True State Of Musou (As of 2020)

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Yeah, busting out this old gem.

I teased this with my comment on the Dynasty Warriors 20th Anniversary celebration video, and – as i said in the article – that was just the tipping point, the final push to make me write down an editorial on the musou genre/subgenre, one i had been ruminating about for a couple of years.

And to do that, i will have to start not from the beginning (i will eventually do a full retrospective, in time), but from the last numbered title in the main Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors, yes, Dynasty Warriors 9.

This is a long article, ready your beverage of choice.

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I’m starting from Dynasty Warriors 9 because i remember being somewhat excited to see them try a new direction, as Koei really needed to reinvigorate and re-imagine a style of gameplay criticized, often spuriously with false claims, some of which were eventually made true by Koei’s aboherrent approach to DLC, the Empires and Xtreme Legends spin-off becoming worst and worst, cutting the english dub entirely from all the musou titles (and pretty much all of their releases) to reduce costs, while at the same time taking the normal re-use of assets and engines to an unreal degree, just trying to spin way too many iterations from a new mainline game, with very fluctuating quality.

That is, when they don’t sell insane amounts of many small and overpriced costume, music and weapons packs as DLCs, often the same ones they tried to sell you in previous installments. Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires has more than 1000 dollars (or regional equivalent) of DLC, i pointed out this out before and will do again because it’s insane, it is, just surpassed by DOA 5 obscene number of Season Passes that amount for twice as that, are overpriced and mostly contain just costumes.

Dynasty Warriors 9 was a chance to give the series some new life, especially because you could feel a tired and disheartened Omega Force churning them out without any investment, without any passion, which i don’t feel it’s so much their fault but Koei’s, who has them pumping musou (and the occasional hunting game) out constantly. Even more than before, it’s rare to see Omega Force working on something that’s NOT a musou title or Warriors related.

And instead we got a open world title in a time of complete saturation for this type of game, and not even just that, a really bad open world, barely working, with archaic graphics and horrid performance, an excessive number of bugs and glitches (so much it didn’t look much better than some of the garbage on Steam, with building half-floating in mid-air). A change that really didn’t improve anything, just completely drawn out the standard Dynasty Warriors formula in a threadbare gigantic “open plain” full of nothing, removing not only all the fun of seeing them stage a battle on a tightly designed map, butt also negating any strategy by rendering fortifications, walls and closed doors lame window dressing, as with the new wall jumping ability and the grappling hook (always available and given almost instantly to you) you can bypass everything and just get to the main officer/boss right away. Whooops.

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Not only is running around the world miserable but necessary now (until you fast travel to the locations) but – SOMEHOW – Omega Force managed to regress the combat system, stripping it of any nuance or fun, doing away with the combining heavy attack on top of weak attacks string, even removed almost all the unique character weapons, resulting in the characters themselved feeling even more indistinct, not so much by the old issue of “cloning” but by removing most combos and/or making many of the character share the same weapons and generic special attacks.
And still mostly shuffling around old moves or recycling musou attacks.

A miserable experience made worse by insane DLC practices, with 3 Season Passes, 2 of them costing 50 bucks each, reselling the removed old weapons as paid DLC, and of course locking new characters that appear in the story behind a paywall to make them playable. And to those that tried to spin it positively like “it lays some potentially good foundations for future installments”… NO, it’s shit, it’s no excuse for the crap that is there, and there’s no guarantee they will even stick to the open world format, after the huge backlash they got. Koei doesn’t deserve any compliment for things it hasn’t done, or done so embarassingly bad. Stop with this pontificating on the concept “it could get less shit in a dozen iterations”, reviewing a potentially better version of the game that doesn’t exist outside of pure speculation, instead of the game you’ve actually played.

If you did genuinely like it, good for you. I mean it, i really wish i could say it, but i can’t on any level, even the trial version is enough to make you feel miserable and sad. The game has been patched – a lot – but you can’t patch out the incredibly bad game design DW 9 was built on. The fact this one actually had english voice acting means nothing when the new voices are even worst than before, and while they were campy kung fu dubs before, here they are often still campy and bad, but to the point of being just sad, enough to make you miss Dynasty Warriors 3’s acting.

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I have to fully disagree with what series’ producer Akihiro Suzuki said in a recent interview regarding the series’ 20th anniversary, especially when he says (and i partially paraphrase): “the open world system is the best method to pull out the appeal of Romance Of The Three Kingdoms”. Like, no, really not, in the same you didn’t- and i quote – “derived and broadened our range too much in the challenge” with Dynasty Warriors 9, you made a shit game that was open world for no real reason besides trying to chase the trend, because the audience is – mostly – so stupid and sheepish it identifies “open world” with “modern videogame”, you did it at the point of total saturation for this type of game, and clearly didn’t know how to do it.

