Have you ever witnessed a six-year-old boy playing with his toys? By that, I don't mean just a few of them, I mean enlisting the aid of every action figure he owns, at the same time. If afforded the chance, dear reader, to witness a child bashing his toys together and see that he has Batman fighting the Ninja Turtles and Spiderman with a G.I. Joe’s gun and the Power Rangers coming to help him while Luke Skywalker looks on, please understand that such a thing is completely normal. At least - in the developing mind of a six year old boy - it is likely the most interesting story he’s ever seen unfold, as it contains all of the things he’s interested in… and they’re fighting.
Now, one would assume that these early exercises in pastiche would eventually evolve into something less juvenile. It’s not hard to imagine George Lucas doing this sort of thing when he was younger, but by the time he made Star Wars he had at the very least graduated from “juvenile” to “sophomoric” in terms of narrative. (Not to say anything as to his technical innovations or his abilities as a business man) In some ways, that’s good enough. It keeps people entertained, and when the storyteller tells it well, the audience can get into the story, and forget for a moment that they are watching a middle aged roid-rager fighting an evil French ecologist with capitalist ambitions over Bolivia’s water supply, or that they’re reading about cyborg ninjas fighting Martian dragons in sixteenth century Western Europe.
These were realizations I had while playing a video game that employs all the tricks one finds in pastiche, but not well. That game is Warriors Orochi 2, a Playstation 2/Xbox 360 game developed by Omega Force and published by Koei, a Japanese company known for their consistent flow of games based on the Chinese historical-novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Omega Force started making games about Romance of the Three Kingdoms in the late nineties when they released a fighting game that was released in the US as Dynasty Warriors. The Playstation being on its last legs, Dynasty Warriors 2 was released on the Playstation 2 shortly after its launch in 2000. Since then, there have been five more games in the series, along with expansions and other miscellanea. As if it weren’t enough to have the option to play as about forty to sixty different glorified folk heroes, generals, tyrants, mystics, and literary figures from China’s history, Omega Force developed a game that was more or less the same, only this time with Japanese history, literature, folk legends etc. Samurai Warriors was released and nobody cared who didn’t already play Omega Force/Koei’s games.
What’s amazing is that all of these games are the same, with the exception of the first. From Dynasty Warriors 2, Omega Force has developed a single game and merely tweaked various aspects of it. But it doesn’t matter if you can pick up new weapons, upgrade those weapons, upgrade the characters, learn new skills for the characters, fight on horse back, or have a one on one duel; the game is still nothing more than running about on a field and slaughtering (bloodlessly) literally hundreds of enemy troops until the game tells you that you’ve killed the right person.
It’s a stupid game, and a stupid concept, but I love it. It is mindless fun based on an exciting classic novel based on an equally exciting time in history. But, what absurdity is this: a Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors… crossover?
Yes, Koei actually combined their two flagship game series (that are basically the same game) into a game that is the equivalent of what that six year old boy does with his toys. Warriors Orochi combined the characters appearing in both franchises (not all of them, but an ungodly number none the less) with a story about the demon Orochi who invades the world, causing a time-flux (or some other term that sounds like it came from"Star Trek") that allows Chinese warlords and generals from the fourth century AD to interact (i.e. fight) with Japanese warlords and generals from the fifteenth century. Orochi is also drawn from Japanese mythology, an eight headed dragon defeated by Susa-no-O and holding the legendary Kusanagi sword in one of its tails.
Also appearing is a character from the Ming dynasty era Chinese novel The Creation of the Gods (aka Fengshen Yanyi), Da Ji. The sequel upped the ante by adding even more characters from The Creation of the Gods (and also prominent figures in other myths/legends), Fu Xi, Nu Wa, and Taigong Wang, along with some characters from the Heike Monogatari, Yoshitsune Minamoto and Kiyomori Taira, and Himiko, the legendary Shaman Queen of ancient Japan (referred to mostly by Chinese sources I believe). Inexplicably, Yoshitune wields a lightsaber (the Kusanagi might have been more appropriate, but then, nothing about this game is appropriate), and Himiko is a thirteen year old girl.
The garishly colored Frankenstein-esque assembling of characters from disparate sources reenacting decisive military battles (Kawanakajima, Hu Lao, Chi Bi are all missions to complete) in the histories of two different countries is funny, more than anything else, and Koei/Omega Force deserve credit for making all of this so accessible that the Warriors games have become immensely profitable the world over, even to the point where Omega Force has started to develop other franchises (Japanese animated series "Gundam") with more or less the same formula (it’s the same game, but with giant robots instead of ancient soldiers). If nothing else, this amuses me too.
But then, I know where all of these characters come from (honestly, the only characters I didn’t know about until I played the game were Da Ji and Taigong Wang, and that’s only because I hadn’t read The Creation of the Gods yet), and so it amuses me to see Kojiro Sasaki fighting on a team with Guan Yu and Cao Cao against Kiyomori Taira and Zhang Jiao. It’s a weird, and at times worrying concept to me that so many young guys (and let’s face it, it’s mostly guys, and they’re mostly young) are “learning” their historical and literary knowledge from games like this. It’s like watching Roger Corman’s Tower of London and then claiming to be quite knowledgeable not only about Shakespeare’s Richard III, but of the greater thrust of English history. But then, who is to say that the heir of the Genji clan didn’t attack Musashibo Benkei (sadly missing from this iteration, but I’m certain Omega Force will rectify that in the inevitable sequel) with a lightsaber?
But I can’t bother to worry about that now. I’m going to play as Dong Zhuo (great name, isn’t it?) and kill upwards of 900 people at Honnoji castle. Do I know anything about Honnoji? No, but at least I have the decency not to pretend I do.
I just wrote over a thousand words on what began as ruminations on how a six year old bashes his toys together. I am a pretentious ass.