Omega Force’s Warriors (or Musou, if you prefer) is one of the longest-running, most prolific series in all of gaming. And yet it is also one of the most commonly misunderstood and misrepresented in terms of its gameplay.
Often dismissed by critics as being little more than mindless button-mashers, the Warriors series has, over time and the course of more than 50 individual releases for various platforms, continued to evolve and experiment to bring us to where we are today. Not only that, it has proven to be a great way to get people interested in a number of real-world historical events such as the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history (Dynasty Warriors) and the Sengoku period of Japanese history (Samurai Warriors) — as well as providing its developers the opportunity to explore more creative, fantastic stories that involve large-scale conflict.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition (just Hyrule Warriors hereafter), of course, falls into the latter category… but before we dive into it in detail, let’s take a look at the series as a whole and see exactly how we got here.
The series as a whole began with 1997’s Dynasty Warriors for PlayStation, known as Sangokumusou (“Three Kingdoms Unrivaled”) in Japan. Contrary to the rest of the series’ adopting its iconic “strategic brawler” formula, the original game was, in fact, a one-on-one weapons-based fighting game with something of a resemblance to Soul Blade.
It was not nearly as well-received as Namco’s classic thanks to its somewhat stiff controls and cumbersome fighting, but it has its fans — and, more importantly, there are certain elements of this original game that are still recognisable in the series today, particularly when it comes to the characters and some of their movesets.
It was 2000 before the series as we know it today got underway, however, with the release of Dynasty Warriors 2 on PlayStation 2. Interestingly, the game was not marketed as a direct sequel to Sangokumusou in Japan, instead being given the name Shin Sangokumusou (True Three Kingdoms Unrivaled). For this reason, the Japanese releases in the Dynasty Warriors series have remained a number behind the West for the entire lifetime of the series.
Dynasty Warriors 2 (as we shall refer to it hereafter) was a launch title for the PlayStation 2 in North America and Europe, and while it had a somewhat lukewarm critical reception on its original release, it was a good showcase of what the new system brought to the table. The game offered expansive, open plan battlefields quite unlike the constrained stages typically found in the beat ’em up genre; an enormous cast of 28 playable characters; and slick, smooth visuals (albeit with heavy fogging).
Most importantly, it established the “one versus one hundred” formula that the series has become so well-known for today. For the unfamiliar, the Warriors series effectively casts you in the role of a powerful unit in a real-time strategy game as a large-scale battle scenario is starting to unfold. Think Tanya or the Commando from the Command & Conquer series, or the Hero units in Warcraft III. Unlike in those games, however, you’re not overseeing the whole battle in a strategic sense; you’re simply part of a greater whole. Granted, your warrior’s power level compared to the average soldier on the field means you can turn the tide of battle pretty much single-handedly, but it’s important not to get hung up on mindlessly hacking and slashing. You have a battle to win, after all, not just an enormous KO count to rack up.
As well as the general structure for the gameplay, Dynasty Warriors 2 also established a lot of the smaller, moment-to-moment conventions that are still used in the series today — most notably the combo system, which involves pressing the “normal” attack button a number of times before pressing the “strong” attack button to perform a specific move. Different combos have different effects — a strong attack by itself, for example, has broad range and can break guards, while three normal attacks followed by a strong will inflict heavy knockback on an enemy, allowing you to get a bit of breathing room for yourself.
One aspect that has changed a little since then is how the “Musou” attacks are implemented. In Dynasty Warriors 2, holding down the Musou button would gradually drain the Musou bar, providing you with temporary invincibility and automatically attacking at the same time. In more recent Warriors games — including Hyrule Warriors — the Musou attacks tend to consume a whole gauge at once and perform a predefined, often rather cinematic and spectacular special move of some description.
Dynasty Warriors 2 was followed up a year later by the imaginatively named Dynasty Warriors 3 — Shin Sangokumusou 2 in Japan. While the game didn’t radically reinvent its overall structure and gameplay, it did make a number of improvements and further establish conventions for the rest of the series to follow — many of which can still be found in Hyrule Warriors.
Perhaps most notably, Dynasty Warriors 3 added the ability for players to collect and use items and equipment. Each character had four levels of weapon to collect, with each subsequent level of weapon increasing the maximum length of their basic normal attack combo as well as providing new strong attack finishers. Characters could also upgrade their stats by collecting items dropped by officers rather than a more traditional RPG-style levelling system; this aspect of the game was thus optional, though it was of particular benefit to those who wished to challenge the harder difficulties — a necessity for those who wished to collect all the items and weapons.
Dynasty Warriors 3 also introduced a simultaneous two-player mode in which players could either fight against one another in various types of competitive battle (in which case characters made use of their base, non-upgraded stats to ensure a fair matchup) or cooperate on the main scenarios in the game. True cooperation was encouraged through a mechanic called Double Musou; if both players were close to one another and triggered their Musou attacks simultaneously, they could team up for a lightning-infused super-special attack.
