Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors faces the type of challenge unique to long-running Japanese franchises: For over a decade, it's needed to keep its familiar, passionate audience satisfied while exploring opportunities for broader audiences.
But the teams at Tecmo Koei have a strong idea: amid ideas that Japanese franchises are somehow less translatable or less relevant in the current gaming climate, what if Japanese developers focused their attention on iterating upon what they do best and serving their fans better, rather than trying to adopt ideas and approaches that aren't innate, well-understood by their teams or relevant to their franchises?
As a launch game for the PlayStation Vita, Dynasty Warriors, over a decade on the market, has a new chance to get front and center with a new incarnation which adds 4-player multiplayer to the formula. Yet portable gaming culture, which includes multiplayer on the go, hasn't rooted in the U.S. the way it has in Japan. Furthermore, the combat-based series is rooted, albeit loosely, in the characters and world of Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, much more familiar to Asian players than Western ones.
Fans of the series have loved its characters most, says production lead Kenichi Ogasawara. "We've been trying to make the character personalities better, focusing on the story and overall sphere of the universe more through character portrayals than anything else," he explains.
Like many developers facing Dynasty Warriors' particular set of circumstances, Tecmo Koei has spent time trying to learn from Western development methods and philosophies: "We've looked at the way Western developers make and present their games, in terms of the cut scenes, the graphics and all of that, and we've tried to take that approach in development. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get the result that we wanted," Ogasawara concedes.
While Dynasty Warriors aims to add a wide array of gameplay elements and new modes geared at making the gameplay more appropriate for a global audience, the priority is to enhance the variety and depth of the series' characters -- just as its longtime fans have wanted.
"I think as a Japanese developer, we have to think about how we can actually improve the original game system, rather than copy what other people are doing," suggests Ogasawara.
The third-person melee action genre is particularly popular in Japan, and many of the fruits of that boom have seen success in the West as well, even perhaps inspiring Western brands like God of War to some extent. "In Japan there has been a rise of third-person action games, but something Japanese developers still have as a huge treasure in our industry is our culture," Ogasawara says.
"There are a lot of elements of our culture that we still haven't shown to the world; a lot of things are still kept at home," he continues. "These are things that we can actually show in a proper way, that the global market can understand."
"We're looking for ways to portray our culture in an easy-to-understand way, in a captivating way. Obviously in the action market there are influences from the Hollywood industry in the presentation, and it's very hard for us to compete with that," he adds. "For us, I think the best way to stand out in the competitive market is to use our culture to our advantage."