Even As a Series Fan, 'Dynasty Warriors 9' Is a Unique Disappointment
"As a fan of the Warriors series," is a phrase I've learned to say very quickly and quietly.
Screenshot courtesy of Koei Tecmo
Open Thread is where Waypoint staff talk about games and other things we find interesting. This is where you'll see us chat about games, music, movies, TV, and even sports, and welcome you to participate in the discussion.
We talk a lot about guilty pleasures and "trashcan eclairs" on Waypoint. This sort of junk food media sustains us, even when we see exactly how flawed it is and even though we understand why other people might not enjoy it. These are the movies, games, books, tv shows, and albums that keep the brain moving at a low, rejuvenating rumble, not so much to tire you out, but not so little as to fall into the "chore" category, either.
And that's the problem with Dynasty Warriors 9. After 20 years of loving the series, 9 is the first mainline, numbered entry that fully feels like it's a chore. Its structure (and changes in the combat system) make tasks that should feel monumental feel mundane instead. With war maps and status updates, it gestures towards a huge, ongoing, nation-wide conflict, but it never lets you really engage with any of that info, so it winds up only getting in the way. Worse of all, Dynasty Warriors 9 wants to be an open world, but since all you do is fast travel around and clear mediocre combat challenges, only ever feels like a big space. (And hey, the game's terrible performance on the PS4 Pro doesn't help.)
At their best, Dynasty Warriors games make time disappear. They've always been my ultimate podcast game, with just enough combo complexity to make maximization a fun task, with just the right sort of progression systems to make long term character growth pleasing.
They've also been more than that though. It's a campy, self-referential series, that (as I described on Monday's podcast) feels like the logical-yet-absurd extension of Tekken's character endings. It's a series that has figured out how to turn a complex, multi-volume Chinese epic (Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms) into a game with boss battles. Hell, there's an entire page on the "Koei Wiki" devoted to the various strategies necessary to defeat the numerous incarnations of series' most powerful foe, Lu Bu—and somehow, that seems appropriate to the source material.
These games spawn a fandom that can be hard to understand from the outside. We had an active thread on the forums entirely about the new character designs in DW9 as they were rolled out during pre-release. That's something you'd expect from a different generation of games journalism, probably definitely not from Waypoint's fans. But that's the sort of loyalty Dynasty Warriors (and the "Warriors" or "Musou" games in general) produce.
The new, numbered entries in the series are events for this community of fans. They tend to suggest a direction for the next few years of Musou games, new ideas that the core team at developer Omega Force is playing with. Which, beyond its own failings, is why Dynasty Warriors 9 is such a bummer. (As ChefLuBu says over on our forums, "the only thing I can speak positively about the game is the attack animations in the characters and the new designs. That’s 2% of the game. The other 98% is bad. Real bad." He might be a little hyperbolic, but fundamentally, he isn't wrong.)
What makes Dynasty Warriors 9's failure so strange is that, frankly, Omega Force has been doing a great job lately. They've been experimenting with core design ideas across both the many licensed Musou games and internal side games. Koei's partnership with Nintendo has been productive: Hyrule Warriors surprised folks a few years ago with its general quality and polish, and last year's Fire Emblem Warriors showed how a little added tactical concern could make battles more entertaining. Anime adaptations like Arslan: The Warriors of Legend and Attack on Titan aren't perfect gems, but they translate the key action of their shows beautifully. And with Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada, Omega Force made a focused, generational, story driven game that worked way better than it had any right to.
Which is why Dynasty Warriors 9, with its poorly implemented open world and its shoehorned in crafting system and its confused narrative structure, is such a disappointment.
So, while we keep our Dynasty Warriors disappointment over in the already running thread, my Open Thread question for you today is: What's your biggest gaming disappointment? What were you really looking forward to that turned out sour? Let me know over in our forums!