As the Dynasty Warriors series continued over time, it gradually evolved and changed, with some installments even seeing several releases, each offering expanded gameplay features and ways to play. Of particular note was the Xtreme Legends series of expansions introduced following Dynasty Warriors 3 (which could either be played as standalone titles or integrated with their main “host” game), and the Empires spinoffs, which began after Dynasty Warriors 4’s release. These combine the grand strategy of Koei’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms series with the hack-and-slash action of the Warriors series, tasking players with attempting to control a map and expand their territory as well as complete Warriors battles.
A controversial installment in the series as a whole proved to be Dynasty Warriors 6, which introduced a number of new mechanics to somewhat mixed reception as well as reducing the number of unique movesets for the playable characters. Perhaps the most notable addition from a modern perspective is the addition of an RPG-style skill tree for each character, allowing for the unlocking of new special abilities and improved attributes, though the Renbu system, in which you are rewarded for continuously attacking without taking damage, has also seen a few twists over the years; Hyrule Warriors’ Focus Spirit system, in which continually attacking under certain conditions allows you to obtain better and better experience, item and money drop bonuses for as long as you can maintain the state, can be seen as an evolution of this.
Warriors isn’t just about Dynasty Warriors, however. Let’s sidestep for a moment and take a look at another influential subseries in the complete lineup: Samurai Warriors. First appearing in 2004 on PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 — so somewhere between Dynasty Warriors 4 and 5 — the game distinguished itself from the “original” Warriors series in a number of ways.
Perhaps most notably, the game revamped Musou attacks to have something of a “bullet time” effect, slowing enemy soldiers and making them easy to deal with using freestyle combos. It also added a dodge roll and the ability to deflect ranged attacks with your weapon, as well as a “letter grade” ranking system at the conclusion of each battle. This would rank you on speed of completion, experience earned, missions completed, enemies defeated using Musou and enemies defeated in total, and would allow you to increase your character’s stats according to your performance as well as unlock new abilities on a skill tree.
The “mission” aspect is something which would carry forward to more modern Warriors titles, including Hyrule Warriors. Missions took the form of objectives to complete during the larger context of a main battle — failing or ignoring a mission didn’t necessarily mean you were going to lose the battle, but successfully completing them often provided significant advantages to your side. Since Samurai Warriors also featured branching scenarios rather than linear progression through a series of stages, mission completion could also determine which routes were unlocked for the player to proceed down for their next conflict.
But oh! We’re still not done. 2007 saw the release of Warriors Orochi on PlayStation 2, Xbox 360 and, later, PSP, and this once again provided its own twist on the series’ core gameplay and structure as well as adopting a more fantastic, non-historical tone that brought the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors casts together to battle Orochi, a legendary figure from Japanese mythology.
Warriors Orochi brought us the ability to bring several playable characters into battle rather than just one. Unlike in Hyrule Warriors, however, where the inactive characters are controlled by the AI and can be given basic strategic commands, Warriors Orochi adopted a “tag-team” system similar to that found in fighting games. Inactive characters were removed from the battlefield, but their health and Musou energy regenerated in the process; consequently, tactical character switching to avoid defeat was an important aspect of gameplay, given that just one of your three playable heroes being knocked out resulted in a Game Over.
In terms of the overall metagame, Warriors Orochi also introduced the ability to improve items of equipment by fusing them together — something which, once again, can be found in Hyrule Warriors — as well as an absolutely gigantic cast of 79 playable characters drawn from the Three Kingdoms of Dynasty Warriors and the first two Samurai Warriors games. As this particular subseries progressed, it also played host to a number of collaborations with other Koei Tecmo games, including Ninja Gaiden, Bladestorm, Dead or Alive and Atelier, among others; in some respects, this means Warriors Orochi can be seen as something of a precursor to 2017’s Warriors All-Stars, which takes the “crossover” aspect even further while following another story inspired by Japanese mythology.
As you can hopefully see by this point — even though we’ve barely scratched the surface of this massive series — while each installment certainly has a number of basic gameplay elements in common, there’s a lot more to them than just mashing the square button until your enemies fall over — and, moreover, a lot of variety between the different subseries too. What’s interesting about the overall development of the series as a whole is how each of these subseries has introduced new mechanics, metagames and default approaches to how they handle things, giving each a distinctive character while also allowing the independent standalone titles such as the aforementioned Warriors All-Stars and Hyrule Warriors to combine their strongest aspects together.
Hyrule Warriors is a great example of the series throwing pretty much everything the series has experimented with over the years into a pot and seeing what happens. The result is a sprawling, massive affair that could potentially devour years of your life — and one of the best Warriors games we’ve seen to date. But more on that next time!
More about Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition
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