Loosely based on the 14th-century Chinese historical novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” by Luo Guangzhong, Dynasty Warriors has become one of gaming’s most influential franchises.
Few games can say they created a genre as Dynasty Warriors did with the hack’n’slash crowd-combat extravaganza that is the “Musou” genre. And even less can claim to have remained its most successful proponent.
Omega Force has since gone on to bring the gift of Musou to several other IPs, as seen in Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes, but their main title is still the golden standard against which each of these games is measured.
And for good reason.
Whether you’ve been cutting down enemies like grass for years or just found out about the franchise and want to really get into it, here’s my ranking of the entire main titles in the Dynasty Warriors series.
9. Dynasty Warriors 9 (2018)
It’s always sad to see the latest entry in such a long-running series make the bottom of the ranking, especially when they were as hyped and ambitious as Dynasty Warriors 9.
Perhaps it was precisely this grand ambition that brought the game down.
The glorious open world they promised ended up feeling barren, the game never manages to play at over 30fps and the graphics are underwhelming.
The voice acting – well, the voice acting has always been bad, but this isn’t even the fun kind of bad!
8. Dynasty Warriors (1997)
The original Dynasty Warriors for the PlayStation was unlike any other release the franchise has seen to date.
In fact, what most of us know as the “Dynasty Warriors series” was originally conceived as a spin-off before it spun out of control.
Much like the original Soulcalibur, this weapon-based fighter tried to offer an alternative to the myriad Street Fighter clones flooding the market in the late ‘90s, and it succeeded in breathing fresh air into the genre.
It was quite successful and received many positive reviews, paving the way for the franchise’s future.
7. Dynasty Warriors 2 (2000)
The next game to bear the DW name ditched everything but the name, setting, and its characters to pioneer the new concept of crowd-combat that would go on to become what we now know as the “Musou” genre.
Like its predecessor – and its many sequels – this PS2 launch title takes place in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history.
It tells the story of the Shu, Wei, and Wu factions seeking to unify China under their banner after the fall of the Han Dynasty.
Despite not featuring quite as many characters and having the slowest gameplay in the series, the hedonistic pleasure of mowing through enemies like the superhuman warlord we all want to be was already there.
6. Dynasty Warriors 6 (2007)
The sixth installment under the DW name was released for 7th generation consoles to a very controversial reception, and went on to become a sort of black sheep in the series.
The main reason for this was the replacement of the classic combo framework for the Renbu system, which lets characters access better combos by racking up kills without getting hit rather than being determined by their weapon.
Even so, it remains a solid game with nice scenarios, exciting cutscenes and a deep character creator that definitely warrants a playthrough.
5. Dynasty Warriors 3 (2001)
Here’s the game that put DW on the map: the third installment.
This took the basic concepts from its predecessor and polished them into a faster-paced, more complex experience.
This game, belonging to 6th generation consoles, features an individual story mode – or “Musou” mode – for each character.
This mode also includes many RPG mechanics, such as leveling up your character and improving their equipment as the game progresses.
Plus this was the first game to feature a vs. mode and, more importantly, Co-Op.
4. Dynasty Warriors 7 (2011)
Despite not being quite as discussed as some other entries in the franchise, this PS3/XBOX360 gem really saved the franchise from the depths of the abyss DW6 plunged it into.
Other than bringing back the classic combo system, DW7 adds the Jin Kingdom as a faction in Musou mode, along with several characters belonging to said group.
For this to make sense, the story now covers the entirety of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms rather than focusing on individual parts.
And it may just be the best DW in terms of real storytelling.
3. Dynasty Warriors 5 (2005)
The franchise was at the height of its popularity when Dynasty Warriors 5 came out, and the game delivered on the hype surrounding its release in spades.
This fantastic title focuses on making every single one of the over 40 playable characters feel important and unique.
The game does this by giving them personal finishing moves and varied movesets, along with an individual Musou mode for each of them that’s critical to the overarching plot.
Regrettably, the Co-Op experience was considerably downgraded in this installment due to the taxing nature of its stunning graphics, which keeps it from true greatness.
2. Dynasty Warriors 4 (2003)
If you ask any Dynasty Warrior veteran, the kind that’s been following the series since its inception, they’re likely to name DW4 as the single best game in the entire series.
It was also the first one I played.
Released on the PS2 and XBOX, DW4 takes the already polished gameplay found in its predecessor and expands upon in ways such as allowing the player to level each character’s weapons, and introducing one-on-one duels between generals for control of contested forts.
My favorite part about this game other than its increased cinematic value is how the developers didn’t fear to stray even further from the source material to create a more interesting Musou mode and engaging narrative.
1. Dynasty Warriors 8 (2013)
Die-hard fans can say whatever they want, but there’s just no way DW4 can beat the incredibly rich game that is Dynasty Warriors 8.
With over 80 fully-developed and diverse characters, revamped combat introducing an affinity system for weapons, and the most over-the-top fast-paced gameplay the series has seen to date DW8 simply sweeps the floor with the competition.
These achievements come wrapped in the best graphics in the series as well.
These gorgeously rendered visuals come with some really colorful environments and amazing character designs. Plus you get the option to switch between the Japanese and English voiceovers as suits your fancy, regardless of region.
Whether you’re a veteran who’s been estranged from the series or a newcomer, this is the DW game you’ll want to play.