Since we are coming upon the launch of not only Dynasty Warriors 7 Empires, but the Japanese launch of Shin Sangoku Muso 7 (a.k.a. Dynasty Warriors 8), It only seems appropriate to countdown the top five entries in the series.
Why top five? Well, I’m only covering main numbered entries in the series — no Xtreme Legends or Empires expansions or side projects. Also, I’m sticking to the beat ’em up titles ( the Shin Sangoku Muso games) which start with Dynasty Warriors 2. That only leaves 6 possible contestants from the series, and giving only 5 creates more suspense.
So then, lets get started.
5. Dynasty Warriors 2
The one that started it all. Dynasty Warriors 2 was Koei’s proof of concept for strategy elements of the Romance of the Three Kingdom and Kessen games taken from the perspective of a single over-powered hero in the field. It was, inevitably, the future of the beat ’em up genre, which had dwindled since the move to 3D graphics. It also helped show the power of the Playstation 2, by having so many rendered enemies on screen. In addition, it established a great number of Chinese heroes to an audience that may have otherwise known nothing of them.
So why would the title that set the series on it’s feet be at the bottom of this list? While it was a proof of concept for the series, it was just that. Features in this installment were incredibly slim. While it established the standards of Musou mode, Free mode, and an editable cinematic, it lacked cooperative play. There were very few available stages, and Musou mode consisted of only 5 stages which changed only based on the force your character belonged to. Also, there was no Other forces characters allowed in Musou mode. Despite having an incredible number of characters, about a third the cast could be considered clones or mirrors of each other. In other words, while a milestone for the time, it has not aged well as the series developed.
Still, the games still serves as a base to the series style and gameplay, and otherwise has few other glaring flaws. So, for that reason it remains a good introductory title to anyone curious about the series.
I almost regret that this one is as low on the list as it is, because this version had so much going for it. To start with, it included “what if” campaigns in Musou mode for Other forces characters like Dong Zhou, Yuan Shao, and Zhang Jiao (a feature taken from Dynasty Warriors 3 Xtreme Legends). It expanded the cast to include more variety even within the main forces — giving Wu another powerhouse character, and Shu their first female cast member. It added a create-a-character system, although it was somewhat limited. The music and stage design also became more unique and interesting. It was a great step forward for the series.
However, while taking a step forward, the series took two steps back. The first major misstep was the duel system — the ability to accept a one-on-one duel against an enemy officer. The problem is perfectly encapsulated by one of the first officers who will challenge you , Lu Bu. If you know anything about the series, it’s that you don’t go after Lu Bu unless you have a death wish. Early in the game this leaves you with only two viable options, decline the duel and lose morale, or accept and hope the timer runs out before Lu Bu makes you into Chop Suey. Should he beat you, you fail the entire stage. Letting the timer run out, by the way, ends the duel in a draw and you still lose morale.
Now there are other officers that will challenge you, and should you defeat them, your reward is increased morale and not having to fight that officer in the field later. If you’re struggling in a stage, this would present an interesting strategic option of betting against your defeat by a particular officer. That would work if you had any control over who and when you can duel. That’s right, you cannot choose when or who to duel. The officers that will duel you are scripted to challenge you, and only in certain stages, making this mechanic little more than a nuisance.
The other major misstep was the change to Musou mode, or what I refer to as “campaign mode”. This mode allowed you to play through every battle available to your force, which usually amounted to ten stages or so. The stages would change depending on your performance in certain stages too, such as gaining an extra stage if Dong Zhuo managed to escape from Hu Lao Gate. It also gave players a little more perspective on the overarching conflict that plays center stage in the Three Kingdoms Era. This comes, however, at the detriment of the individual characters. While it allows you to switch characters on any stage during the campaign, it doesn’t give the individual characters any particular limelight. This is exacerbated by making their highest level weapons only obtainable in stages where they must perform something specific to their character — forcing you to use third party resources to find out where and how to do it. This approach also feels cursory especially when compared to it’s precursor.
Lastly, Dynasty Warriors 4 introduced a plague on the series that unfortunately still persists even in the modern installments. When playing cooperative with another player on the same console, the system would struggle to process the action going on, especially with large numbers of enemies or various effects (such as fire — thank you Wu).
