At the end of 1989’s Dynasty Wars, a mysterious man grew concerned over the heroics of those that had stopped his plans for the domination of ancient China, hinting at a sequel. In 1992, he’s getting his chance in putting those plans into action.
Dynasty Wars wasn’t the greatest beat ’em/slash ’em up ever put into a cabinet. It was repetitive stuff but it did try a few things that Capcom would later wield like a finely honed spear, namely a deeper integration of storytelling elements while adapting an existing work into an arcade game. In this case, the source of inspiration was Hiroshi Motomiya’s Tenchi wo Kurau manga series taking place during the “Three Kingdoms” era of Chinese history and recounted in the epic classical work, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong.
But Warriors of Fate was a huge overhaul. It bore little resemblance, gameplay-wise, to Dynasty Wars. Instead, Capcom continued to focus on the efforts that had given them The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round in 1991 in going back to bigger sprites, using dynamic backdrops, and relying on old fashioned, button mashing action. Players wouldn’t be glued to a horse for the entire game, either.
It would also be the first game to run on a new piece of hardware from Capcom’s arcade engineers – the CP System Dash which was a slightly upgraded version of the CPS-1. It was part of their effort in providing an easy-to-upgrade solution for both themselves and arcade operators. Instead of having to gut a cabinet of its electronics to install a new game, operators could simply change out the game ROM and install a new one like a cartridge.
Like the CPS-1, the CP System Dash was built around a 16-bit Motorola 68000 CPU along with a Zilog Z80. But this time, instead of using a Yamaha YM2151 and an Okidata OKI6295 for sound, it would use the new Q-Sound chip which would become a standard piece in Capcom’s arcade pie when they rolled the CPS-II out later in 1993.
It also used so-called “suicide batteries” as a piracy countermeasure. Any tampering that interrupted the voltage of the batteries to the volatile RAM where decryption keys were stored would wipe them out. The keys were needed to decrypt the game ROMs, so without those, all an operator had was a nice stack of worthless circuits and chips. Of course, batteries don’t last forever, either, leaving the only alternative in both cases to send the board back to Capcom for a new batch of decryption keys
Warriors of Fate was a lot like Capcom’s other beat ’em ups with an intuitive control scheme set up around an eight-way joystick for control. Two buttons were all that were needed — one for attacking, the other for jumping. Pressing down on both triggered a character’s special attack (which the arcade manual referred to as MEGACRUSH) that cost a bit of health each time it was used if it connected.
Five characters could be chosen to go into battle with even though only two to three players could co-op through the whole game. Each also had their own specific way of fighting though not all of them were equal. Western audiences were also treated to oddball name changes for everyone in the game. It was something that extended down to the European flyer which described our heroes and touched on the backstory.
Even the story as told in the game was heavily altered by these changes for the West creating the impression that ancient China was under threat from the Mongols instead of being a slice from the Three Kingdoms era more than a thousand years before Genghis Khan was even born.
Yet sharp eyed fans might recognize familiar faces from Dynasty Wars’ roster. Portor’s portrait gave him away as Kuan Yu (Guan Yu in Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Kassar was Shang Fei (Zhang Fei from Romance). Mongolian-sounding Subutai was Shao Yun (Zhao Yun, again from Romance). Two new characters were Abaka (Wei Yan from Romance) and Kadan (Huang Zhong from Romance). Liu Bei from the first game is now Kuan-Ti (he sits the game out, though). Even the villains went through name changes of their own from their Three Kingdoms counterparts. The main villain, Cao Cao, is instead named Akkila-Orkhan. The Japanese version had its own set of names for each character as well (in Japan, the game was called Tenchi o Kurau 2: Sekiheki no Tatakai or “The Devouring of Heaven and Earth II: Battle of Red Cliffs”).
The story that remains centers around Akkila-Orkhan’s ambition to conquer his neighbors. His country (Wei in the Three Kingdoms version), ruined and drained of resources under his rule, has made him desperate and he intends to take what he needs from everyone else, and the first target is the country of Shang-Lo (Shu Han from the Three Kingdoms). So it’s up to our heroes to stop him in nine stages of side-scrolling battle.
