You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Shogun: Total War.
Real time Strategists have always looked for the next great battle for them to partake in. Be it the fields of Azaroth, or the Tiberium laced plains, all the great RTS’s have a sense of fun and excitement that gives them a life of their own. But one thing has usually been absent from this, and that is the historical RTS. Oh, you had Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, and what not to contend with, but they sort of bastardized the history aspects to cater to the more fantastical elements at time. Not the Total War Series, though.
The entire PC Total War Series takes us from Ancient Rome, to the Medieval Period, and in this first incarnation, Feudal Japan, in historically accurate settings and battles. There is no magic to be cast, no Tiberium to mine, not even secret level 50 elves you can recruit. All you have is your controlled lands, your taxes, and a standing army.
Shogun was unique primarily due to the entire system set up in the game. Most of the preparation is a turn based strategy game over a map of Feudal Japan during the Sengoku Jiadi, or the warring age of Japan. A Daimyo, or general, from a specific clan controls each province, and your job is to rise above the rest and take control of Japan using strategy, diplomacy, and brute force if necessary.
Since the game has turn based elements, it can go at a snails pace. Moving your armies from province to the battlefield takes preparation, especially since numbers and troop types are important in your success. You can also spy on the enemy using Shinobi, send an ambassador to negotiate peace, trade with the Dutch settlers if you own a port, even send a Ninja out to, in some truly cool cutscenes, kill or be killed in an assassination attempt on the enemy Daimyo.
This all costs money, however. And to get that money you need to tax what you own. You also need to set up irrigation systems for farmers, ceremonies for the populace, and build respected dojo’s for each of the numerous unit types to even create a disciplined regiment to fight on your behalf. The people will become unruly if you mistreat them, so you need to have prudence and be very cautious as to how you approach a situation, especially if you can’t afford your troops.
While the overall presentation to the turn based sections is fantastic, it’s the battle stages that really shine. Each battle is conducted on a large field almost in real time, with each individual troop being represented and accounted for. That’s right, even Joe peasant in the back of the line is there, and his head can be cut off just as easily as your general’s. The action becomes frantic when in these stages, but even here strategic use of the terrain and your units can win you the day. Each unit has a counterbalance, kind of like a game of rock paper and scissors. Archers can destroy spearmen units, while spearmen can fillet the cavalry, and the cavalry run through the archers. Borrowing the fire emblem technique of complex fighting through a simple mechanic, it avoids the pitfall of having experienced, hardened units overpowering a weaker unit, something that plagues most RTS games. Instead, even the lowliest unit is represented here, and can make the difference between success and defeat.
Graphically though, the game is not the best. While everyone is shown on the field, the animations are primitive and sometimes collide with each other, making it a hilarious affair to see a samurai do a mini jig before he falls to the floor dead. The only differentiating you have at times is the standard bearer, who acts as the unit icon, but when the action is thick, it’s hard to see anything or make any cohesion as to what troops need to be pulled out and who needs to get in. The environments have little detail to them, except when there dotted with the corpses of the fallen samurai, and despite the cool representation of each warrior, it just looks ugly when compared to other RTS games of the day. The game also had a lot of graphical issues, mainly with the interface between sessions. There would be major clipping and slowdown in the options and scenario menu’s, which was really annoying and otherwise, tarnishes the overall look of the game.
Soundwise, the game was passable as well. The period music was pretty cool, and it has some awesome works that make you feel like you’re in an Akira Kurosawa movie. But, with each good piece of music, come the repetitive pieces of music that begin to grate the ears. The sound effects are also very standard and forgettable.
While the multi-player support for Shogun: Total War has ended, the campaigns that can be conducted have not. Shogun: Total War was the first of a new RTS, a historical one that pays attention to details, that rewards smart taxation, and that has you care about every last troop you send into battle, because every man counts, be it dying in the fight, or living to see another one. The amount of detail was staggering, and while the presentation was somewhat lacking, the game ushered in a new RTS champion, one that people still use extensively, especially as they eagerly anticipate the next chapter in the series.
Final Score- B+