Sunday, 28 June 2015

By the Thousands

I have a fondness for the Dynasty Warriors / Musou series that started when a college friend of mine made me play one while at his house one day. I didn't think very much of it at the time, though I did wonder who all these people with weird Asian names were.

Now I own 19 of them and I'm thinking of trying to collect the full set, and maybe even speedrun each one.

What changed? Well, while I was at college and university I went through what you might call a weeaboo period where I wanted to learn Japanese and watch as much anime as possible. I was surprised at the change too, but I've since calmed down a little and I have a much wider range of interest in other cultures. I did also take a Japanese class at university which sated my desire to learn for a while.

I think what really intrigues me is that the series successfully mixes real history with complete absurdity, which is also true of Assassin's Creed, another love of mine. Almost every named general in each game had a real life many hundreds of years ago, had their own relationships and their own exploits. Some of them were faithfully captured by the era's scribes, but only survive in history as some field general's left-hand man. Especially sad are the women, whose given names were rarely recorded and are commonly known only as "Lady [husband's family name]". My interest in the series led me to read an English translation of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a combination history book / epic novel which chronicles the events in China, AD 220-280. Some aspects are clearly made up to suit the story, but a surprising amount of it is real and taken from bona fide historical documents.

Still, Dynasty Warriors attempts to mould this rich historical background into an action game. Some of the instalments are more fun than others, but each numbered entry tries to throw something a little different in the works. Early on, the series varies drastically from game to game; the first title is actually a versus fighter, instead of the third-person massacre-fest it is today. There are also a number of offshoots which treat other parts of history (Hundred Years War in Europe, Warring States in Japan) to the Musou formula.

Since the last update I've played and/or beaten:
  • Dynasty Warriors 2
  • Dynasty Warriors 3
  • Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires
  • Samurai Warriors 2: Empires
  • Hyrule Warriors

Dynasty Warriors 2 is easy to consider the first 'true' Dynasty Warriors game, starting the idea of wandering around a huge battlefield cleaving everyone you meet in twain. It's simple fun, without many of the extra systems that get added later. Only the most famous of the Three Kingdoms heroes are playable.

Dynasty Warriors 3 continues the trend, adding some tactical considerations and a giant spike in difficulty. I'm kind of stuck on one of Guan Yu's battles, because archers absolutely destroy me. Officer fights have become an exercise in frustration, with only the tightest of combos able to do anything to them, as any gap in hits gives them an excuse to rid you of half your health.

Dynasty Warriors 7: Empires is a giant leap forward in series history, and it's amazing how much has changed. The 'Empires' subtitle refers to a more strategic view, allowing you to rule (your part of) the country much as you see fit, allocating resources to various pursuits including diplomacy and personnel training. I tend to prefer these, as you can choose who to attack and when, rather than sitting through a static story. Emily and I blazed through a campaign as Yuan Shao's forces.

Samurai Warriors 2: Empires is set in 15th/16th century Japan, instead of China. As such, the names and battlefields are different, but much is still the same, centring on the same hacky slashy gameplay. Strategy is reasonably interesting, with individual officer posting and the ability to focus on a region of Japan before going after the full prize. However, the graphics, never a strong point for this series, are especially bad in this case, which makes it all the more surprising that it lags so very much. Probably one to avoid.

Hyrule Warriors is an amusing Zelda-themed spinoff. The conversion of these characters to Musou combat is fun, though I think the original characters created for this game are highly risible, especially Cia's insane cleavage. There's a ridiculous amount of extra content, with challenge battles and four enormous Adventure maps which will keep us playing for a long time before we can call it 'Complete'. Well worth playing if you have a WiiU.

I can't offer much in defence of the series. I'm well quoted as trying to avoid games which are 'only fun', but there isn't much cognition required to beat a Musou game. The difficulty can be extremely challenging on the higher rungs, but it still basically boils down to knowing when to retreat. The plot can be interesting enough, but if you've read the book there's nothing more to see, and each instalment rehashes it in a different way. The voice acting is largely terrible and repetitive. Each character only has so many attacks, and you're going to see them over and over again. I don't know, I just enjoy them despite all this. Call me a hypocrite, it wouldn't be the first time!

Now I only have, oh, 50 more games to talk about before I clear my backlog...

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