Koei’s Warriors series of games has never truly been well received from a mainstream standpoint. With this year’s blazing ball of empty open-world garbage that was Dynasty Warriors 9 further stinking up that reception, it may be difficult for anyone, even longtime fans, to get excited at the idea of another Warriors based title coming out this year.
That said, over the summer, Koei announced that Warriors Orochi 4 was coming in October of this year. As someone who has loved this franchise for its near twenty year run, this was news that made me stand up, cheer, and do a Musou fist pump. This was made infinitely better when it was revealed that this game would not be open-world, but rather, go back to the shoebox battlefields so intimately tied with the series.
For those not in the know, the Warriors Orochi games are crossovers between Koei’s top Warriors series – Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors, giving us dream matches and interactions between legendary characters born a full millenium apart from one another. While Orochi usually features the full cast of its two parent games to certain points, it also features characters exclusive to itself as the timey-wimey reality warping ball gets thrown to the ends of the cosmos and truly allows for things to go off the rails. Hell, the story confirmed so far for Orochi 4 revolves around freakin’ Zeus, Athena, and Odin making their debut in a series that has been, to this point, almost entirely Eastern based.
Despite a more Western reach for the upcoming game, the Orochi series is littered with mystical and mythological characters from the East’s rich history that don’t get as much fanfare or fleshing out as their Dynasty or Samurai counterparts. Seeing some of them show up with absolutely no context can be a little jarring for some, which was essentially what half of Orochi 3 was. Thus, I’ve taken it upon myself to (attempt to) shed a little bit of light on some of the more obscure origins of some obscure characters of a rather obscure series before the new game releases and causes even more potential shrugging and confusion.
1. Da Ji
The stoicism and nihilism displayed by series antagonist Orochi is countered almost entirely – and often, annoyingly – by his strategist and literal vixen of a girlfriend, Da Ji. In the series, she’s seen giggling and taunting you at virtually every turn so much that you just want to rush in and shut her up, only to fall right into the ambush she set up for your dumb ass. Whether Orochi returns her affections is yet to be seen, but Da Ji seems to get rather, eh, “excited” at the prospect of torture, maiming, and general bloodshed like she were a shallow fanfiction variation of Harley Quinn.
While you’d be entirely justified for hating her for all that, she’s also a character portrayed incredibly close to her source material. The main antagonist of the 16th century Chinese novel Fengshen Yanyi, Da Ji was a consort to the King of Shang before being possessed by a demonic fox spirit. She kept the king obsessed with her through sorcery and he neglected his royal duties in order to keep her happy. The only thing that seemed to do so was hearing people’s cries of pain. The king’s infatuation with her is cited as the cause of an entire dynasty’s downfall, which I guess means you shouldn’t feel so bad when you fall into her ambushes because she’s already done it to an entire royal lineage.
2. Taigong Wang
A brilliant young strategist with enough confidence to fight with a damn fishing pole, Taigong Wang is the exact kind of mind needed for some of the series’ biggest decisions. While the renowned minds of their own times like Zhuge Liang and Shima Sakon are still great, they simply don’t have the cosmic scale of knowledge that Taigong seems to. That said, his insufferable genius tendances can be super off-putting. Even if he does offer somewhat of an option for any fans in the “teachers beating evil senseless with a ruler” crowd.
The Orochi variation of him takes quite a few liberties, most notably his appearance as a young boy. Taigong Wong – among the many names he was known – was an elder strategist and adviser to the King of Shang. Remember that guy from two paragraphs ago? Turns out, his obsession with Da Ji made him a bloodthirsty tyrant. Taigong Wong stuck it out in this dude’s court for over twenty years before calling it quits in self-exile. He was sought after by King Wen, the ruler who toppled the old Shang. Taigong would be the new king’s strategist, with his line of thinking inspiring military minds for generations. According to legend, his favorite thing to do was fish without a hook or line and “let fish come of their own volition.” So, at least Koei got his arrogance and fishing thing right?
3, 4 & 5. Fuxi, Nuwa, and Shennong
Fuxi and Nuwa are a squabbling married couple of gods who aren’t exactly the biggest fans of humanity until you prove to them humans can do anything gods can on the battlefield. That said, neither of them are particularly annoying. Nuwa can be, but this is overlooked by her wonderful character design and the gall to clap-back on some of the most powerful mortals in the series. Fuxi is just a big ol’ ham, as his giant sword is hilariously brutal and his booming laugh is exactly what a young Santa Claus probably sounded like. Shennong, meanwhile, is quite the contrast to them. Despite being as much a god as they, he is reserved, soft-spoken, and always seems to be lost in a daze like some kind of celestial stoner.
