Dynasty Warriors is like a 3kg bag of conchiglie. The logic behind this simile is simple.
Yesterday, my wife and I finished a 3 kg bag of pasta shells. That's nearly 7 pounds of dried pasta. We've had it for four years. It is, I'm quite sure, the largest bag of comestibles we've ever worked our way through. Now it must be said, we've eaten other pastas in the past four years - we've had lasagne, and tagliatelle, and penne and macaroni and even spirelli - but the 3 kg bag of conchiglie has always been there.
Yesterday, my wife and I started another chapter in our long love affair with the Dynasty Warriors franchise. We started playing the add on pack for Dynasty Warriors 3 (painfully dubbed Xtreme Legends). We've not wholly completed Dynasty Warriors 3 yet, but we've been playing it for about 70 hours, over two or three years, and had about 20 hours left. The add on provides an additional 20 hours play, roughly, but re-energises the play (slightly) with some new items to find.
A 3kg bag of pasta works because you don't eat pasta for every meal. It's okay to have a bag of dried food last 4 years when you are in control of when and how you choose to eat it.
The 100 hours of play in the Dynasty Warriors games works because you don't play Dynasty Warriors every day. A full game mode takes 3-4 hours. You can insert this between any other game you are playing, and achieve a satisfying closure at the end of it. (You need to like the core play of the game, of course - and to really enjoy the game, you need to be familiar with the history of the Three Kingdoms so that, a priori, each of the dozens of characters mean something to you).
For my wife and I, and doubtless many other working adults, a 100 hour cRPG is like being made to eat pasta every meal of every day for a month. You can't dip into it when you want to, like a Musou mode in Dynasty Warriors (which is never going to be more than a 4 hour commitment) - it requires you to constantly and consistently plug at it day in, day out. This is great, if you have plenty of time on your hands. Not so great for working into your every day life.
The structure of Dynasty Warriors (4th edition not withstanding), or Shin Sangoku Musou - "Dream of the Three Kingdoms" - is brilliantly realised. Not only does the player get plenty of choice as to the identity and abilities of their avatar (several dozen are included in each version), they get complete games in a space of 4 hours or less, but with an overall play window stretching out over years for the dedicated player. I believe this has contributed significantly to the success of the franchise - although as already noted, it exports poorly to the West. In China, Japan and the surrounding region, the exploits of heroes such as Guan Yu, Lu Bu and Kongming are as or more famous than the tales of Arthur and his knights are here. (A statue of Guan Yu can be found outside of every police station in Hong Kong, for instance - these are, in the truest sense, legendary figures from history).
The genius of the Dynasty Warriors structure is in efficient reuse of resources. Nothing is wasted; everything is reused repeatedly. And if, like my wife and I, you enjoy the core gameplay, the result is a game that stays in circulation for a very long time indeed, despite having a fraction of the budget of other games with long play windows. (GTA San Andreas probably has 5 times Koei's budget, for instance - possibly more).
It has been suggested that the monolithic potboiler structure of cRPGs is part of their appeal to key elements of their audience (the audience wants to sink themselves into something huge), and I'm prepared to believe this is so. But is there not a place in the market for a cRPG which you can complete in 4 hours - but return to a dozen times to get a slightly different story? Would this not have been a good structure to use with the Lord of the Rings licenses? It's a shame we'll never get to make Gods & Monsters, our Greek mythology "buddy movie" battle game - although who in the Western gaming audience really knows who Atalanta, Telamon or Peleus are?
Too many games have the structure of a three inch thick novel, not enough have the structure of a 3kg bag of conchiglie.