In summary, while Dynasty Warriors 4 definitely brought some new and innovative ideas to the table, most of those would have to be fleshed out better in subsequent titles. I would still play this one, but it simply can’t hold a candle to the others on this list.
3. Dynasty Warriors 5
The last of the Playstation 2 era Dynasty Warriors games, this is one I recommend most often to new players, and is still one of my favorites. The system in this installment also served as the basis for the early Warriors Orochi games, and Dynasty Warriors Online. So, what makes it so good?
Well, it starts by fixing issues with the previous title Dynasty Warriors 4. The duel system is removed, and replaced with a Musou Rage system. This is a token that, when expended slows enemies down and increases your power for a short time — working very similar to how Samurai Warriors handles Musou. Certain enemy officers will have a similar ability active on particular stages, forcing prudent use of Musou Rage tokens on those stages as well. This gives the series an element of strategy in practice, rather than simply looking good on paper.
The “campaign mode” from Dynasty Warriors 4 is also scrapped in favor of individual character stories. This however, is a blessing and a curse. The Musou mode in Dynasty Warriors 5 does give you a better idea of who the character is, and therefore a better idea of which stage your high-level weapon is at. Some, however, don’t cover the overarching conflict very well. Others have the characters survive and fight battles long after they died in actual history books. The story is also told mostly through text scrolls with the character’s voice actor narrating, which at best is droll and at worst is grating. If you’re already familiar with the characters, however, you’ll find that this was likely the most historically accurate entry to the series thus far.
In addition, to replacing old elements, it also took the concept of bases from the Dynasty Warriors 4 Empires expansion, and incorporated it into the main game. This meant having more control over morale by capturing or destroying enemy bases, as well as having to account for defense bases that may slow or impede your progress. Supply bases were now the go to places for health recovery, as opposed to running around aimlessly looking for a pot that was carrying a dumpling. In fact, both defense and attack bases would grant limited time defense and attack power ups for defeating their captain, giving you some incentive to take them anyway. This shows much more thought went into the design and implementation of the systems this time around.
To add to all that this installment did well, it also contained the most diverse and largest cast in the game until Dynasty Warriors 7’s release. As stated before, each character had their own story mode to play, but also had their own weapon style. By this point, the few mirror characters left have diverged enough with only superficial similarities, some even adopting new weapons. The new additions, such as Guan Ping, Ling Tong, and Pang De added something to their forces as well as providing interesting dynamics among the rest of the cast.
As far as the rest, there are stand out tracks on the soundtrack, and certain stages are appealing. Otherwise, on both these fronts, the game is hit or miss, which is perfectly fine. The only disappointment is there was no cure for the two player lag issues that were a carry over from Dynasty Warriors 4.
It’s hard to imagine what could best an installment that fixed many of the issues of it’s predecessor while still adding more elements to the series. However, we still have two powerhouse contenders.
2. Dynasty Warriors 3
This choice may seem odd, as Dynasty Warriors 3 is to Dynasty Warriors 2 as Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo is to Street Fighter 2. Dynasty Warriors 3 reuses several assets from Dynasty Warriors 2 including, but not limited to, character models, stages, and music. The game adds a few characters, changes the move sets of the clone characters slightly, and adds a few new modes, including cooperative play, something the series arguably should have had to begin with. For the most part, Dynasty Warriors 3 seems like little more than an update to Dynasty Warriors 2.
However, while Dynasty Warriors 2 was a proof of concept, Dynasty Warriors 3 had more ambition than that. Dynasty Warriors 3 was the first to include a story based Musou mode. Each character from the main three factions had their own story and set of stages to play through. What’s more, major battles such as Chang Ban, Chi Bi, or Yi Ling, had their own pre-rendered cutscenes. In addition, game-rendered cut scenes were included mid-battle to express changes during the battle as well. Dynasty Warriors at this point had determined , what it wanted to do — namely, to retell the story of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, while trying to highlight the individual contributions of the individual officers involved. While Dynasty Warriors 2 proved what could be done, Dynasty Warriors 3 looked toward what the series could become.