It wasn’t an obvious fit for the type of gameplay the series had, like, at all, but you could have pulled it off.. if anyone actually knew how to make one of these. And it’s not like Omega Force had any experience in the field, Toukiden 2’s open world itself should have been a clear indicator that they really weren’t the best fit, or even a decent fit… maybe because Koei doesn’t make them work properly on anything else outside musou titles.

Dynasty Warriors 9 made many “Worst games of the year” lists, and rightfully so, but Koei didn’t care, as they knew people would look even more forward to the other musou titles that stuck with the old formula, flawed as it is, it was (and still is) much better than that piss poor, pointless, extremely late the after-party, misguided and half-baked attempt of “open world-ing” a series like Dynasty Warriors. Just to appease the many drones that won’t buy a new game if it’s not a open world, despite being an overabundance of these fuckin things, but i guess with a cistern of lube, we can spread this satured hole even further, until eventually even regular customers will be sick of open worlds, big for the sake of being big but either devoid of stuff to do, or obscenely littered with the same ¾ activities repeated ad nauseam.

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When you make Warriors All Stars or Berserk: The Band Of The Hawk look good in comparison, we have a problem. A problem with no real solution, as this is a niche subgenre, and Tecmo Koei pretty much holds total dominion over it, as there’s basically no real competition, maybe some half-baked attempts by smaller developers, but they either stop short of copying the formula or don’t have the budget to really compete in content and quality with the Omega Force releases.

Most titles that wanted to be Dynasty Warriors or claimed to know how to “do it better, for real this time” were bad, didn’t get that having even the peons deal so much damage makes it just frustrating, or completely missed the point of a musou title (or a fun game, like Spartan Total Warrior), and were mostly released in the last two generations. The only real competitor was Sengoku Basara, which straight up copied Samurai Warriors but actually did some great things and showed you could improve on the formula without bastardazing or missing the point of these games.

Like Ninety Nine Nights, with the first one missing the fact that having even more characters on screen than a standard musou title AND making even the peons deal a lot of damage… isn’t fun or challenging in a real way (it’s just cheap and frustrating), or the second one, who kinda tried to marry musou style maps with a more linear progression… but completely gave up even before the half-way point. Why even bother?!

Coming back to Sengoku Basara, sadly Capcom totally fumbled the series in the west by crapping out a highly modified and overall inferior version of the first one, Devil Kings, that tried to scrub the Sengoku era setting and make it more like a fantasy style story (and cut half the roster, for whatever reason), marketed it badly, and they didn’t really try to further battle Koei over this territory niche, even if they did eventually brought over the excellent Sengoku Basara: Samurai Heroes (aka Sengoku Basara 3), and.. stopped there. Not even the HD collection of the first 2 titles.

The series continued with SB 4, the expansion/port SB 4 Utage, and in 2019 they also had a Yukimura Sanada’ spin-off (like Koei did with Samurai Warriors Spirit Of Sanada) to coincide with the climax of the 2016’s NHK taiga drama “Sanada Maru”… but you’ll have to import them all, because Capcom still isn’t showing any interest in bringin it back or to stoke the flames in the gaming community in order to see if there’s still interest in Sengoku Basara. Please Capcom, give it another shot.

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With that said, itt’s easy to see why Koei is basically the only force at play, aside from that vague “musou patent” meant to “assert dominance” (but nobody really cares about or even remembers that one), there’s no competition, as the franchise sit in the lower end of the “mid-tier” range, not quite a budget release kinda of dealio, but not an excessively expensive production. And it being based around the idea of “1 vs 1000”, it’s not an easy technical feat for most indie developers, while the overall niche appeal of the series means that more mainstream companies don’t want/care or are financially intrigued to make their very own Dynasty Warriors.

As to why they’re a niche series with a relatively small audience, it’s because this style of hack n slash is a peculiar evolutionary branch of the old beat ‘em up, with Devil May Cry and God Of War being the other, more popular heirs to the days of arcade pummelling goons and piledriving majors. It’s a perfect formula? Fuck no, it’s flawed, absolutely, but there is more merit to these games than the press ever wanted to give them. But Koei did help make these criticisms deserved, absolutely.

