warriors game I had ever played, and I was probably playing as the series’ future poster boy, Zhao Yun.
He just radiates stoic heroism
Partway through the stage, you have to counteract the magic of Zhang Bao and Zhang Liang, magic that basically amounts to “make wind” and “drop rocks” but are utterly impeding the coalition forces, and once you get close enough to each Zhang brother, these scenes play:
It was right here, in this very moment, that I fell in love with the game. The overdramatization of it all, the entertainingly schloky voice acting, the intonation of the word MAAAAAAGIIIIIIIIC and the high-pitched “YOU FLAMING IDIOTS!”
I knew I was on to a winner, and then I played as Zhang He.
Real men wear pink. Real men wear high heels and ruffles and long hair. Real men have claws as weapons and dance around the battlefield like ballerinas, cutting down swathes in their wake. Real men ask if the enemy camp was pretty, and charge downhill like falling blossoms! REAL MEN APPRECIATE THE BEAUTY OF BOTH LIFE AND DEATH, AND ZHANG HE IS THE ONLY REAL MAN AMONG US.
His almost famous portrayal as this effeminate, beauty-obsessed, sharp-minded tactician and deadly warrior likely stems from a pun on his name in Japanese, Chō Kō, as Chō is how the word “butterfly” is pronounced in Japanese, so his name is literally “butterfly warrior” which obviously conjures up images of a graceful fighter, so they made his personality as flamboyant to match! He has been my favourite character ever since, with Sima Yi a close second.
Yes, he of the sinister laughter.
The main draw for me of Dynasty Warriors, its sister title Samurai Warriors, and their crossover title Warriors Orochi, is the fact each game makes you feel immensely powerful. You are the warrior worth a thousand, you are the anchor which the hopes of your forces are pinned on, you are the difference, the strongest, the game-changer and the reason your side triumphs! You are single-handedly slaying hundreds, if not thousands, of enemies on each stage, turning the tide of the war and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat!
I recently purchased Warriors Orochi 4 Ultimate, and I’ve been having an absolute blast with it. My current team (the game has 170+ characters, and you control 3 at a time, able to switch between them at will, even during combos!) is Zhou Tai, Lu Meng and Kojiro Sasaki, though Zhou Tai is the primarily used character at the moment.
A stoic, scarred warrior and former pirate that, despite being Chinese, uses a very distinctively Japanese sword and fighting style, because I love anachronistic stews.
Look at the arc of his attacks! How wide he slashes and how rapid! The speed at which he moves! No wonder he’s my most used.
Anyway, that’s why I love Dynasty Warriors and its related series. The power, the flamboyance, the wide attacking arcs and the historical significance of the era. Because of this game, I have read the books they’re based on (both the abridged and unabridged!), watched films based in the era (Red Cliff being a particular highlight), and taken a great interest in the Three Kingdoms period!
See, video games CAN be used for good!