On top of that, Dynasty Warriors 3 aged much better than it’s predecessor. While some of the story stages are silly, inaccurate to the story, or historically wrong, they at least are different from one character to he next. The cooperative play in this is the least buggy even compared to the more modern games. Also, even though it borrows a goodly portion of it’s music from Dynasty Warriors 2, the original stages in this one also have great music, including the ever awesome ‘Men of Intelligence’ track. Also, the Xtreme Legends expansion fixed the problem of not having a story for the Other Forces characters, as well as established a new way to expand upon a preexisting game. It was and still is one of the best titles in the series due in no small part to the amount of the love shown to the material and the medium in this installment. It’s no surprise that most subsequent titles in the franchise would simply try to add to this formula, to varying effect. I say most… But there’s still one that stands out above the rest.
1. Dynasty Warriors 7
**Warning: video contains spoilers of Dynasty Warriors 7 ending and Romance of the Three Kingdoms ending. Also, is not my channel.**
This might seem shallow of me to pick the most recent entry as the best; but honestly, Dynasty Warriors 7 represents the greatest leap forward in the series since Dynasty Warriors 3. While I said that Dynasty Warriors 3 showed what the series could become, Dynasty Warriors 7 is the first to follow up on that promise.
Just about every change to the game stems from the new Story Mode. Up to this point, the series has either been vague about the end of the game, or assumed that since your character had to win every battle, that your force conquered all the other factions and won the conflict. Also, all the previous games ended the game around the time of the Battle of the Wu Zhang Plains; however, that was not a determinate battle. The three kingdoms of Wu, Shu, and Wei would remain in a stalemate for several more years after that battle. Therefore, the endings in the game were always in conflict with the book, and this was mostly because the designers assumed that players would not want to play a game where they could lose battles. Dynasty Warriors 7 would rectify this in more ways than one.
First and foremost, the Story Mode this time follows the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and historical accounts for each battle. This was a bold choice, as it means the player will have to play through stages that his force will lose. The battle of Chi Bi for Wei, the battle of Yi Ling for Shu, and the battle of He Fei for Wu all end in defeat. This potential problem is remedied by having ever changing objectives for the character the player is playing during the stage. For instance, once things start to go poorly for Wei at Chi Bi, the goal becomes to help the commander escape. This allows the game to tell the actual story, and show how these heroes handle victory and defeat.
This is also why the Jin faction was introduced. While hinted at in previous games, Dynasty Warriors never went into how the Three Kingdoms era became the Qin dynasty. The Jin story follows Sima Yi, Sima Shi, and Sima Zhao taking the power from the Wei dynasty away from Cao Cao’s line, as well as how they ultimately defeated the kingdoms of Wu and Shu as well. This places a capstone on the story, and completes the history of the Three Kingdoms era.
This would be reason enough for me to leave this at the top spot of the series, but there’s still more that this game took into consideration. While it did decide to restrict the characters you play in story mode to ones that would play some kind of significant role in the battle, they took a page from Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce, and expanded on that, allowing any character to wield (nearly) every weapon. This meant that even if you had to play a character you didn’t care for in the story, you could still play with a moveset you liked.
In addition, while the entire cast is not playable in story mode, just about every character gets a moment to shine. What’s more, their legend stages in Conquest mode allow you to learn more about them as well. The cast is also the largest the Dynasty Warriors has seen yet, which makes giving each character a little limelight no small feat to be sure.
In other aspects, the game has some flaws, but is still passable. The some of the songs aren’t as powerful as others, but the final battles for each campaign fit to a particular theme. The stages aren’t terribly imaginative, but do introduce the use of siege weapons from time to time to break up the hacking and slashing. The game does not allow revisiting stages from story mode except by replaying it with the same character, however Conquest mode offers differing stages and objectives. The game also includes trivia questions about the Three Kingdoms era, which is an interesting, if frustrating addition.
So, while there’s still room for improvement, the changes and focus on the game’s story is what makes Dynasty Warriors 7 a much more focused, and stronger experience than it’s predecessors. If backed into a corner, I might recommend some of the other games on this list. However, I would not hesitate to recommend this one to anyone remotely interested in the series, or in Chinese history. And that is why it takes the top spot on the list.
Agree? Disagree? Have your own favorite game in the series, or are you a poor soul who hasn’t given the series a shot yet? Let us know in the comments below. Be sure to like and share this article as well. We’ll be going back to basics next month, so I’ll see you when we return to the world of Orochi for the last installment of Musou Missives first season.
**Games featured in this article are not owned my me but their respective owners. Also, video and pictures are not owned or created by myself, but their respective owners and posters.