Road to Rome, Road to Maicheng

Square

Monster Hunter World (MHW), Dynasty Warriors 9 (DW9) are two major game titles developed in Japan releasing earlier this year. Two games, however, have completely opposite fates: while MHW becomes the fastest selling Capcom game ever and receives a 90+ metacritics score, DW9 gets panned hard by critics and even harder by its fanbase. You may think that those two critically diversed games must do things very differently, but they are not. Design ideology-wise, the two games are surprisingly similar to each other.

Monster Hunter series started from PS2 but it was entries on PlayStation Portable that put the series to a Japanese nationwide sensation. Dynasty Warriors (Sangoku Musou in Japan), although having its first game released on PlayStation as a fighting game, rose to a million seller after the release of Dynasty Warriors 2 (or Shin Sangoku Musou in Japan, and the series in Japan is enumerated one lower than its western counterpart). Two series have released multiple sequels ever since. While Dynasty Warriors games offer easy and direct hack-n-slash violence fun, Monster Hunter series target at hardcore action players with RPG-style grind involving. Changes in later entries are incremental than substantial: Monster Hunter series, after its surprising alliance with Nintendo, released two major entries using the old graphics engine and not-so-different core mechanics compared to the very first game. Dynasty Warriors, with its Japanese Warring States Era counterpart Samurai Warriors series and all the other spin-offs, stay true to its hack-n-slash root as well.

Both Monster Hunter World and Dynasty Warriors 9 are the series debut on the 8th generation console (new entry) and their highlighted new features are the hottest among recent years: sandbox and open, explorable world, dynamic environment, craft system and RPG-style character growth system. While being massive seller in Japan, both franchises need these new entries to attract western audience with its modernized design. The results are massively diversified, and its reason is not because of the modern features. On the one hand, even with all the modifications made into gameplay, Monster Hunter World plays like every Monster Hunter game, only with better user experience design and game balance. On the other hand, aside from all the experimental addition in Dynasty Warriors 9, the game is still a step back from its previous entries.

In terms of its core experience, Monster Hunter World keeps the signature Monster Hunter formula: fluid combat, overwhelmingly gigantic monsters and weapon/armor upgrade trees. Modern design ideology is applied to supplement the system. For instance, the developer discards the modular map design with fully open, explorable environment in each new map. No more awkward changing zones, now players can chase monsters seamlessly in the map. Crafting is already a large part of the series, but since players always want the products after having all the ingredients, MHW automatically helps player craft better item, and no additional item slot required. A tracking system for monster is implemented after players discover certain amount of evidence is discovered. Subtle gameplay changes are countless: whetstone is now infinitely available, spoilers do not take item slot anymore and so on and so forth. While all these design shifts serve to simplify players’ experience, nothing hurts the game’s core experience; in fact, those simplifications magnify the joy of hunting gigantic monsters in the world since players will no longer get troubled by outdated design or annoying settings. Ultimately, Monster Hunter World is the most enjoyable Monster Hunter game to date and would definitely attract more attentions from western gamers.

On the contrary, Dynasty Warriors 9 gets into an identity crisis after blending so many elements into its classic formula. Dynasty Warriors 9 started its marketing campaign around its biggest design shift: turning individual game levels from previous games into a seamless open world experience. Before Dynasty Warriors 9, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada takes the first sip in open world design in this series, but Dynasty Warriors 9 has a much larger plan. According to Koei Tecmo, DW9 covers the entire ancient China in its overworld and players can go anywhere at any time period. Its ambition is self-evident, but also rises tons of questions centered at an essential one: how would Omega-force turn this hack-n-slash series into an open-world RPG? While, Omega-force take notes from games like Assassin’s Creed series, Shadow of Mordor, and Batman Arkham series as well as their previous attempt in Dragon Quest Heroes II. All the games aforementioned utilize beat-em-up battle system and succeed in different ways, but simply copy-pasting those games with the world of Three Kingdoms era would not work, which is unfortunately how Omega-force design Dynasty Warriors 9. Complex and satisfying hack-n-slash combos are substituted with two-button special moves featured in Dragon Quest Heroes II; iconic watchtower synchronization comes in the exact same fashion as Assassin’s Creed, which also unlocks multiple side-quests. Those designs may suit well for where they come from because they are designed to suit their gameplay, but in Dynasty Warriors, neither special moves nor watchtowers makes much sense. DQH2 needs special attack because it is supposed to be an action spin-off of RPG franchise Dragon Quest and simple sword-fighting mechanics will not make the game look like anything from Dragon Quest series. Assassin’s Creed needs watchtowers because assassins need an advantage point to locate their targets. Two mechanics struggle to make a point in DW9, however, since the series’ core experience is about slashing hundreds of vulnerable soldiers with beautiful combos, instead of using strategic magic attacks or approaching someone stealthy and take the target down. In the end, DW9 derails from its classic formula really bad while fails to justify its new features either.

The design distinction between Monster Hunter World and Dynasty Warriors 9 is about how they deal with freedom. Monster Hunter World begins with small, restricted foundation and offers more freedom with new designs; Dynasty Warriors 9, in contrast, adds this extremely freedom playground first to the game and restricts players’ interactivity with this open environment by adding all restrictions. MHW, as a result, feels like an Monster Hunter game but vastly improved upon its predecessors while DW9 is neither a good reminder of the greatest of this series nor an solid new beginning of how this series should evolve in the future.