I’ve expressed my love and adoration for the Dynasty Warriors games maybe a bit too much in my time writing on the internet. Omega Force, on average, pushes out about three titles a year, but so far there hasn’t been much in the way of what may be coming this year from the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors developer besides the extremely vague promise that a new Samurai Warriors game is in the works. Will we get Switch ports of some older Samurai Warriors games? Or a Dynasty Warriors 9 spinoff that I hope is nothing like Dynasty Warriors 9? These are the questions.
Last year, I wrote a piece on some characters from the army sized roster of characters in the Dynasty Warriors series who weren’t exactly honest to their source material, that being the classical Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but were better in the games than the book. Since the roster is so massive both in-game and in-novel, there’s absolutely no way there were only five that were different and absolutely no way I wasn’t going to cover some more of them.
Again, adapting a novelization of a hundred year dynastic war is always going to make for some rough transfers, but sometimes it’s not all bad, especially when there’s so many characters; some folk just deserve to have something to make them stand out. So here I go again attempting to shed some light on some of those characters you mindlessly hack and slash with.
Like my previous piece, the source material I’m drawing from is the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and not the actual historical Three Kingdoms War that inspired the book.
5. Sun Jian
Kicking off is a character who gets so much love in Dynasty Warriors that you wouldn’t believe he dies within the novel’s first hundred pages.
In the games, Sun Jian is portrayed as the most prominent and powerful patriarchal figure in a roster full of them. Virtually every male leader has some son, daughter, or cousin tied to them, but none of them come close to Sun Jian. He’s the father to several important characters and is the supposed founder of the faction of Wu, which consists almost entirely of his descendents by birth or marriage and have their entire identity revolved around the idea of family. In the first few games, he’s treated as an equal to Cao Cao and Liu Bei, who founded their respective factions and kingdoms.
In the novel, Sun Jian was a prominent soldier who joined up with Cao Cao, Yuan Shao, and some others in trying to stop the tyranny of Dong Zhuo after making names for themselves following the Yellow Turban Rebellion. In the mad aftermath of the killing of a corrupt despot, Sun Jian found the Imperial Jade Seal among the ruins of the capitol. The Jade Seal was regarded as basically the championship belt of China at the time. If you had it, you had the “Mandate of Heaven” and were the gods’ chosen one to be or defend the next Emperor. Which is a pretty awesome deal for a guy charged with cleaning up a mess no one else wanted to touch. I’d love to find a crown the next time I dumpster dive.
Unfortunately for Sun Jian, he was a bad liar and was killed in an ambush by someone who suspected he had the Jade Seal and wanted it for themselves. How did he die? A literal case of ‘rocks fall, everybody dies,’ as he’s caught in the middle of a boulder attack. He dies so quickly, so early, that he never really gets anything of significance done and it’s a mystery why he was warranted so much power in the earlier Dynasty games. Dynasty Warriors 5 onwards would fix this, putting his son Sun Quan in his story and historically accurate place as founder of the Kingdom of Wu. Despite not knowing him for very long, Dynasty Warriors gives Sun Jian a immense platform and a great deal of credence to the idea of what would happen if someone with such great promise got to stick around in an era of chaos.
The series’ resident “rich bitch,” Zhenji is as beautiful and stuck-up as she is unorthodox on the battlefield. As I stated last time, technically every single female character in Dynasty Warriors deviates from the source for the better considering women were treated more like property than people all through the novel. That’s what makes it better when Zhenji doesn’t just bust out on the warpath with a dress, but also a freakin’ flute that kills as she plays.
Strangely, she would be introduced as a playable character before her actual husband, Cao Pi. That’s made things a little weird at times in the fandom, as some shipped her with Cao Cao, her husband’s father. Yikes.
In the novel – oh boy. As stated, women were treated horribly and Zhenji’s classical counterpart, Lady Zhen, got some of the worst of it. She was essentially a war bride, as Cao Pi hand-picked her as his spoils when his father won a decisive battle. She was the bride of one of Yuan Shao’s sons, who Cao Pi promptly killed and just took her for his own. She would be the apple of his eye for several years until he found another woman he was quite fond of and wanting her to get all the spoils Lady Zhen had enjoyed all the years, Cao Pi forced Zhenji to kill herself to make room for his new woman. So yeah. That got dark real effin’ fast.
Thankfully, Dynasty Warriors builds Zhenji into her own character who is still very distinct among the female roster to this day. Just don’t look at her and the very flamboyant and feminine Zheng He at the same time or you might get confused.
3. Sun Shangxiang
One of the children of Sun Jian mentioned above, Sun Shangxiang is probably the single best female character in the entire game in terms of moveset and gameplay. But maybe I’m biased because she’s one of my five go-to characters in the entire franchise. She’s so good, when the much maligned Dynasty Warriors 6 changed her signature wheel blades to a bow and arrow, she went from amazing to broken, being one of the only characters to really benefit from the new system.
