The fighting system in Dynasty Warriors is fairly complex. All combat is weapon-based, similar to the Soulcalibur series. The player's aim is to parry the enemy's strikes with considerable timing and recognition, leaving the enemy vulnerable to attack. The stages are in morning, noon, and dusk.
In Japan, the game was released as Sangokumusou. With the next installment in the series a departure in genre and style from the original Dynasty Warriors, it was entitled Shin Sangokumusou in Japan. In Europe and North America, the game was released as Dynasty Warriors 2, leading to the discrepancy in title numbers.
The game features 16 characters, six of whom are hidden by default. These characters are mainly historical figures from the Three Kingdoms era of China, though two characters; Nobunaga and Toukichi are figures from the Warring States period of Japan; two of them only appear in the first game and Koei's Samurai Warriors. Unlike in future games, the characters are not grouped into factions; each have individual slots similar to most fighting games.