Dynasty Warriors is the success story that's defied expectation.
The series has been going for sixteen years now, and with eight core titles and multiple spin-offs, it's one of the last remaining stalwarts of the middle tier of gaming, a tier that's gradually eroded over the last few years. It's arguable whether this middle ground will exist come the next generation; Triple-A franchises, critically-lauded digital titles and F2P games may be the only pillars that can financially survive the future that's being shaped in front of our eyes.
Yet Dynasty Warriors may prove the counter-argument to that belief. While the team stated it was still looking into next-gen markets when we talked for this article, weeks later publisher Tecmo Koei announced an expanded version of Dynasty Warriors 8 would be making the next-gen journey to PS4 next year.
Good time then to look at the series' creation through the eyes of those that know it best: Tecmo Koei Vice-President Hisashi Koinuma, producer Akihiro Suzuki and director Atsushi Myauchi, and community manager Chin Soon Sun.
CREATING THE DYNASTY
Dynasty Warriors is heavily invested in mythos, built upon 14th Century novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which merges fact and fiction in a retelling of the Three Kingdoms era in a sprawling epic, taking in three different states and hundreds of characters during a turning point of Chinese history, as three separate states fought for dominance.
The games pull liberally from the source material, representing the struggles in the form of lone warriors fighting their way through hordes of enemies in on battlefields, working their way towards enemy commanders. The now-huge cast play out their individual stories with other characters and allegiances interweaving with their own.
It's been an enduring series, yet it remains niche. Its pull may mystify the casual observer. Yet there is a draw; the franchise has sold over thirty million copies globally as of this year. It's as popular in Europe as its country of origin - Dynasty Warriors 7 sold 120,000 copies this side of the world on release. The company pinpoint its main audience to be between 18 -24 years old, with a split of 77% male and 23% female. Compare that age bracket to how long the series has been going (since 1997), and you'll note the franchise must still be drawing in new players, rather than trending away as its original fan base age.
Yet older fans there are, which includes the current creators of the series. Hisashi Koinuma joined Koei in 1994, and at 41 years old has dedicated nearly two decades of his career to the series, working as director and producer on numerous Dynasty Warriors titles.
He's now Vice-President of the Tecmo Koei. He was a founding member of DW development team Omega Force, and came into the business because, as he puts it simply: "I wanted to make games" - with Romance of the Three Kingdoms being instrumental in that decision.
"At the time, Koei didn't have any action titles," the 41-year-old remembers. "I felt that I had a chance to take on a key position in developing action games." Even in 2013 he's still working alongside some of the Omega Force crew ("But I want my own office!" he laughs). His workload's tripled since the days of being lead programmer on the Kessen series, as he oversees business management of the company on a weekly level, as well checking those titles he's producer for in both development and promotional roles.
His entry into the business is echoed by current series director Atsushi Miyauchi. The 39-year-old has been with the series since Dynasty Warriors 2, joining the company in 1997, and almost from day one was nudging his employers to shift him to a role that'd allow him to work on the creation of action games.
That persistence paid off. He cites his reassignment to Omega Force as result of "continuously making requests" to the company.
Miyauchi-san notes however that he's only the second longest serving member of the team. That accolade goes to 43 year-old producer Akihiro Suzuki, who was one of the founding members of Omega Force, and appears in the credits of the original Dynasty Warriors as lead programmer.
One of the latest additions to the company is Chin Soon Sun. Now Tecmo Koei's community manager, the 29-year-old fell in love with the series with 2001's Dynasty Warriors 3, to the extent that he created a fan site around the series while studying in college.
A year after he started, he moved to the UK from Malaysia to continue his degree. Shortly after Tecmo Koei contacted him. He started out helping out with their competitions and advertising, then moved into working as a freelance web developer within the company. In 2008 he joined full time, and now liaises with the Japanese PR team each week, and meets Omega Force once a year at Tokyo Game Show "to make sure our main vision is the same."