It has been a long time since I posted, and being exhausted over politics, I have decided to do another blog post concerning video games. Before I start, however, here is a video by Jim Sterling relating to the topic.
After my posts about Retake Mass Effect, it would seem odd that I’m starting a blog post with a ‘Jimquistion’ episode, especially an older one. It’s because, with Dynasty Warriors 8 (Shin Sangokumusou 7) out now in North America and after having played it for a solid month since its release, certain things need to be said. Some of which will be directed at gaming media, others at Koei, the game’s developer. Much of what I will say will echo points raised in Jim’s video.
Before getting into this discussion, however, I think it’s important for me to say that I have long been a fan of the Warriors franchise. I was actually lucky enough to have played the very first true Warriors game, Dynasty Warriors 2. Ever since then, whether it be Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors or Warriors Orochi, I can’t help but enjoy a game that allows me to spend half-an-hour or more riding around a historic battlefield, laying into hordes of soldiers. After that, you’re rewarded with new weapons for your character, as well as various items and an increase in your character’s level. Instead of simply being a mindless past time, you feel as if you have done something productive. Long before shooters understood the idea of rewarding gamers with bonuses for spending hours upon hours playing multiplayer, Koei figured out that they could keep their fans playing long after finishing the game by giving them incentives to do so. Because of this, it’s not hard to find Koei fans comparing completion percentages and hours played on various game forums. Suffice to say, the Warriors series has long had a loyal following of fans and I count myself among them.
With the gaming market being as competitive as it is at this time, its nice to see that there is still room for the Warriors franchise. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t problems. In fact, if there weren’t problems, if I honestly believed that looking at the franchise going forward, I wasn’t even slightly worried about its future, I wouldn’t be writing this post. It has become hard to ignore the number of problems facing Koei’s games going forward. The first of which is the franchise’s inability to innovate or even make much-needed changes to the games’ core mechanics. Even Dynasty Warriors 8, which is a noticeable step in the right direction in regards to this issue, could do with some significant improvements.
It would be dishonest of me to say that each Warriors game is drastically different from the ones that proceeded it. Aside from an update in graphics, changes from game to game are minor. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Koei didn’t release another Warriors game at a rate that would make EA’s sports franchises blush. For example, in 2010, Dynasty Warriors 7 and Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage for the Playstation 3 (PS3) and Xbox 360, and Samurai Warriors 3 for the Wii, were all released within a few months of each other. Considering that each game cost $60, not including the downloadable content (DLC) for Dynasty Warriors 7 that soon followed its release, fans like myself were forced to either pay nearly $200 or wait till they dropped in price. Considering that this was also the same year Super Street Fighter IV and Halo: Reach were released, and being a fan of both franchises as well (not so much with the former after that game), I picked up one of Warriors games and wait for the other two to drop in price. When decisions on whether to localize future games are based on initial sales figures, this is a serious issue. This is a problem of their own making and Warriors fans are already feeling the effects of Tecmo Koei’s (Koei merged with Tecmo in 2010) poor business decisions.
Take Samurai Warriors 3 as the first example. Fans were more than a little confused when the long awaited sequel to well-received Samurai Warriors 2 and its expansion, Samurai Warriors 2: Xtreme Legends, was announced as a Wii exclusive in North America. Aside from the fact that the previous game had been on the Playstation 2 (PS2) and Xbox 360, and that there were no plans for it to be released in North America on either the PS3 or Xbox 360, the Wii wasn’t capable of delivering the same quality of gameplay and graphics fans of other Warriors games like Dynasty Warriors 6 expected. Despite the poor reviews (a problem to be addressed later), the game wasn’t by any means bad, let alone unplayable as one would expect from the ridiculously low scores it received. It wasn’t, however, up to the standard Koei had set with previous Warriors games. Due to these these poor reviews, as well as an unnecessarily high price for a Wii game, the game didn’t sell well. It is believed by many, including myself, that it was because of this poor showing that plans for a North American release of the PS3 version was shelved. The shame of this is that the PS3 version of the game that did get released, Sengoku Musou 3Z, was not only far superior to the Wii version, but it was arguably better than Dynasty Warriors 7.
As mentioned above, Koei’s game sales have been hampered by poor reviews. The problem, as Jim Sterling raised in his video, is that, prior to the release of Dynasty Warriors 8, these reviews had been increasingly hostile, if not outright dishonest. As I have stated previously in one of my earlier posts on Retake Mass Effect, the game reviewers are given undeserved credibility. Many are too lazy to complete the game before reviewing it, while others are far too biased, for or against to judge it fairly. Am I saying that Dynasty Warriors 8 doesn’t deserve the scores it is getting? Of course not. Out of a score of ten, it easily receives a seven, if not higher. The game is a major step forward for the series, especially the new affinity system which adds a much needed layer of depth to the game’s combat. That isn’t to say it is perfect. Story mode, aside from the enjoyable branching hypothetical paths, feels incomplete, if not rushed. It no longer has a narrator and there is no longer any spoken dialogue in the camp. In this way, it feels like a step backwards from the previous game. That said, if Dynasty Warriors 8 gets the same level of post-release support with DLC (additional character skins, maps, weapons, etc) that the previous game got and much-needed patches, then it deserves a solid eight. Jim Sterling’s review at Destructoid is worth reading if you want a more detailed analysis.
