reviews\ Jun 25, 2000 at 8:00 pm

Shogun: Total War - PC - Review

“When the world is at peace, a gentleman keeps his sword by his side.” - Wu Tsu.

The dead and dying litter the battlefield, yet still the war continues. Samurai, musketeers, and cavalry clash, the din of war fills ears as thousands of warriors react to the whim of the daimyo or warlord. But you must use your troops well, or they will cease to follow you. The enemy is strong, but only through your strength of will, your knowledge of battle will Japan unite under one flag.

Shogun Total War is the latest release from Dreamtime Interactive and Electronic Arts, and is a magnificent 3D-rendered real-time strategy game that combines incredible animations, solid sounds and seamless gameplay. Cecil B. DeMille epic movies - or, to some extent and in keeping with the theme of this program, Akira Kurosawa (the famous Japanese director whose film, “The Seven Samurai,” was later subverted, changed historical periods and presented as the famous American western, “The Magnificent Seven”) - boasted casts in the thousands. What Shogun Total War offers is indeed a cast of thousands.

The time period is the Sengoku Jidai, the Japanese civil war in which samurai under the commands of six daimyo battled to elevate one to the level of shogun, or commander of all of Japan. There is definitely a learning curve with this program. The enemy is smart, adaptive and won’t give you much of a break, even at the easier difficulty levels. But then, what would you expect when the AI (artificial intelligence) is based on Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” one of the definitive writings about warfare.

“A general of great merit should be said to be a man who has met with at least one great defeat.” - Asakura Soteki

Perhaps what sets this program apart from other RTS-genre games is the overall scope. Most RTS products are limited to small-scale fights against a scrolling background. Shogun employs three-dimensional graphical map elements, but has tweaked the engine to enable thousands of individually animated warriors to appear on the monitor simultaneously. It can be a little overwhelming. There is so much to do, so much to pay attention to that you can quickly lose your way.

If you have played other games in this genre, you will pick up the controls easily. Almost all of the units are grouped as units and are ordered into the battle as such. However, the trick is to find the right combination in the battle. For example, if a cavalry unit is attacking, you don’t want to face them with no-dachi samurai (foot soldiers wielding swords). It is better to take the brunt of the charge with pikes. Archers should find higher ground to fight from, preferably to the rear of the units who fight face-to-face. And then, of course, there is the element of the musket.

Shogun will allow you to develop your technology, in the manner of civ games, but if you devote too much time to that, and not enough to training your troops and protecting your lands, you will become a small fish in a warring nation very quickly.

The game also offers intrigue. You can be diplomat, or send ninja to do your dirty work. Of course, every shogun needs an heir to maintain the ruling line. If one is born (which does happen), you must protect that child. Battle fronts are multiple, and you must be aware of being attacked with forces and subterfuge.

While the sound of this program is quite wonderful, the more stunning aspect is the graphical elements. Each warrior is an animated sprite. Their movements are amazing and there is a tendency just to watch them in battle, rather than moving onto the overview position and continuing to command troops.

“Many men feel that they should act according to the time or the moment they are facing, and thus are in confusion when something goes beyond this and some difficulty arises.” - The Chikubasho of Shiba Yoshimasa

There are three game modes in Shogun Total War: the full campaign (a mix of battle and resource management), historical battles (which re-enact the campaigns of four daimyos - Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, Tokugawa Ieyashu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi - during 30 of Japan’s most battle-fraught years), or custom (which allows you to design your own campaign).

Most of the controls are keyboard-centered, or a combination of keyboard and mouse control. The monitor allows easy access to troops through a series of flags dotting the bottom of the screen which represent your units. Overall, the options package is sound. You can even set the speech for Japanese with subtitles for a very authentic experience. (Ok, the subtitles aren’t that authentic, but unless you speak Japanese, you might want to know what they are saying.) There is a tutorial that will walk you through the basics of battle, and this is highly recommended for newer players.

Overall, Shogun Total War is a rich, dynamic program full of history and accented with multiple challenges that will keep any RTS player on his or her toes. From the Tranquil Garden and Tea House, to the Citadel, the design of this program is first-rate.

This program is rated T for teen due to animated blood and animated violence. It does support multiplayer gaming through a LAN or Internet connection.


Install: Hard. Forget what the box says, the minimum install for this game is 500 megs; normal install is 600 megs and full is 1.4 gigs of space. That takes time and lacks anything worth looking at. The normal install on a machine using basic system requirements will take time.

Gameplay: 9. This is panoramic, seamless and amazing to witness.

Graphics: 9.5. Just watching the tiny troops is a thrill in itself. The scenery may be a little weak, comparatively speaking, but still gives the rich feeling of the time and place.

Sound: 8. Very solid.

Difficulty: 9. This program does not give the game player many breaks. It is a continual challenge, whether you are working in the battle modes, or trying to build up your resources.

Concept: 8.5. The historical aspect of this program clearly marks it ahead of most of its competitors.

Overall: 9.5. The scope of this program is fantastic. The period detailed is rich, not only in the mode of battle, but in the surrounding aspects - from the intrigue of geisha assassins, to the introduction of Jesuit priests who try to convert you from Buddhist teachings to Christianity. In the realm of RTS games, Electronic Arts has produced, well, the Shogun - at least for now.


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