Shogun: Total War - game review

Date: 2001-02-23 14:41:00
The review was based on the PC version.

“The year is 1530. For the past 200 years, Japan has been ruled by the Ashikaga shogunate, with its capital at Kyoto. The recent onin war has shown that the Ashikaga no longer have power over the great clans. The time has come for a new fighter to claim the title of Shogun. "

These words begin the intro to the campaign in the game: Shogun - Total War. A game unique for many reasons, taking us to a distant time and place.

Medieval Japan torn between clans, ruled by brutal magnates called Dajmio. The time in which the creators put the game is the most turbulent and bloody period in the history of Japan, known as Sengoku Jidai - the age of a country engulfed in war. Age of shameful fratricidal wars devastating the country and its inhabitants. The times of this period we could see in the great works of Akiro Kurosawa or the popular series "Shogun" with Richard Chamberlain in the lead role. For us, these are primarily the times of the Samurai or Ninjas, which many of us are fascinated with. From the history of our country, we also remember the bloody period of the division of Poland into principalities, where every feudal who had a piece of land and some army dreamed of hegemony on the scale of the entire country. Vanity and lust for power pushed to fight, betrayal, and in many cases death and the end of their families.

The game greatly simplifies the political situation of Japan at that time, offering us seven families plus rebels. In fact, there were many more, but those that were the clans of the most important feudal lords until 1570. The provinces and their borders from that period are well mapped, but the power over them by individual clans, as the game shows, has little to do with historical truth. Personally, I would add four more clans and try to better place them on the map of Japan.

All this, however, for many will not matter much because the game is really great fun for long evenings. The creators of the game deserve special recognition, as they gave us a product of the highest quality. A wonderfully thought-out game that combines two strategies, turn-based and real-time. All this is located in a country so distant for us, along with its legendary warriors. Also for the distributor of the game on the Polish market, the IM Group company deserves a lot of applause for a very nice edition of the game and its location. It is a pity that the publisher did not include samurai swords in such a nice box with the game :)

Shogun - Total War knocks down its atmosphere, where at the very beginning we see a samurai practicing against the background of the rising sun, along with suggestive music, it strongly stimulates our imagination by pushing us deeper into the armchair. But this is just the beginning, a moment later we see the game menu placed on a piece of papyrus. The background is a red, silk fabric on which we see the moving shadows of warriors going to fight another battle - a revelation. Everything is complemented by perfectly selected music, which encourages us to play even more. Even the shape of the font we see was chosen properly.

We can choose a full campaign, i.e. the conquest of Japan at the head of our chosen family. In addition to the main four-level difficulty mode of the game, the choice of the clan is important because it indirectly determines the degree of complexity of the game due to the geopolitical position in which we start. You can also create your own battle and practice the tactics that interest you on 85 different maps, or watch 7,680 samurai in action for pleasure. This is what we can bring into battle to the maximum, and it looks stunning !!! We can also play one of the six historical battles prepared by the game's authors. Definitely not enough for such a game because the Sengoku Jidai period lasted from 1467 to 1615 and it is hard for me to believe that only 6 important battles were fought during this time. In 1467, two armies met in Kyoto, the Yamana Clan gathered 80,000 samurai and the Hosokawa Clan 85,000. Yes, yes, 165,000 peasants faced each other, and although they never clashed directly, this gives an idea of the greatness of the feudal rulers. It was just the beginning, as historical legends speak of battles as great as larger. For example, I will mention that in 1614 I'ejasu gathered 150,000 soldiers who besieged Osaka Castle for a year, the castle's crew numbered 70,000. We have a total of 220,000 people involved in one battle !!! Not only that, they were clan troops, not country troops. At that time, battles were fought in Europe where the total of fighting each other did not exceed 30,000 troops, and these were the armies of the kingdoms. We, on the other hand, can be proud of the Battle of Grunwald, where, according to various sources, a total of 45,000 to 60,000 troops fought, and it was at the very beginning of the 15th century, we were told to wait for the next such battles in Europe until the mid-17th century, more importantly they took place with our participation.

Another possibility is a multiplayer game where we can play a battle with a friend or colleagues on the local network, or fight on the Internet on the EA Play server. This is where we face a great disappointment, we cannot play the full campaign in multiplayer mode !!! This is a big minus, how nice it would be to fight for full power with living opponents, everyone who has experienced a game with another person knows it. The battles fought would also be much more dramatic as one side has to lose. Whether it was such a big problem for the developers of the game why they did not choose this option - it remains a mystery to me. So we only have the option to play a single battle, which is a tiny substitute for what could happen in a full campaign. Nevertheless, even such a single, very limited battle gives the players a lot of emotions.

