Rise(n) Above Hate
Capcom and Konami did a lot for the side-scrolling action/hack & slash game genre in the 16-bit era. In friendly competition, they battled for supremacy with timeless classics like Knights of the Round, King of Dragons, X-MEN, and The Simpsons. At the turn of the 16-Bit era into the 32-Bit and 64-Bit eras, however, that magic would come to a trickle until after the dawn of the 128-Bit era (until a TMNT revival). Development in the genre would take place here and there, but mostly of titles (like Sword of the Berserk: Gut's Rage, Sengoku 3, and depending on who you ask, Cannon Spike) that didn't have mainstream allure. Konami would step in after a hiatus and revive the "heroes in a half-shell" that brought them so much success in the genre before with TMNT, but before it was even released its thunder was already stolen by the least-likely of developers...

From The Ashes
That developer was little-known Koei, known until then primarily for making games in the strategy genre. At the dawn of the 128-bit era, however, they took industry by storm and single-handedly brought the hack & slash genre back from the dead with Dynasty Warriors 2. So, how did Koei (a developer known for strategy games) beat Konami (hack & slash masters)? Through what they know best, and that would be strategy.

It's not too far from biblical story David and Goliath. Koei saw the momentum Sony had gained with the PlayStation 2 hardware, knew it would be big, jumped on it early, and used it to pioneer the manic hack & slash sub-genre. Manic (AKA"bullet hell") shooting games are an extreme, over-the-top, maniacal approach to an orthodox formula of the shooting game genre, and there's a similar relationship between manic (AKA"enemy hell") side-scrolling action/hack & slash games and orthodox side-scrolling action/hack & slash games. "Bullet hell" games like Batsugun breathed new life into the shooting genre, and Koei's "enemy hell" approach with Dynasty Warriors 2 did the same for the side-scrolling/hack & slash genre. There's an instant allure drawn by the extreme nature of the approach of fighting against impossibly-stacked odds. The sheer number of enemies onscreen and in the stage at any given moment was astonishing then, and still is today. In other words, a title in the genre is "never short on enemies," and Koei was the first to do it.

It wasn't just the manic "enemy hell" approach to the genre that made Dynasty Warriors 2 successful, though. Koei innovated by adding elements of strategy into a side-scrolling action/hack & slash game; something that hadn't been done before. It wasn't just about walking a predetermined path, killing enemies, and killing bosses respectively. Koei took the old formula, made it 3-D, and added variables that essentially allowed for multiple paths and outcomes that all revolved around strategy elements. You could go rack up points by killing hundreds of enemies on the way to the stage boss, or go straight to the end without killing hardly anyone on the way; though based in strategy, Koei's design really left it all up to the player, and it was a mainstream success. Partially due to strategic release on the PS2 hardware, the Dynasty Warriors series became regarded as king of the genre through worldwide recognition. It wasn't long before Koei's pioneering and innovation was apparently forgotten by big media, though, despite the worldwide following the developer has garnered over the years.


Follow The Leader
With each Koei hack 'n slasher I play in the present, I can't help but to always think about how mainstream media calls them shit like "mindless button mashing." Anyone who has played them even on the easy difficulty knows that even in the non-Empires versions, there is strategy involved. Strong emphasis is put on prioritizing, and ignoring it can lead to miserable failure completely unrelated to "button mashing" and completely related to placement strategy. Koei has some of the cheapest enemies in the genre, yes, but I've failed more stages from strategy issues than anything else. This can easily be seen in Samurai Warriors 2 [LIVE] when Mitsunari Ishida has to stop fleeing enemies all the way across the screen from escaping, all at once. And there are plenty of other situations like this in the Orochi and Dynasty titles that are perfect examples of how big of a part strategy plays in each title. Even Gundam Warriors (the Namco/ Bandai, Koei/Tecmo collaboration project) has the same emphasis on being at the right places, at the right times, to kill the right enemies. If these games were so "mindless," then how could this be? How could they once be praised for their strategic value, then suddenly damned for "button-mashing?"

Koei has risen above the hate of its critics, delivering more and more Warriors goodness every year to its fans all over the world. Fans want more Warriors, and Koei delivers it. Players of all ages enjoy Koei's unique brand of hacking & slashing! If there was no demand for it, Koei wouldn't make it, yet they are still criticized for it. They've branched-out considerably over the past few years, expanding from Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors into Gundam, Fist of the North Star, and Troy. Before that, they even used their two flagship series to create the successful Orochi crossover series. I play their new endeavors and couldn't be more pleased with the fact that Koei is still cranking-out so much fun for me and all my friends. These guys have thought of everything, yet still get so much mainstream criticism! Sure, Koei titles aren't known for the visual polish of Capcom or Konami titles, the control is a bit stiff, and their character design isn't always the best, but they've really kept to their commitment to the genre since they stepped-foot into it. Capcom and Konami still support the genre sporadically when they feel the need to, but Koei stays with it every year and delivers fun multi-player madness like clockwork. To me, they deserve credit for that because it shows a devotion to the genre. It has to; with all the bad press on their new games, are they even making money, anymore? I hope they are, because we need Koei as an equalizer in a scene over-saturated by big business with war simulators...