So I’m plenty sure that you’ve heard of the Dynasty Warriors series – that of the SQUARE SQUARE SQUARE SQUARE combat system and the occasional triangle thrown in for good measure – whereby you end up slicing your way through Chinese history, particularly the Three Kingdoms period of Wei, Wu and Shu. To put it bluntly, this is NOT that game. This is not the Dynasty Warriors you know and love or hate depending on your opinion on the series and as such you might not even know that this is how the whole series started and you certainly wouldn’t be aware that the game is a one-on-one fighting game.
But if you think about it, this is the type of set-up that CRIED OUT to be a fighting game. Think about it. That massive cast of characters that the game now boasts would make an AWESOME fighting game now. Don’t get me wrong, the fans would fucking HATE it but it’s be fucking awesome because a) the fans would HATE IT and b) ER… DYNASTY WARRIORS FIGHTING GAME.
Seriously, Omega Force. Get onto that one.
Now if I had the time or inclination to do so, I could spend a great deal of time explaining the whole of Chinese mythology for this period of time, such have I been taught by these games since 2 onwards that I feel like I could. HOWEVER, you genuinely, GENUINELY don’t want to listen to me rabbiting on about how Wu, Wei and Shu ended getting into plenty of tête-a-têtes over a period of many years and then ended up succumbing to the might of Jin in the end so what even was the point and I could start telling you about how three major leaders wanted control of the land and did a lot jiggery pokery dickery backstabbery fuckery uppery and such but you’d be better off finding out about it on your own. If I did so, I’m sure someone would have a MASSIVE go at me for missing out an infinitesimal detail that changed the whole history of the country and I’d be like “oh fuck off, I’m not a historian, go eat some shrimp and go to bed” because to be honest, I’m not one for confrontation and shu’up, you ain’t my muvva and all that.
Suffice to say the story is mostly secondary in this game to the fighting in so much as there isn’t much of a story. You see, fighting games were just starting to get into ‘OOOOOOH’ territory by this point in the Playstation’s lifecycle and anyone who was anyone created a fighting game for the system because why not? Tekken’s had all the fun, why let them have it all? Namco also had Soul Blade/Edge/Sword/Point/Jaggies/Whatevs out at that time too so they had the market sewn up pretty much. So what better way to capitalise on this than with a slightly clunky alternative featuring actual people from history that nobody had ever heard of?
No, me neither.
10 characters, initially, await you on your quest to be the best warriors out there. The lady on the end is Diao Chan, or as I liked to call her at the time Maracas. She fights with maracas. BECAUSE ALL FEMALE CHARACTERS FIGHT WITH WEAPONS THAT WOULD CLEARLY WIN IN A PROPER BATTLE. Jeez, games that feature female characters clearly can’t handle the idea of a NORMAL weapon so she gets fucking maracas! Plus, she ends up with maracas up until Dynasty Warriors 5. But take the rest of the series into account and you have a lady with a flute, one with a harp and another will a bladed yo-yo thingy. Are women incapable of handling a sword? Are they trying to make it historically accurate and suggest that WOMEN COULDN’T CARRY SWORDS? Way to sexist it up, people. Look, Maracas are NOT a useful weapon for fighting with and if you’re going to have someone fight against you with a massive fuck-off spear or broadsword, you don’t bring the shakers to it. YOU BRING A GIANT FUCK-OFF SWORD TO IT. Or a spear. Look, don’t bring fucking maracas. That’s all I’m saying!
Anyway, there are four different factions to play as in this game, in the same way that the later games are set up into four areas: Wei, Wu, Shu and OTHER. Everyone else just fits into a random place, OK? Done. Anyway, look at how severely ugly those character models are. These are supposed to be the GOOD graphics. These are supposed to be the showcase for the rest of the game but I’ll be damned if we’re going to end up having these graphics showing us the way. Tekken 2 was out by this point. They managed to make people look and move reasonably realistically. I mean, look at this poor soul:
Look at those arms. Dreadful. Also, PINK? MIDRIFF SHOWING? PUFFBALLS ON THE BOOTS? Wow. Chinese mythology has a lot to answer for it seems. I’m calling bullshit on the effort gone into researching this one.