Another menu item is the tutorial, which perfectly introduces and explains the rules of controlling and conducting battles. By completing all the lessons, we will master and learn the rules of the game and controls - painlessly and very quickly, to the extent that allows you to immediately fight. Only our imagination, wisdom and cunning will decide about our victory or defeat. A must for beginners in medieval Japan.

Other menu items are, of course, modifications to the game parameters: graphics, sound, controls, as well as direct links to updates via the Internet from the official website of the game developers. The whole menu of the game is aesthetic, nice and understandable, without any problems and we quickly reach the options we are interested in.

The main game in Shogun - Total War is a full campaign, where at the beginning we have to choose the Clan under the banner of which we want to fight for the title of Shogun. I warn you that the choice of the clan is important. It determines the starting position in the game, which is not the same for all Houses. This gives you additional options to modify the difficulty level in the game. So it all happens on two levels: strategic and tactical.

At the strategic level, the game takes place in turns - four per year, we see a map of Japan divided into provinces and zones of influence of individual Clans. Graphically, it looks very nice, like specific chess pieces, and still maintains that great atmosphere of medieval Japan. The music and sounds you hear correspond to the seasons of the year. It is here that we decide on the deployment of our troops and attacks, buildings erected in selected provinces, as well as the training of given units. We also observe the movements of our neighbors, we choose targets for Ninja or Geisha, we decide on taxes. Generally, therefore, we conduct a broadly understood policy of our Family, so that it grows in power and has enough to eat. Diplomacy is an important element of politics, but completely neglected in this game. The only thing we can do with our envoy is to propose an alliance, or to respond to such a proposal, accepting it or not. Worse, it doesn't matter, our allies have the unpleasant trait of breaking them off too often. We cannot propose joint warfare, or even guarantee neutrality towards our actions. We also cannot support the allied Dajmio with our units by giving them under his command when his strength is weakening and we care about his life. Not out of sympathy or a good heart, but so that battles could be fought in its lands. By protecting our own from the flames of war, while he bleeds himself and his opponent, we grow in strength. We also have Shinobi units - secret police that spies and fights spies, improves morale and lowers in enemy provinces. Wouldn't it be useful if they could still sabotage? eg set fire to a dojo or other important building? This would make the gameplay more dramatic and interesting. We can only spy on, incite rebellion, order a murder or prevent it at home. The rest is well thought out, and the computer can check our moves and effectively fight for its own.

The tactical level is a real-time game, wonderfully realized battles in which thousands of soldiers can take part, in a wonderfully realized scenery. Music is a great idea here and it changes depending on the situation. When the armies come together it is serious, even monumental. When a short circuit occurs, it sounds loud and accelerates, like in an epic blockbuster straight from Hollywood. This is what it looks like, stunning !!! Ranks of full armor samurai, each with a distinctive pennant. When they regroup, they do it with extreme precision, just like in a parade. Battles take place in different weather conditions and in different seasons. The thunderstorm made the biggest impression on me, the sound of the lightning makes an electrifying impression with this characteristic crack :) I remember how during this storm six hundred horses charged on my foot, from the impression ... the cup fell out of my hand. Also when it gets cloudy, you have the impression that it suddenly becomes cooler. There is also fog on the battlefields, it can be so dense that the armies suddenly collide with each other. In winter, the visual impressions are also very interesting, you just have to see it for yourself, it cannot be described. Changing weather conditions are a great way to hide your army, as are trees or topography. They can also ruin our plans when we put the musketeers to fight and it starts to rain - we lost because they will not fire any volleys. Snow, on the other hand, tires our units faster and it is much more difficult to attack and easier to defend. Another great idea is the limited field of view, we don't see enemy units right away. As in reality, the eyesight does not reach infinitely far, and unfavorable weather conditions make it even more difficult for us. The scale and magnitude of the battle allows you to use a variety of tactics, the possibilities are enough so that no battle looks the same. A controversial solution for many players are two-dimensional characters of warriors, some complain that everything is 3D and what is most important is not. Others are happy because thanks to this, the game runs even on the old P200 MMX, and if we still have the simplest 3D accelerator, it's full of happiness. In my opinion, this is a good solution, fear to think what equipment would be needed to smoothly move 7,680 samurai conjured in 3D. Anyway, despite the two-dimensional nature of the warriors, I have not seen a better-made real-time strategy. The more so that we observe the battlefield suspended in space, freely moving in all three dimensions. A great idea is to use the rules of Sun Tzu - a great Chinese strategist, a contemporary of Confucius - in the game's algorithms. He compiled and wrote a book on the principles of the war craft, and it is according to these principles that the computer conducts combat. In the medieval land of the rising sun, this book was a bestseller among the rulers of the time. Every Dajmio had to know the principles of Sun Tzu. That is why the civil war lasted so long. Interestingly, despite the fact that over the centuries we have changed weapons and packed everything with processors, the principles of Sun Tzu can be successfully applied on the modern battlefield. This book is timeless and brilliant, and its excerpts can be read in the appendix to the game called: "DROGA DAJMIO". It's worth taking the time to read it, when I read it, I finally started winning in expert mode and understood the game perfectly. You will make a big mistake not reading this. There we find a historical outline of Japan, the reasons for the conflict, which is the background for the game. Information about units, structures, tactics and many other interesting matters. This is where another praise should be given to the creators who play the game. They can effectively encourage people to search for information about the history of Japan and its culture, and they themselves provide a lot of interesting information.

