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Tecmo Koei: Japan's culture a 'huge treasure' in competitive market
Tecmo Koei: Japan's culture a 'huge treasure' in competitive market Exclusive
February 16, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors faces the type of challenge unique to long-running Japanese franchises: For over a decade, it's needed to keep its familiar, passionate audience satisfied while exploring opportunities for broader audiences.

But the teams at Tecmo Koei have a strong idea: amid ideas that Japanese franchises are somehow less translatable or less relevant in the current gaming climate, what if Japanese developers focused their attention on iterating upon what they do best and serving their fans better, rather than trying to adopt ideas and approaches that aren't innate, well-understood by their teams or relevant to their franchises?

As a launch game for the PlayStation Vita, Dynasty Warriors, over a decade on the market, has a new chance to get front and center with a new incarnation which adds 4-player multiplayer to the formula. Yet portable gaming culture, which includes multiplayer on the go, hasn't rooted in the U.S. the way it has in Japan. Furthermore, the combat-based series is rooted, albeit loosely, in the characters and world of Chinese historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, much more familiar to Asian players than Western ones.

Fans of the series have loved its characters most, says production lead Kenichi Ogasawara. "We've been trying to make the character personalities better, focusing on the story and overall sphere of the universe more through character portrayals than anything else," he explains.

Like many developers facing Dynasty Warriors' particular set of circumstances, Tecmo Koei has spent time trying to learn from Western development methods and philosophies: "We've looked at the way Western developers make and present their games, in terms of the cut scenes, the graphics and all of that, and we've tried to take that approach in development. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get the result that we wanted," Ogasawara concedes.

While Dynasty Warriors aims to add a wide array of gameplay elements and new modes geared at making the gameplay more appropriate for a global audience, the priority is to enhance the variety and depth of the series' characters -- just as its longtime fans have wanted.

"I think as a Japanese developer, we have to think about how we can actually improve the original game system, rather than copy what other people are doing," suggests Ogasawara.

The third-person melee action genre is particularly popular in Japan, and many of the fruits of that boom have seen success in the West as well, even perhaps inspiring Western brands like God of War to some extent. "In Japan there has been a rise of third-person action games, but something Japanese developers still have as a huge treasure in our industry is our culture," Ogasawara says.

"There are a lot of elements of our culture that we still haven't shown to the world; a lot of things are still kept at home," he continues. "These are things that we can actually show in a proper way, that the global market can understand."

"We're looking for ways to portray our culture in an easy-to-understand way, in a captivating way. Obviously in the action market there are influences from the Hollywood industry in the presentation, and it's very hard for us to compete with that," he adds. "For us, I think the best way to stand out in the competitive market is to use our culture to our advantage."

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Daniel Martinez
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As far as this article goes: best of luck Tecmo Koei in bringing back that awesome cultured vibe I grew up on. I am seriously looking forward to this installment! :))

Louis Sedeno
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I hear you, but I can not blame them for the actions taken. The gamer's changed and they could not sell their products as well as they use to. I wish Tecmo Koei the best along with every other large house. Their DW series and engine in general, really needs an over hall. Myself, I'll only buy one of those games per console because the games are so similar that I just can not justify owning more than one.

Dedan Anderson
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I think they've hit it on the head, sort of, focus on MARKETING your ideas to the west. A game like Vanquish (not by Koei/Tecmo i know), tho successful as it was, should have been more so, it's biggest crutch: no real serious marketing campaign. Most shooter fans i know, never heard of it - marketing fail.

It appears to me that Nintendo understands how to market their ideas and talent here in the west better than any other jp company. Perhaps Konami comes in second???

Louis Sedeno
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I agree Vanquish should have done a lot better, but everyone of my family or friend gamer's I knew that liked third person action shooters did not like the game one bit. It was the acting and script that turned everyone off. I know it is very sad, but that kind of presentation I find is the major turn off for most people I know.

Trenton Ng
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As much as I'd like to wish that a game's attention in the market should be through its quality, you're absolutely right about need for marketing in the western market. Demon's Souls wasn't widely known yet had a pretty good following by critics and players talking about how difficult and fun it was (word of mouth is a sort of free marketing I suppose). When Dark Souls was in the making, it was advertised like no other and suddenly everyone seemed to know what it was. You're both right, Vanquish deserved a lot more attention than it received.

Trenton Ng
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Koei's Dynasty Warriors series have always had its ups and downs throughout each iteration. DW2 was the first in the series. DW3 paved way to its layout and core mechanics and started to experiment a little. DW4 had a lot of great ideas but took some odd directions with voice acting, story, music (more grungy than its usual heavy rock) but had great additions such as custom characters creation and different modes. DW5 is the definitive of the whole series within its Playstation 2 days with a very polished combat mechanic, story modes, and thought out modes in the Xtreme Legends pack.

When Koei decided to take a risk and change some of the formula for DW6, fans were outraged by how much was taken out and how watered down the combat mechanics became (essentially only 2 different combo attacks as opposed to the usual 6). For DW7, it seems as though Koei/Tecmo took in the critiques from DW6 and reflected back on their previous iterations to see what made them so enjoyable and developed possibly their best Dynasty Warriors to date with a refined combat mechanic that borrows elements used in their other games such as Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors Strikeforce. Story mode is entirely different, combat is a lot more smoother and fast-paced, art-style has changed, yet the game retains a lot of what made the originals great.

Japan's game development might not be the same as it used to be and quite honestly I don't think they'd survive in the industry if they didn't change as does the western market (because video games were just about to go extinct at one point). Sure, they shouldn't try to do everything that the western market does to favor to the western market: "I think as a Japanese developer, we have to think about how we can actually improve the original game system, rather than copy what other people are doing," suggests Ogasawara. I remember there was an interview with Daisuke Ishiwatari on Gamasutra and he said something similar in that "sticking with what they're familiar with (fighting games) and having Japanese culture within their games is what they utilize to keep things unique and different while still retaining a working formula".

Trenton Ng
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Not sure what to make of Dynasty Warriors NEXT on the PS Vita. It does seem to utilize the new mechanics in the system (touch and motion).

Craig Page
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They should forget all of their culture, and focus on stories for a western audience. Give me stories with:

A) Cowboys

B) Cowboys saving Earth from asteroids.


C) Ninjas (fighting cowboys, or possibly pirates).