Ironically, the crossover series often had better gameplay and ideas, even if the basic formula is the same (Pirate Warriors 3 and especially Hyrule Warriors are noteworthy titles, highly recommended), or tried some interesting things that paid off, as with the mix of hack n slash and tower defense in the first Dragon Quest Heroes. But even the sub-series like Pirate Warriors aren’t immune to some bizzare or retrograde design choices (see myfull lenght review of Pirate Warriors 4, if you would like to do so), as Omega Force either doesn’t care anymore or has some potentially interesting ideas for some spin-offs that they never manage to fully develop or later integrate in a mainline title, as Koei basically never lets them rest for a while.

So much that they just cut more than an handful of old characters for Pirate Warriors 4…. and so far it seems like they did it for time constraints (i guess responsible of them sponging a lot of narrative arcs, no need to have Moria playable if there’s no Thriller Bark stage), as they aren’t trying to sell the old characters back as paid DLCs … YET. And i don’t think they will, PW 4 hasn’t been patched with the skipped story arcs or its characters, so it’s the same game it launched as, but it still feels like they should have done so much more (especially since Pirate Warriors 3 was 5 years ago), and didn’t because Koei has pretty much annualized the Warriors releases.

Even with recent entries in more popular subseries like Warriors Orochi, the results leave a lot to be desired (hi Warriors Orochi 4 and it’s Ultimate expansion that still doesn’t contain the Season Pass, not so “ultimate”), alongside the amazing discovery of how they can even fuck up optimization on a engine that they used dozens of time, especially in a title like Warriors Orochi that epitomizes Omega Force’s rampant recycle-fest of assets, maps, etc.

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I’m not saying we won’t see any new good musou title, but it’s a complete crap shoot, for example Persona 5 Scramble could be quite good, but even with a big license like this involved, there’s no trusting Koei with it, they know most of the genre fans will buy it regardless, it’s not like there’s another musou developer in town, and they fully exploit the audience they have, uncaring to actually make some good drastic improvements and try to reach more people, to dispel the bad reputation the subgenre had for decades. Or just make the fans they have happy.

And it’s just a depressing thing to see, even for a person like me, that first hated musou games,  later came to appreciate and then to love them. It’s disheartening.

Koei should stop making so many of these, make Omega Force work on something different or make them rest, as you can sense the team doesn’t really feel it anymore, even when they’re clearly fan of the license they’re working with. Or try to change the hystorical setting, since there are many ways they can reinvigorate the formula, an example could be trying to use the Ptolemaic Dinasties as the subject, you can still keep the use of melee weapons central, but also lean more on the magic elements (yeah, magic exists in Dynasty Warriors, as it does in Romance Of The Three Kingdom’s book, but it’s almost forgotten after the quashing of Yellow Turbans’ rebellion at the beginning), maybe have a map aligned to a certain god in Egyptian mithology, and develop on ideas seen in spin-offs, like the altar bases and more common stuff like the map-wide bombardments, etc. More emphasis on the tactical elements is a must.

So yeah, i worry for whatever Koei will do with the next mainline Warriors games, i would like to be excited at the idea of Samurai Warriors 5 or Dynasty Warriors 10 (or them resurrecting that idea of a Pokemon Warriors they had but ultimately canned, i would love to see that), but i am not and don’t see why i should, especially since Tecmo Koei has demonstrated more than willing to chase trends way too late and without any regard to quality, and quadruple down on their usual DLC bullshit, some of the worst without going into microtransactions or “freemium” territory.

YET. But they’re trying, remember when they tried selling mono-use color dyes for the character’s hair in DOA 6? They had to backpedal quick, but they tried regardless. It’s no wonder they didn’t give a western release of Dead Or Alive Extreme 3, so they could avoid removing the microtransactions in it and wily sidestep (from an official standpoint, anyway) these arguments interely, the weasels.

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The only thing i’m looking forward from Dynasty Warriors – and i’m being totally honest – is the live-action movie, who has been in the works for a while, and according to the series’s producer, it’s finally done, because he watched the advance screening. Apparently there are multiple titles coming to celebrate the anniversary, but confidence is dead since the producer basically says there are no plans to make a Dynasty Warriors 9 Extreme Legends, but he also – personally speaking – says he wouldn’t rule out a Dynasty Warriors 9-II.

A quick memory jog for newcomers: Tecmo Koei already did a thing like this with Samurai Warriors 4, as they basically released it with some system changed, a slighty different angle in telling the story, some tweaks, a single new character… pretty much a lazy re-release of SW 4 with some small changes. Years later. At full price. Ok,i guess.
Problem is Samurai Warriors 4 was actually pretty good even in its first iteration, they’re gonna have a lot more work to do if they wanna pull another stunt like that but with Dynasty Warriors 9.

AND that’s it for this huge editorial/rant.

Not a good state, overall, as of now.

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