In order to understand what Dynasty Warriors is really trying to tell us, let’s first get back to basics. Why is a video game series adapting the history of the Three Kingdoms, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms in particular, called musō (“unrivaled”) in the first place, and why would this be the game to pioneer “1 vs. 1000” combat mechanic it is so (in)famous for?
The mascot character for Dynasty Warriors has always been Zhao Yun, and I do not believe this is either accidental or arbitrary. Zhao Yun is known as one of the Five Tiger Generals, who were famed as the most loyal and revered generals of Shu. It is Shu’s emperor, Liu Bei, who is generally considered to be the actual protagonist of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (if you had to pick one) at it’s his exploits and deeds that are depicted in the most positive and sympathetic light. However while Liu Bei is certainly not a supporting character in Dynasty Warriors (especially if you choose to play as him), it’s Zhao Yun who appears on the box art of all the mainline entries and who is oftentimes used as the series’ representative in crossover works and publicity materials. He is also tacitly implied to be the default player character.
Zhao Yun’s feats are sometimes seen to have been exaggerated, but again, Romance of the Three Kingdoms *is* historical fiction. We have to think of the book as being kind of like the Robin Hood tales, except very much older. In Romance of the Three Kingdoms and other Chinese folklore, Zhao Yun is depicted as a warrior of unmatched strength, but also boundless humility and loyalty who never boasted of his achievements, did not seek out conflict and refused to draw attention to himself: The epitome of the perfect martial artist who never started a fight, but would always finish one swiftly and decisively if he was threatened or saw someone come to harm.
Historically Zhao Yun was known as an uncompromisingly just, loyal and honourable man who was driven by a desire to bring peace to the common people, and the stories emphasize this part of his character to a great extent. Dynasty Warriors shows this as being the ideal he sees in Liu Bei and the reason he is drawn to serve under him. The game even assigns as his signature weapon the Dragon Spear, an unpretentious implement dating back to the Paleolithic era whose beauty is in its elegance and simplicity (indeed, it’s for these very reasons spears have long been favoured by warriors the world over in place of bulkier swords, including by the Vikings, whom pop culture has made almost synonymous with gigantic swords) and also references his auspicious Dragon associations and motifs (his style name even literally means “Little Dragon”). After his death, Wei Yan remembered Zhao Yun as “A gentle, affectionate, wise, miraculous being who called the land to order” and that “With him, neither accidents or disasters could disturb the peaceful balance he created.…