Each character’s fighting style was distinct from the others in typical beat ’em up fashion. Portor brawled with his fists and feet and had great range with both with smooth flowing combos making him a solidly balanced choice. Kassar was also a brawler but a bit more barbaric with a bite attack (the game isn’t shy about blood) and a forward punch. Subutai fought with a sword in hand along with Abaka. Kadan shot enemies with a bow giving him great range, but he doesn’t do a whole lot of damage.
The action was also about as solid as the characters and had all of the recognizable Capcom beat ’em up trademarks like food bursting from barrels and pots (or just left out in the open), weapon drops like swords and hammers, and bosses waiting at the end of every stage. Unlike Dynasty Wars, there was no leveling this time around or hit points to keep track of.
Players started several of the stages on horseback, though if they were knocked off, they could get back on. Bosses also rose in on horses and could be knocked off of those allowing players to take and use them for unique attacks while on horseback. After getting knocked off so many times, though, the horse will bolt and it was up to your default weapons whether they be fists, feet, a sword, or a bow, to deliver the beat down.
The bosses, for the most part, weren’t too dynamic which is awkward to say with a Capcom game. Most simply brought a big weapon and essentially attacked in relatively the same way aided by a ton of NPC mobs. One or two bosses, though, stood out such as the three assassins that fight the player within their own very short stage to a particularly vicious battle with a familiar foe from Dynasty Wars (Li Pu, who in Warriors of Fate is renamed Temujin-Khan…and who is supposed to be Lu Bu from Three Kingdoms) returning for revenge as a clever piece of continuity.
Stages, on the other hand, were a bit more creative in taking the player from mountain paths, forests, flooded villages, battles on flaming ships colliding into each other, to palaces teeming with villains. Two bonus stages also broke up some of the action with an eating contest and a race to destroy as many wooden targets as possible before time runs out.
The variety of peons that come to attack the player have some variety, but not a lot as the game loves to recycle batches of the same ones in the later stages such as the giant “tough guy” thugs that can take some serious damage before going down for the count.
It’s also pretty violent. Certain weapons and attacks can actually split enemies in half. Capcom also dressed up the continue screen, something that would continue with a number of their other beat ’em ups like The Punisher, with a gruesomely bloody picture of your defeated hero (if you were playing alone) as the timer counted down until you dropped the coins needed to save them from death. At that point, you could also choose a different character — in Dynasty Wars, you were locked into whoever you chose to play as from the start.
Warriors of Fate also did something extremely unique with its ending. The final boss, after fighting Temujin-Khan, was Cao Cao who had only a fraction of the health that the other bosses did. The reason was because players needed to beat him down before time ran out and he escaped. If you beat him up, players would get the “good” ending and the land would be united in peace. If they took too long and let Cao Cao escape, he would eventually return stronger than ever and conquer all of China uniting it under his dark rule. It was an amazing bit of player-dependent scripting by breaking away from the fixed narrative of the usual arcade title, a concept that Capcom would rarely revisit later in games such as Battle Circuit which gave the player a choice on whether or not to fight a final boss or not.
Warriors was an amazing departure from Dynasty Wars making the decision to leave that formula behind in favor for the one used in other titles like Knights of the Round with bigger sprites, detailed backdrops, and engaging the player’s motivation to win and score (which was kept when they continued) until the very end. Unlike Dynasty Wars, Warriors of Fate did find its way over to the PlayStation and the Saturn in 1996 but as Japan-only releases. Unfortunately, it wasn’t included in any of the Capcom Classics Collection series like Knights of the Round was which is too bad.
Warriors of Fate was also the last arcade game that Capcom would produce based on Tenchi o Kurau, but the ending was pretty much a definitive finish to the story begun in Dynasty Wars for the arcade crowd. And as far as beat ’em ups went, it was a fine addition to Capcom’s lineup of button mashing action giving players a dramatic, action packed taste of China’s distant past where five heroes stood against an entire kingdom.