“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
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
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
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.