In Defense of Button Mashing

I suspect that most serious gamers have their secret shame game.  Maybe you’re a competitive Magic player who plays CityVille when nobody’s looking.  Or a serious boardgamer who busts out Wii bowling when game night is over.  We care about games, we care about gameplay, we care about what makes games good, and then there’s the games we play anyway.

Well, my secret shame game is the Warriors series from Koei.  These are simple button-mashing affairs, where your hero of Asian myth and history hits a million guys with a stick.  A friend once commented that if this was what feudal Japan was like, he wanted nothing to do with it.  “Why not?” I inquired.  “It doesn’t seem so bad if you have a stick!”

There are three major branches to the series, with some sub-branches off from there.  There’s the Samurai Warriors series, which puts you in the action during the warring states period of Japan, from the rise of Oda Nobunaga to the consolidation of power by the Tokugawa.  Next, there’s the Dynasty Warriors series, which does the same for the Three Kingdoms era of China.  Lastly, there’s the Orochi series, which puts an imperceptible veneer of plot in place to justify putting ALL the characters from both series in the same game to hit each other with sticks, even though they’re separated by somewhere around 1200 years of history.  A snake-wizard did it.

Well, I had been introduced to the series via Samurai Warriors 2: Empires, (Empires being a spinoff that involves the exact same gameplay, but more of a map-conquering freeplay mode, rather than being story-centric) and from there played both of the Orochi games.  I’m a casual fan of Japanese history, largely influenced by my own study of kenjutsu, as well as a long-running Legend of the Five Rings game that I played in.  Despite Dynasty Warriors being the larger and more popular version of the game, I hadn’t played any version of it up until I recently picked up Dynasty Warriors 7 this week.

There is nothing special to recommend the gameplay or systems.  You will mash buttons, you will hit a million guys with one or more sticks, you will upgrade characters and weapons ad infinitum.  But I’m going to focus on the two things that actually made the game worthwhile.

First, it’s a primer on Chinese pronunciation.  The game has pretty good voice acting for every encounter and cutscene, which means there’s lots of 0pportuntities to hear names, locations and terms pronounced correctly.  It may be important at some point in my future to be able to pronounce my “Xu”s and “Zhu”s correctly.  (They are not the same.)  The Battle of Chibi is not the Battle of “chee-bee”, it’s closer to the Battle of “chur-bey”.  Good to know!

Second, it’s an introduction to, and rather respectable adaptation of the central stories and characters featured in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which by all accounts is one of the best and most important pieces of literature in human history.  There is no question that I’m better off knowing, even in broad, fictionalized strokes, the stories of Cao Cao, Sun Quan and Liu Bei.

These stories are sweeping epics, with fathers and sons, betrayals and revenge, family and duty, all the major elements of great narratives, and you get to enjoy it as part of an entertaining beat-’em-up, as opposed to an 800,000 word novel!  Hooray!

I’m posting this to prove a point – nearly any game has something within it that you can learn from.  Even the bad ones, even the derivative ones, there’s almost always something there that you can take and make your own, to better yourself as a developer, or even as a human being.  So that secret shame game?  Not so shameful after all.

As a final aside, I would note that the intro cinematic to DW7 is exactly what I have found the experience of parenting to be.

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One Response to In Defense of Button Mashing

  1. Katie says:

    I love the Warriors games and have played all of them since Dynasty Warriors 2 game out (but not 7 yet). Some of them actually have slightly different mechanics or upgrade methods. Samurai Warriors 2: Empires had one of the best so far. Dynasty Warriors 3 did the best with some of the story elements (Lu Bu was effin’ scary in that game). The newer ones are better because they can draw more guys on the screen for you to utterly destroy simultaneously. Orochi is just novelty. :P

    I totally agree with you that pretty much any game can give you some kind of insight. I consider myself an MMO scholar and can talk for days about MMO minutia and why it was good, bad, too early, too late, a good lesson, and more. There’s so much historical data from games in general, it’s like a million prototypes to learn from. The more you play the more you know! /rainbowstar

    P.S.: It’s frustrating when the people calling the shots on a game project don’t play any.

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