The three of them are here as a unit because they are considered the Three Sovereigns of Chinese mythology. They were the first three rulers of the world with each of them contributing something for the good of the first humans. Fuxi and Nuwa were the creators of mankind, teaching their children how to domesticate animals and read and write. They also created the heavens themselves.The pair were brother and sister and also husband and wife, with both dynamics being present in their Orochi interpretations without really confirming either one. Shennong, meanwhile, taught mankind how to farm, use tools, and recipes for ancient herbal medicine – which more than explains his rather far-out demeanor.
6 & 7. Kiyomori Taira and Yoshitsune Minamoto
Kiyomori Taira fills the role of “boss you keep killing, but he keeps showing up” for all of his Orochi appearances, with the excuse usually being that Orochi’s sorcery is what keeps him alive. His black skin and horns makes him an imposing sight, but doesn’t stop him from being the most annoying demon ever and just die already. To add insult to injury, he beats you over the head with cannonball sized prayer beads. Yoshitsune, meanwhile, is his eternal rival who contrasts the demon leader by being flustered upon seeing women’s ankles on the battlefield while also bearing a freakin’ lightsaber. God, this franchise really is off the rails.
Despite their somewhat iffy characterizations, their story of being eternal rivals comes straight from The Tale of the Heike, which is often described as the Japanese equivalent of The Iliad. It is a romanization of a samurai border conflict known as the Genpei War. Kiyomori led the Heike clan, but did so as a cruel, power hungry leader. His bloodthirsty rise to the top included the burning of several sacred Buddhist statues, which lends some hint of irony of his Orochi weapon of choice. He was said to have had such a high fever on his deathbed that anyone who went near him burned to death and water turned to steam, which may explain his darkened skin in-game.
Yoshitsune, meanwhile, led the army of the Minamoto clan. He fought with bravery, honor, and a little bit of naivety. He defeated Kiyomori at a key battle that caused the tyrant to fall to his fatal illness. Yoshitsune was later betrayed by the son of a soldier he had once converted, becoming one of Japan’s models of the ‘tragic hero’ archetype. According to legend, he never actually died and just ran away to become Genghis Khan. I’m assuming in the time between lives, he visited a galaxy far, far away.
8. Seimei Abe
A mysterious sorcerer who gets pulled into the conflict because he got lost taking a casual stroll through time, Seimei Abe helps humanity from the instant he shows up and has all kinds of magic that aids not just in keeping demons away, but also the power to track powerful ones down. The only thing more absurd than him fighting with a shikigami (i.e. those little paper angel looking Japanese things, like from Spirited Away) is the cuteness factor of the baby white fox that likes to hang out on his shoulder.
The real Seimei Abe lived during the Heian period of Japan as a spiritual advisor, astrologer, and fortune teller. He lived a very long life free of disease which caused people to believe he really was some kind of magician. That’s what we know historically, but after his death, his legend grew to become sort of the Japanese equivalent of Merlin. One legend said that he wasn’t human at all and that his father was a fox spirit, which I guess explains his adorable battle pup. For a look at just how influential a figure he is on the Japanese view of magic, the iconic symbol that we in the West known as the “pentagram” is called the “Seal of Seimei” over there.
9. Shuten Doji
A wild card with no real allegiance to anybody, Shuten Doji is a demon that shows up on the side of Orochi but doesn’t seem to care about any of the Serpent King’s grand plans. He just wants to chill out and drink from his giant gourd. It’s not until later does Shuten (and us) learn that he is the actual conscience of Orochi and is pretty key to defeating the major threat of the third game. His enormous drinking gourd, which can be used as both a club and a vacuum, is the single greatest weapon of all time.
A figure of pure legend, the “real” Shuten Doji was perhaps one of the most feared oni or demons of medieval Japan. Often times called the King of the Oni, he was believed to be the strongest of all demons. One of the folktales surrounding his birth said he was born after the defeat of the eight headed serpent Orochi. Abducting and killing passersby, he wasn’t discovered until our boy Seimei Abe used the stars to find him out, which led to a heroic party going on a quest to kill him in what I assume was the very first Japanese D & D session. It was said that he carried a giant club and was obsessed with drinking, perhaps making this Shuten Doji one of the most ridiculous and yet completely accurate interpretations in any Warriors game.
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