Hack and Slash: A brief look

Hack and slash games are tons of fun to play, whether you’re busy dishing out painful retribution in Dante’s Inferno, or taking the piss out of the gods in God of War, the satisfaction and ability of being able to just decimate your foes with each push of a button solidifies this genre to be a class of its own.

As an avid gamer, I play and enjoy many games, but time to time there will come an urge within where I want to play a good hack and slash game. And there are many of them out there, from powerhouse titles like Devil May Cry to the simpler indie games like, Hack Slash Crawl. But how did the term hack and slash come to be? And what is a hack and slash game?

Looking back into history, Hack and Slash is a term which finds its roots in the old “pen and paper” RPG’s like Dungeons & Dragons. It was used initially to describe the campaign players would be involved in, which as the name describes it to be, one with minimal to no story but tons of battles to be in. The earliest quote of this can be found in a D&D Dragon Magazine article from the 1980’s, by editors, Jean Wells and Kim Mohan.

“There is great potential for more than hacking and slashing in D&D or AD&D:”

The article goes further, reporting of a D&D player who is described as a hack and slash type player in tournaments. From there the term grew to mean either a character or a situation that involved the use of weapons and combat.

Later on, the term hack and slash, transitioned from tabletop games to video games, since many of the earlier video games had visuals and game play styles similar to D&D games. The term was often coined to reference early 2D beat-em-up’s that included optional weapons in them, as well as action games such as Golden Axe and Final Fight. Bear in mind, that beat-em-up games were games where the players characters only used martial arts with fists or kicks like in River City Ransom, only if the game has weapons for the players to use was the term appropriate in its description.

Then came the console era, where consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the SEGA Master System gave everyone the option to enjoy their favorite arcade games in their very own homes. It was here at this point where hack and slash games started branching away from the beat-em-ups, to become its own genre. Games such as Ninja Gaiden and Magic Sword had player characters that exclusively used weapons, which allowed the term to stand on its own.

A few years after the expansive explosion of 3D games came into play with more advanced consoles like the Playstation and the Nintendo 64, hack and slash games were given more breathing space to work in and gave rise to many opportunities in giving players a whole new range of options and challenges. When compared to the 2D side-scrollers, weapons used usually gave a few short combos or just additional reach and damage, the modern counterpart to these games which are in 3D, have progressed to allowing players the use of many different weapons, a mixture of combos as well as the need to consider the game’s environments, allowing varied game play and also encourages the player to experiment how to use them best, making for a complex and a deeper, satisfying experience. On PC, games like Diablo and Divine Divinity were hallmarks in this accord.

Today we consider hack and slash to be a distinct genre, mainly for 3D games in a third person perspective with weapons and beat-em-up action in the style of Dragons Dogma, Onimusha, and Prince of Persia. These games have come very far and each one brings its own unique style with it, but they all still fall in the same category. Whether the action is slow and more strategic, like in Demons Souls, wide and expansive like Dynasty Warriors or fast paced with heart pounding action like Devil May Cry, a hack and slash game is there to deliver the experience of epic battles, played out with a character skilled in the use of weapons.

So the next time you play another hack and slash game, take the time to appreciate it for more than just the carnage and action it offers. Each and every game has a rich history within them, and it’s a ton more fun when you know the story, or at least it’ll give you the upper hand the next time someone starts a nerdy discussion on the origin of games, by which when they’re still processing all the info, you can swiftly knock them out cold with the closest possible weapon at hand and get back to your game.


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