I’d be remiss not to mention Dynasty Warriors’ chief competition, Sengoku Basara, in more detail. Capcom takes the historical fiction angle and plays up giant anime stereotypes to eleven, bringing you something less like Koei’s slavish adherence to the source material and more like a giant free-for-all of Japanese Sengoku-era folklore. The combat system’s more flashy and in-depth, allowing each character a default combo string with tons of special moves to choose as a supplement. As well, the game does often require skillful play, although it also suffers from the level up/weapon drops system that hampers Dynasty Warriors. Still, it seems like much less of a factor in general, as the clear map display shows you all the control points and unit movements in a clear, easy-to-read way. Consider that I played Sengoku Basara 2 Heroes, a game not released in English, with zero problems and you might understand how Dynasty Warriors might fall under the same criteria (and does so in English for goodness sake!). As a result of that focus, though, the maps are considerably smaller. That focuses the objectives much more, but you don’t get the same sense of scale that Koei games provide. Whether you want to make an argument for “realism” or not depends on your personal preference (both are equally absurd in their own ways), although I prefer my video games as over-the-top as possible. Sengoku Basara just does a lot of the same things as well, if not better, than Dynasty Warriors, and that’s kind of a shame given how poorly Sengoku Basara failed in the West (i.e., I recommend importing at least one or buying Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes. It’s dirt cheap now!).
Heck, it even solves the biggest problem with Dynasty Warriors: enemies actually attack you! You need to dodge, block, and parry attacks! Normal encounters might actually prove difficult! These are all things it seems Omega Force doesn’t care to resolve, relying on the source material a little too heavily. Most of the time, enemies and officers alike in Dynasty Warriors just sorta surround you without doing much of anything. The occasional guy will hit you with a cheap sucker punch from one direction or another; in fact, the biggest threat in Dynasty Warriors comes from ranged weapons and siege tanks. They hurt, a whole lot, and interrupt your combo flow. There’s not a whole lot to killing them, though; hit them a whole lot and they croak. Maybe the problem is just that, for all the cool stuff in Dynasty Warriors, it lack dynamism except in your player character. The battlefields don’t feel truly alive, and helping allies who just stand there, like the enemy generals who just stand there, mean that not a whole lot happens without your input. It doesn’t feel alive – in fact, it feels a whole lot like reading a dry history textbook. I like history books and all, but that format does not make the basis for a great video game.
Dynasty Warriors 8, then, represents the two sides of Koei – an excellent devotion to historical fiction, but also a rigid adherence to ideas that reek of poor design or overly conservative improvements that tend to avoid the central problems plaguing the series and add more unnecessary STUFF. While that worked fine with a strategy game like Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition, that approach doesn’t work with an action game – that requires different skills, and Dynasty Warriors 8 fails to capitalize on that. It pains me, because I really think there’s a winner underneath all of these flaws – the combat itself remains satisfying and there’s no other game that present battles in quite the same large, often overwhelming scale. You just need to push past a lot of flaws to enjoy the game itself, much like a white cake with poop-flavored frosting. It’s a game surrounded with lots of meaningless additions while failing to add anything to its core feedback loops, and ends up empty as a result.
Here’s the thing, though: my complaints are from a critical perspective. I still enjoyed the game thoroughly, and I understand the appeal for many people: to wade through thousands of enemies and destroy them with a few buttons. But that’s not satisfying after a while; the initial novelty wears off, and you’re left with (to continue the food metaphors) a bowl of soggy Frosted Flakes – good in one sense, but the real flavor’s gone. Dynasty Warriors adds too many things when it really needs to subtract. Much like in our lives, we like to add clutter and overly complicate simple issues. I am prone to this same impulse myself, if this website didn’t provide enough evidence. Mental clutter makes us inefficient and turns little problems into extended trials for no good reason. Why bother doing this? It doesn’t help in our case, and neither does it work in Dynasty Warriors.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…
I like the game and all, but Koei could really do better after 13 years of constant releases. Guess I’ll wait another decade before playing another one. And yet I do feel a strange urge to return to it every once and a while, so we’ll see!