Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo are certainly busy these days, revealing the action-RPG Rise of the Ronin as a PlayStation console exclusive arriving in 2024 at the latest State of Play presentation, but also working on Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, which arrives in early 2023 on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
For anyone who is a fan of the Souls-like type of games like the team’s Nioh series, this new game will evoke plenty of familiarity, albeit in the different setting of the Three Kingdoms. To get a better understanding of what the game is all about, we got an early chance to experience an upcoming demo, as well as speak to producer Fumihiko Yasuda and development producer Masaaki Yamagiwa.
Having cut their teeth with more Japanese inspiration for many of their big hits, it was certainly a surprise when Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty was revealed. The setting meant a departure from the norm, at least for the Team Ninja folks, but for everyone working on the project, it represented untapped potential.
“I really like the world of the Three Kingdoms, and here at Koei Tecmo games, we have a lot of experience and expertise in that in that particular setting. So it felt like the time for Team Ninja to show their take on things and showcase a different kind of action,” Yasuda explained.
Naturally, when taking inspiration from a fabled age of heroes and men such as the Three Kingdoms period, it was the perfect chance to introduce iconic characters to the proceedings. The likes of Zhao Yun made for a powerful companion during the demo, but the name Wo Long or 卧龙, which usually refers to the legendary strategist that is Zhuge Liang/诸葛亮, goes beyond just allies in-game.
“In terms of the name, Wo Long is a sleeping dragon, and that is the meaning that we are taking from the name. The character that you’re playing as starts out as this kind of nameless militia, and then they rise up and get stronger throughout the game, kind of like a sleeping dragon,” explained Yamagiwa.
“The rise of your character, and other Chinese military leaders and warlords that may not have necessarily made a name for themselves at this point in history where the game takes place, they’re starting out as the sleeping dragons.”
When it comes to the actual gameplay in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, things certainly move much faster than Nioh or Souls-like such as Elden Ring, and the ramp-up in speed is exactly what the team was aiming for. With China being the setting, martial arts is the focus in combat. This meant the “free-flowing, natural movements” are all part of the process, allowing for both “offensive and defensive manoeuvres” to exist within a balance.
The ability to jump also aids in that aspect, adding to the speed and different actions players can take, but also giving you more flexibility in exploring the environments in each stage.
At the heart of the combat lies the Spirit system, a meter that provides visible feedback whether you are on the back foot defensively or pushing aggressively against your enemies.
“It’s very important for us to bring the defensive and offensive aspects of Chinese martial arts to the combat. The Spirit gauge shows if the battle is in your favour. It’s not supposed to be something to limit what you can do in terms of the number of attacks and things that you have,” shared Yasuda when comparing it to the stamina bars that are a genre staple.
Push hard, and you can utilise the advantage for more damaging attacks, play too defensively and you could get stunned and leave yourself wide open. The inclusion of magic, or Wizardry, also relies heavily on Spirit, where higher tier spells require more use of the gauge, making it a gamble every time you unleash your Wizardry. It is this push and pull that makes the combat in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty all the more dynamic and exciting.
Another mechanic that would figure heavily into how players approach things is the Morale system, an inspiration stemming from trying to fuse together elements of masocore games and the strategic layers of the source material.
“Specifically, how it works is that as you take on bigger enemies, you can see they have a Morale rank, you have a rank as well, and you can increase your Morale by defeating enemies or securing certain parts of the map. As you’re raising it, you get stronger, and that kind of gives each player an idea of how they want to progress through each stage,” said Yasuda.
“So it’s a fun aspect to keep in mind when they’re trying to develop their own strategy and how they want to have their own unique way to get through each of the stages, so there’s a lot of freedom and agency that’s given to the player thanks to the Morale system.”
Experiencing it during the demo made things much clearer, as that big bad enemy that is several ranks higher than you need not be taken on right now. Instead, exploration and discovery of other potential routes rewarded not only precious loot but also more manageable enemies to level up both the traditional RPG stats and Morale.
If you are still find it a struggle, the multiplayer aspects of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty will come in handy. At any time, you can have a party of three to tackle the challenges ahead, and whenever there’s an open spot, using special items can allow NPCs to join the crew.
It was important to the developers to give players the option to “change how they play the game,” but also for the relative newcomers to get some help and “have an easier time getting through the game.” For those of you more thirsty for blood, there’s always the PvP portion to sink your teeth into.
Hearing from the producers and actually enjoying the game in action, there is little doubt in our minds that Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty would be anything but a stellar time. With 2023 just a short while away, we cannot be more excited for this new outing for both Team Ninja and Koei Tecmo, and if you have always been a fan, this new game feels right at home.