Opinion: Tecmo Koei’s Warriors, the most misunderstood game series

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8 mins read

I’m sure everyone is familiar with Tecmo Koei’s Warriors series of games. Whether they’ve played the games or not, everyone has seen the reviews, which inevitably slam each new release, dismissing them as mere “button mashers.”

However, having read some truly amusing examples of these reviews in my time (in one classic, a review of a Samurai Warriors game claimed the game took place during the Chinese Three Kingdoms era), I’ve realised that the Warriors series might well be the most misunderstood series of games in the west – after all, they are consistently rated highly by Japanese press.

So why the discrepancy? There’s a couple of potential misunderstandings. Through this piece I’ll be referencing Samurai Warriors games, but the same can be equally applied to the other Warriors settings – I’m just more familiar with Japanese history and the setting of those games.

Also, full disclaimer up front – I am a fan of the Warriors games, but I am going to try and look at this objectively.
1) The Warriors games are not just about what happens on the battlefield.
This is probably this biggest reason there is a discrepancy between Western, and Eastern opinions on Warriors games. The historical context is important. The Sengoku period (warring states) of Japan was responsible for a great deal of Japanese development. At the end of the era, when the dust from the near incessant fighting finished, the warlord who effectively took control of Japan, Ieyasu Tokugawa, closed Japans boarders, effectively creating the isolationist culture that still exists to an extent today.
As such, the names, personalities and stories of the Sengoku period are well known to the Japanese – and in many cases those stories are epics of emotion and drama to rival Shakespeare or Academy Award winning feature films. Consider the story of Oichi, who was caught in a deadly war between her husband and brother. Or the rise of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, from peasant boy to the most powerful man in Japan
This lovely lady’s tragic story rivals that of Romeo & Juliet
With a knowledge of those backgrounds, taking control of those characters and having the opportunity to reshape history is massively appealing. We’ve seen it in some Western games – Napoleon remains a popular story for strategy games, for instance. But most Westerners don’t know who Nobunaga Oda and Hanzo Hattori were, let alone the smaller characters in that era such as Motonari Mori or Masamune Date. That in itself is not surprising – a trip to a typical bookstore will not find you anything on these characters.
And in years past, Omega Force (the folks who develop these games) have done a poor job of properly introducing these characters to a Western audience. Perhaps because the games are developed with the Japanese in mind, where a level of back story would be unnecessary, but earlier Warriors games have been inaccessible as a result. More recent games – especially Samurai Warriors 3 – have done a much better job, however unappreciated it was.
2) The Warriors games are not button mashers.
Anyone who has tried to play a Warriors game on a higher difficulty setting would know this, but it’s a consistent mistake that the Western press make to claim button mashing will get you through these games.
Yes, you can button mash through the easier difficulty levels, and while you will be hitting a lot of buttons very quickly, on the higher difficulty levels you’ll also need to understand how the various combos work, how to make most effective use of them, and you will need to be able to block, dodge and have a counterattack strategy.
Warriors Orochi brings Samurai and Dynasty Warriors together. Pure fan service
In most Warriors games, there’s also a degree of tactical strategy involved. The form this takes changes from game to game, but for instance, in Samurai Warriors 3 you’re standing on a large battlefield, and need to manage your time so you can complete objectives while protecting key people.
Meanwhile Samurai Warriors: State of War (downloadable for PSP on PlayStation Network) presents you with a strategic grid to move armies around before engaging enemies.
Again, on the harder difficulties, these strategic elements will keep you thinking, which brings me to my next point…
3) Warriors games do change.
It amazes me that the Warriors games have a reputation for being unchanging. The series is constantly evolving – Samurai Warriors: State of War is very different to Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce for instance, which is in turn different to Warriors: Legends of Troy.
The differences are not just cosmetic. As mentioned already, the basic strategies are different from game to game. The level design and battle maps are entirely different each time. Online and Co-op has been introduced at points in the series. The ability to create your own character is a big deal for the first time in the 3DS launch title Samurai Warriors Chronicles. And speaking of 3D, Omega Force has managed to make 3D have a material (and for the better) impact on the Warriors gameplay. 
Warriors: Legends of Troy. The latest to be unfortunately slaughtered by the press
By comparison, the original few Dynasty Warriors games back on the PS2 are limited experiences, short on features, and unrefined.
None of this is to say the Warriors games are perfect, that there isn’t room to improve, or even that they will find more than a niche audience outside of their homeland in Japan.
But these games are given scores that are usually reserved for games that are downright broken. Those same reviews are filled with inaccuracies, making the Warriors series one of the most unfortunately misunderstood series’ out there. 

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  • oh maybe we don't like being surrounded by 50 enemies and they do absolutely nothing to you!
    It is a button masher:/

    if it's a dynamic combat system like Prince of Persia or Batman AA, then it can be acceptable.

    I wonder if Team NINJA even like those Warrior/Musuo games>:/

  • oh maybe we don't like being surrounded by 50 enemies and they do absolutely nothing to you!
    It is a button masher:/

    if it's a dynamic combat system like Prince of Persia or Batman AA, then it can be acceptable.

