This interview was contributed by Jeremy Jastrzab, freelance writer.
Despite a history of not being that particularly well received and generally being seen as a joke of a game, the Dynasty Warriors franchise continues to plough its way the iterations, just as your character would through the endless hordes of enemies in any of the series’ games. Credited with essentially establishing its own gaming sub genre – populated with Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi and a bunch of anime titles – the word on the street has suggested that the upcoming Dynasty Warriors 8 will be the last of its kind in the current form. Now regardless of whether we will continue to be blessed with tales from the Three Kingdoms, the current series director – Atsushi Miyauchi – was still doing the rounds to promote his latest work at the very first PAX Australia.
Like most Japanese developers, Miyauchi-san was limited in his English, but unlike others I’ve spoken with in the past, he was much more straight-to-the-point (even with the translator). Giving me some history, Miyauchi-san started off as a run-of-the-mill programmer at Koei on Operation: WinBack an early attempt at the console third person shooter – before he asked to join the Dynasty Warriors team. This was back in 1998, when the franchise was considered a breakthrough in gaming. From humble beginnings as a programmer on Dynasty Warriors 2, he made his way up to ‘Lead Programmer’ by Dynasty Warriors 5, before landing in the director’s chair for Dynasty Warriors 7.
I was interested know just how the series had changed, through his eyes. Miyauchi-san mentioned that the development team had stuck to the key concept of the series of “one versus many” with the need to fight so many enemies at once and this is something that hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years, given that the franchise is considered a genre on its own. However, he mentioned that in the first game that there were only 20 characters, and over time the roster has now grown to 77, which is something Miyauchi-san is proud of. He also mentions the improved weapon system, where in the past each character had a preset weapon but now they can use any of the weapons available in the game.
While trying to delve into the series changes a bit deeper, I ask what he feels that he brought to the series as the director, he claims to have brought in more seamless gameplay into Dynasty Warriors 7 (though this wasn’t elaborated on much) and a more dramatic representation and telling of the story. Miyauchi-san mentioned that this series progression has continued on with the release of Dynasty Warriors 8. Even though he was unable to talk about the developer’s future plans in any great detail, he mentioned that they are thinking on how they can surprise their loyal fan base with some exciting changes… though it was specifically mentioned that there has been no announcement concerning Dynasty Warriors 9… yet.
The uninitiated, it may be a surprise to hear that families in China worship the historical characters that make up the iconic Romance of the Three Kindgoms. So I was compelled to ask Miyauchi-san just how does he feel, being Japanese, working on something that is so revered in China. In response he states that the development team make sure they are treating the material from a different culture with the utmost respect. Interestingly, he mentioned that a lot more people in Japan have become interested in the story as a result of playing the Dynasty Warriors games – as well as proliferation of works in anime and manga that are now available. Furthermore, he mentioned that as more and more Japanese people are aware of the story, the easier it is for them to recognise the liberties taken by the development team in adapting the story.
On being asked how he sees the series being received outside of Japan and whether he sees it as a success, Miyauchi-san laughs wryly and places his hand on my shoulder, almost saying “OK, you got me”. Returning to his interview persona, he concedes that while the series is not really designed to “western” gaming sensibilities, it has managed to do “relatively well” and mentions that Koei are happy to see this as a niche title outside of Japan and recognise that it won’t appeal to a very wide audience.
Returning to talking about the The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the potential for the different kinds of stories that come out of it, Miyauchi-san mentions that there are a lot of episodes and that they haven’t even come close to covering all the material available. Representing the story is a challenge, as the team tries to balance reflecting the original story and making more cinematic liberties. Miyauchi-san mentions that in Dynasty Warriors 7 they actually flew too close to the ‘canon’; it seemed that even though players knew that certain characters were being killed off, they didn’t like seeing it happen in the game. To remedy this in Dynasty Warriors 8, they added a new ‘what if’ mode that parallels the game’s story line to explore some hypothetical scenarios. So while the main story line is very close to the actual story, this ‘what if’ mode will allow players to explore what would have happened to these characters, had they survived.
Probing an earlier question from another angle, I asked – hypothetically – if there were to be another Dynasty Warriors title, what kind of additions would Miyauchi-san like to add? He mentioned that he’d like to make the play style more dynamic, particularly surrounding the weapons. That is, there would be a greater change in the way you will play, depending on your weapon. So while a sword will be closer to the traditional hack-and-slash play style, an idea that has been discussed is the potential for more secret weapons – such as an Assassin’s Creed style wrist blade – that would force the player to be more stealthy and perform assassinations.
It’s always nice to know what the other developers think of the other games they play. And betraying his affinity for cinematic styled games – as he described the Dynasty Warriors franchise – Miyauchi-san claimed to have recently enjoyed the critically acclaimed The Last of Us, and has been a great fan of Naughty Dog and the Uncharted series.
Finishing up with the formalities, the whole time during the interview I had the chance to watch the game being played in the background. It was easily the cleanest and most visually impressive Dynasty Warriors to date, and all the PAX attendees coming through the event were finding it easy to pick up and pay. Obviously, Koei knows what has made these games successful over time and they are happy to keep at it. So while it may struggle to win new fans, the multitude of players who are looking forward to it are up for the biggest titles in the series to date.
A big thanks to Atsushi Miyauchi and his translator for taking the time to chat, and Mindscape and James Kozanecki for helping organise the interview.