What also makes her unique is that she’s one of the only characters to switch sides between two of the major factions for more than one battle, as she marries the series’ closest thing to a protagonist, Liu Bei, leaving Wu for Shu. The game in concept accentuates one of her defining features from the novel, that being her love of martial arts.
In said novel, her name is actually Sun Ren, with Dynasty Warriors opting for the name given to her in most Chinese opera portrayals. Even so, there actually isn’t much difference in her personality wise. She’s described as more of a tomboy who even had armed handmaidens guarding her bedchamber on her wedding night. That might be because her marriage to Liu Bei is all one big political ploy by Wu to assassinate Liu Bei and by Shu to the on thin ice alliance between the two kingdoms permanent.
Despite all the prickles associated with the union, she is stated to have genuine feelings for Liu Bei. Though in true Three Kingdoms fashion, following the marriage going through, she’s rarely brought up again except as a bargaining chip. It’s safe to say that Dynasty Warriors does her a great deal of justice on all fronts of her narrative, making her the warrior princess her father and brothers would be proud of.
2. Pang Tong
Confession time on some super duper bias on my part – Pang Tong is my favorite character in the entire franchise from a personality and design standpoint. He’s just so cool to me. He’s a rather frail strategist character so he’s not the best to use to mow down armies of nobodies, but he’s a hilarious nihilist that contrasts so beautifully with the hopeful men and women of honor he’s put beside. Pair that up with the fact that I’m an absolute sucker for characters with both obscured faces and that Chinese-style flat hat, and you’ve got a guy I can’t say no to. He’s usually used as the internal Shu foil to Zhuge LIang, the greatest strategist of the game and era and does so with an abundance of sarcastic flair and would probably be perpetually sneering if we could see his face. He’s just a lovable, self-deprecating loser.
His source material character actually isn’t that far off from his hack-and-slash representative. In the novel, his sarcasm and wit mostly come from arrogance as opposed to, say, a defense mechanism. He’s so arrogant, in fact, that he refuses to use Zhuge Liang’s reference letter for him when he gets a job in Shu. He wants to show them what he can do on his own. But since no one really has faith in him, they charge him to a judicial position he thinks he’s overqualified for. So he does nothing but drink and party for two whole years and when a higher-up shows up to punish him, he solves all the cases he’s put off for two years in two days. All he wanted to do was show off his skills square in the face of someone who mattered.
His other big claim to fame is being regarded as a strategist equal in every way to that of Zhuge Liang, again the most brilliant man alive in the novel. It is said if you can get the Sleeping Dragon (Zhuge) and Fledgling Phoenix (Pang) on the same side, then you could rule over the whole land. Though Liu Bei does get them together for a brief moment, Pang Tong is killed very soon into his Shu tenure by an ambush thinking he was Liu Bei. He is also described as really ugly, which gives a reason for his cover-up job in-game. While he’s stuck in Zhuge Liang’s shadow in literally every adaptation he’s ever been in, his representation in the hands of Koei Tecmo has never been as ugly as he supposedly was.
1. Lu Su
Another strategist/advisor who just can’t seem to shake the image of that Zhuge Liang fella, Lu Su is perhaps the single most human and relatable character in the whole series. The developers actually take great pains to make sure they portray him as a normal guy just trying to make it through troubled times. He is still incredibly intelligent and a great adviser, but he’s really just trying to make it to the next day and not concerned at all with getting his name etched in history. The crown on top of all that is the fact that his weapon of choice is a rake. Like, to rid your yard of leaves with. Ain’t no better “everyman” weapon than that.
That’s not all that gives him the top spot on this list, though. Even though Pang Tong is my favorite, I think Lu Su gets a shorter straw between the two and I feel really strongly that he deserved at least something better. In the novel, he’s one of Wu’s top advisers around the time Zhuge Liang comes to them with an alliance proposal for what would become the Battle of Chibi, one of the two most pivotal battles in the entire narrative. But in order to make Zhuge look purely god-like, Lu Su is seemingly dumbed down in all his interactions with him, reducing him to some kind of perpetually flabbergasted lackey in the pissing match between Zhuge and the Wu strategist, Zhou Yu.
To make matters worse, the alliance between Wu and Shu is seen as an albatross that needs killing to many characters on both sides, but it is Lu Su who believes with all his heart that the alliance is what is best for both parties to survive. He’s so pure, I just want to hug him and tell him all his friends are jealous of him. To top it all off, though, the most angering thing is that such an important character for one of the story’s most important battles is killed nonchalantly off-screen. We don’t hear about him for a few chapters and then we hear that he’s dead in passing. Not some messenger delivering important information, not in battle. Just off-handedly. Not fair for who was maybe the most relatable person both in-novel and in a super exaggerated video game that loves his novel version so much, they actually put in extra effort to keep him grounded and faithful.
That’s when you know you’re a dope character – when a franchise famed for having bloated rosters, iffy adaptational portrayals, and weak characterizations goes the extra mile to make sure you stay awesome, stand out, and get the stage you deserve. Bless you and your cool hat, Lu Su.
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