    I wonder if Team NINJA even like those Warrior/Musuo games>:/

  • i'm totally with you on this
    i've always grabbed the latest ones and always felt the reviews were ridiculous
    why they can't treat them as niche i don't know
    no COD lover is gonna love final fantasy yet both get good scores based on their own merits
    why can't the warriors series
    also i found Dynasty Warriors 3 even inspired me to look up the history that is related in the Romance of Three Kingdoms (i even read it – which i don't recommend)
    i am eagerly awaiting DW7 as i want to play co-op online with a brother who also loves it
    and hard mode involves a lot more than button bashing
    great article!!

  • i'm totally with you on this
    i've always grabbed the latest ones and always felt the reviews were ridiculous
    why they can't treat them as niche i don't know
    no COD lover is gonna love final fantasy yet both get good scores based on their own merits
    why can't the warriors series
    also i found Dynasty Warriors 3 even inspired me to look up the history that is related in the Romance of Three Kingdoms (i even read it – which i don't recommend)
    i am eagerly awaiting DW7 as i want to play co-op online with a brother who also loves it
    and hard mode involves a lot more than button bashing
    great article!!

  • Hi Toby,

    Thanks! I felt it was time the Warriors series started getting proper representation in the west – as niche, but technically competent (and therefore good) games for that niche.

    I reviewed Samurai Warriors 3 for another site, and I gave it 4/5 – a score I stand by, given I am still playing that game to this day and it is my st played Wii game by some margin.

    And like you, it was a good starting point for me to start learning about the Warring States period of Japan. Any game that inspires you to go out an learn something can't be bad.

    Also, thanks wino for your comment too. We'll just have to agree to disagree 🙂

    Matt

  • Hi Toby,

    Thanks! I felt it was time the Warriors series started getting proper representation in the west – as niche, but technically competent (and therefore good) games for that niche.

    I reviewed Samurai Warriors 3 for another site, and I gave it 4/5 – a score I stand by, given I am still playing that game to this day and it is my st played Wii game by some margin.

    And like you, it was a good starting point for me to start learning about the Warring States period of Japan. Any game that inspires you to go out an learn something can't be bad.

    Also, thanks wino for your comment too. We'll just have to agree to disagree 🙂

    Matt

  • Interestingly, in the recent Iwata Asks interview the guy in charge of the series proudly described the game as a button masher because it keeps the barrier to entry low but more complicated options are there. I can see how that works.

    My first proper Musou game will be Chronicles for 3DS but I have played Mystic Heroes on Gamecube which was fun!

  • Interestingly, in the recent Iwata Asks interview the guy in charge of the series proudly described the game as a button masher because it keeps the barrier to entry low but more complicated options are there. I can see how that works.

    My first proper Musou game will be Chronicles for 3DS but I have played Mystic Heroes on Gamecube which was fun!

  • That is really, really surprising, I agree. Of course, it's possible that he's saying that in recognition that Western gamers (generally speaking) couldn't care less about the history and heritage of these games.

  • That is really, really surprising, I agree. Of course, it's possible that he's saying that in recognition that Western gamers (generally speaking) couldn't care less about the history and heritage of these games.

  • xino, you're comparing apples and oranges. Those games you listed off don't even surround you with that many mobs of units. If every single unit in a Warriors game was actively engaging you all at once, you would be juggled into oblivion and there'd be nothing you could do about it.

  • xino, you're comparing apples and oranges. Those games you listed off don't even surround you with that many mobs of units. If every single unit in a Warriors game was actively engaging you all at once, you would be juggled into oblivion and there'd be nothing you could do about it.

  • Hi Michael,

    What an impressive Website! Very happy for you to link back to me – thanks very much.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. The Warriors games are a passion of mine, and I hate to see them misunderstood in the critical press.

    For anyone interested, there's a really good review up at PCWorld.com.au for the new Warriors: Legends of Troy game as well. Find it here: http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/review/games/koei/warriors_legends_of_troy/380572

  • Hi Michael,

    What an impressive Website! Very happy for you to link back to me – thanks very much.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. The Warriors games are a passion of mine, and I hate to see them misunderstood in the critical press.

    For anyone interested, there's a really good review up at PCWorld.com.au for the new Warriors: Legends of Troy game as well. Find it here: http://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/review/games/koei/warriors_legends_of_troy/380572

  • First off, I totally agree about what you said about Oichi being the dramatic equivalent of Shakespeare. And that's before we even get into her daughters.

    Second, I, too, think that it would help if Koei showed more about the stuff happening between the battles. It would definitely allow us to better understand the contexts of the battles without having to know the source material. It would also allow a chance for character development. I still remember DW3 Yi Ling Shu side and being all, "WTF?! Why are we going after our allies at Wu?!"

    Thirdly, I agree with what you say about the subtle changes from game to game. It seems that only the fans see them, but they are definitely there. Granted, I'm not so keen on the most recent changes in the PS3 DW games… but that's me.

    Finally, glad you like SW3 ^_^

  • Hi Spicyragnatz,

    Have you read a book called "Taiko"? It's an excellent retelling of Hideyoshi Toyotomi's life, and the tragedies that befell a number of the other people at the time – including Oichi.

    Glad you enjoyed the piece, and thanks for the feedback!

  • Hi Spicyragnatz,

    Have you read a book called "Taiko"? It's an excellent retelling of Hideyoshi Toyotomi's life, and the tragedies that befell a number of the other people at the time – including Oichi.

    Glad you enjoyed the piece, and thanks for the feedback!

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