Though Dynasty Warriors 8 is receiving the scores I believe it deserves, I don’t think the gaming media is giving it that score for the right reasons. What it comes down to is money. It’s hard not to notice that Tecmo Koei put more money into advertising this game than it did the previous one. In my opinion, it is because they were willing to spend the money to do so, that many reviewers were wiling to give the game a better score. I am in no way saying that Tecmo Koei did anything wrong by putting more money into advertising. One only needs to look at Sega’s poor performance of late to see how solid games will not sell without proper advertising. I will, however, blame a corrupt gaming media that has fallen far from their former positions as trusted sources for news and reviews. It’s very hard not to notice the correlation between advertising dollars and reviewer scores when certain games receive undeserved perfect or near-perfect scores.
Aside from the corruption of gaming journalism, the poor performance of previous Warriors games could also be blamed on dishonest and lazy reviews. Take for example this video from VideoGamerTV, VideoGamer.com’s Youtube channel.
You don’t have to watch the full video to understand what is meant by a lazy review. While Matt Lees’ videos are usually funny, I have a hard time trusting him or VideoGamer.com. It’s not just that it’s difficult to agree with the scores they give certain games, it’s also that the gaming media outlet had recently been accused of pushing a false story concerning the future of the Dead Space franchise to boost page visits. Ignoring that, this review does neither VideoGamer.com or Matt Lees any favours.
As Jim Sterling stated of previous reviews, there are a number of factual errors, even for a quick gameplay review. To begin with, in the case of this review, the omission of interim saves is quite puzzling. If Matt is annoyed at losing his progress after twenty-to-thirty minutes of gameplay, why doesn’t he just save his progress during the battle? This is a feature that has been around since Dynasty Warriors 5. Next, after all the time discussing horse riding, Matt doesn’t even discuss the new quick mounting feature. This is a major step forward from the days when players struggled to get in the right position to mount their horse. Did he not even bother reading the instruction manual? That’s not to say that he doesn’t have legitimate concerns. Dynasty Warriors 8’s graphics are far from perfect. In comparison to the previous installment, they don’t look much better. In fact, at some instances, they look worse. The point, however, is that when compared to other reviews, especially the one written by Jim Sterling, Matt Lee’s review is clearly lacking in balance and content.
There is much to be concerned about concerning the Warriors series going forward, especially for Western fans of the Warriors series. What does this all mean for the Warriors series moving forward? In terms of the games themselves, I would recommend to Tecmo Koei that they stagger their releases, with at the very least six months between each. Not only would this allow for more development time per game, but it would prevent what happened in 2010 when three Warriors games were essentially competing with each other. In the age of DLC, there is no reason to release multiple games when additional content can be released. Expansions, most notably the Xtreme Legends games, could also be released digitally, allowing Tecmo Koei to cut distribution costs. On the subject of more development time, for major Warriors games, particularly Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, there should be no excuse for a rushed game. I have already sent Tecmo Koei an e-mail concerning the numerous glitches I have encountered during my time playing Dynasty Warriors 8 on the Playstation 3, the vast majority of which should have been addressed before this game’s release. There are other game-related issues I wish to discuss, but I am planning to address them in another blog post.
In terms of the gaming media, it is time that Tecmo Koei took these issues seriously. While I applauded them for making a serious effort marketing Dynasty Warriors 8, there are other steps they need to take. The first of which is to address the issue of biased and lazy game reviews. If a gaming media outlet will not assign a serious reviewer to reviewing the game, then they are not worth dealing with. This may sound extreme, but considering the steps being taken by other gaming publishers to ensure their games are at least treated fairly, there is no excuse for Tecmo Koei not to follow suit. Also, poor scores from dishonest reviewers are far worse than having no review at all. Television and internet advertisements, as well as word of mouth would sell more copies than a mediocre Metacritic score.
With the next console generation around the corner, Koei should be looking at new ways to breath life into their flagship franchise. That doesn’t mean releasing a new installment with a few small additions every year. That means taking a long hard look at what worked in previous games and building upon it. Time needs to be taken to really develop a game. This will not only help in making a better game, but it will also force the gaming media to take the Warriors series more seriously.
UPDATE: Right before posting this, I found out that Dynasty Warriors 8: Xtreme Legends is in development. KOEIWarriors.co.uk has more on this. I will discuss this news and more in another blog post.