OK, so when creating your fighting games, there are a couple of rules you must abide by.
RULE NUMBER ONE: Make sure the combat system actually works. Does it?
Eh. Sort of. That’s part of the problem though. The whole system itself feels ridiculously clunky at times. It’s smooth and it’s responsive enough but the problem is, you spend so much time trying to actually hit your constantly-blocking-enemy that it becomes quite difficult to even get a hit in. Parrying is a key factor in this game but you don’t ACTUALLY parry properly in that you can then back it up with an attack. It feels like a missed opportunity.
That said, there is a certain satisfaction to being able to land good hits and getting PAST those blocks so it isn’t all negative. It just feels a bit wrong sometimes. You don’t get the enormous amount of satisfaction that you do with other fighting games. It’s more a case of ‘MY OPPONENT STOPPED BLOCKING A MOMENT SO I COULD HIT HIM’ rather than ‘I COMBO-ED HIM INTO SUBMISSION AND LANDED A BILLION AMAZING ATTACKS’ so it’s very much a ‘win some, lose most’ type of experience.
RULE NUMBER TWO: Make sure your cast of characters is varied and interesting. Are they?
Eh. Sort of. The major flaw is there is little to no personality with the characters but to be fair, that isn’t the fault of the game itself. The game is the first in a series and the series takes a dramatic turn anyway so we end up learning a LOT about the characters AFTER this game. For the purposes of this game, you don’t get much insight into what their motivations are or what they’re trying to do or kill or marry or fuck or whatever that game is. The weapons are more of the character. Problem is you have three spears and a few swords. You get GIANT MACE man, GIANT AXE man, MARACAS, FAN MAN (who you can unlock but he’s a fucking dick to try and beat though) STICKS MAN and TWO SWORDS MAN but really… character-wise, we don’t get much in the way of excitement. I suppose with Tekken, you sort of found out the story through that opening cut scene and the booklet telling you the motivations because most of the time, the story was lost in fancy shmancy ending sequences. In Dynasty Warriors’ case, it’s… just… sorta… not there. At all.
RULE NUMBER THREE: Make sure it looks nice enough. Does it?
Eh. Sort of. You can see a pattern emerging here, can’t you?
Look, I’ll level with you here. This game is very much the epitome of the ‘SORTA’ tag in my title. I mean, it’s all very pleasant, inoffensive and functional but that’s it. It’s so inoffensive, it’s the fighting game equivalent of beige or magnolia. It does nothing WRONG, per se. It just doesn’t do anything particularly right. The fighting feels reasonable. The graphics are reasonable. The music is reasonable. The whole package is merely adequate and reasonable but because of that, it feels really quite… dull. It lacks a severe amount of finish and polish as if they genuinely got so far and thought THAT’LL DO. Let’s not overdo anything in case people actually want us to make a second game! OH NO, WHATEVER WILL WE DO?
However, there is definitely one thing that you can either appreciate about this game or hate it for. It did set up what is essentially a very popular series of games. To think that the very beginning of this now infamously button-mashing game series began life as a slightly less button-mashy fighting game. It is bizarre to think that right now, the series itself could end up coming full circle and be the most AMAZING fighting game ever if they actually thought about it. I mean, seriously, the whole CONCEPT of taking the Three Kingdoms era and fleshing it out into a fighting game? Story mode writes itself. The game writes itself. YOU’VE REWRITTEN THE GAME SEVEN TIMES, YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING, YOU LAZY FUCKERS. WHY ARE YOU NOT MAKING THIS GAME, KOEI? STOP DICKING AROUND TRYING TO MAKE PEOPLE LIKE GUNDAM WARRIORS AND FUCKING MAKE A ONE-ON-ONE DYNASTY WARRIORS GAME AGAIN.
Also, without this, you wouldn’t have Hyrule Warriors.
YOU’RE WELCOME, NINTENDO FANS.