The game is all about Kok, you can't go without him. What is that? A measure of wealth, which is the amount of rice needed to feed one man over the course of a year. Everything in the game is converted into koku, crops from fields, wealth from mines, trade income, construction and training costs. If we want to win, we have to collect a lot of it, it is not enough that we are geniuses of strategy, so what if we do not have an army to prove it. Koku in the game is not an invention of its creators, in medieval Japan it was in fact the basic unit of measure of wealth, although money was also minted in the form we know, coins. According to the sources I have found, the coconut is 1.80391 hl. A bit low for a year, huh? By the way, the topic of nutrition in those days is very interesting in itself.

Another important factor in the game is Honor - it is everything for a Samurai. Units that we command in battles and their commanders gain or lose honor as a result of our actions. It has a decisive influence on the course of the battle, the higher it is, the easier it is to chase the enemy away and win. You can win battles even when your opponent has a significant advantage in numbers, it is enough to have an army with high honor. Commanders and our Dajmio have an honor bonus, which is an indicator of how much the honor of units increases when they are under his command. Additionally, it can be obtained by building appropriate buildings in the province. From the very start, the unit has a consistently high value. All of this also works the other way around, if an army commander loses a lot of battles, it has a demoralizing effect on the troops he commands and lowers their honor. When he loses a lot of it, he has to commit ritual suicide. So take care of your soldiers and protect the best commanders.

Another element that complements the atmosphere of the game are animated films, excellently produced. They show the course of the Ninja or Geisha coup, you can also watch how we save our honor by committing ritual seppuku, as well as a funeral and the assumption of power by a son. Also the Intro and Outro for the full campaign deserve a lot of applause and words of praise for the way they start and end the game.

Shogun - Total War is hard to compare with any other game, because the whole is one of a kind, you could only compare individual elements of the game. I just remembered playing something similar about 10 years ago on the good old lady Amiga. It was probably a "Centurion" game, and here too the game was turn-based on the map and RTS in battle. Of course, the level of complexity and strategic opportunities was poor, but the idea was the same.

To sum up: Shogun - Total War is an extremely interesting position, it perfectly fills the gap in historical and strategic games, dealing with fascinating times in such an exotic place for us. Perfectly realized both in terms of themes and graphics. Finally, a game that teaches and encourages my own research has made me read three books on the history of Japan, I am finishing the fourth one, and more are waiting in line. Currently, I am so fascinated by the history and culture of the Japanese nation that I cannot talk about anything else. Additional knowledge never gets in the way and it can be useful in the least expected moment of life, for example in millionaires :) I sincerely hope that the game will initiate a series of similar strategies, showing other nations with an equally detailed historical background. We already have a substitute because in May 2001, Shogun - Total War, The Mongolian Invasion will be released. It will be a game about the times before Sengoku Jidai, the hero will probably be the Hojo clan, which in fact repelled the hordes of invaders from the continent. It would be nice to lead the armies of Alexander the Great, the Hittites, Genghis Khan, and finally the Roman legions, and perhaps, together with Napoleon, to conquer great Russia. On the occasion of this great fun, gain basic historical knowledge. Going further, perhaps an editor would be useful to fight the Battle of Grunwald alongside Jagiełło, or to march (or not) with Jan III Sobieski to the relief of Vienna.

Technically the game is very stable, I had no problems with it and I was running it on at least five different computers that differed greatly in their hardware configuration. It works flawlessly and undesirable surprises, both in single and multiplayer games, in the LAN and the Internet.

Summing up, the game receives an overall rating of 90% for me, I am waiting for minor bugs to be corrected in subsequent editions or additions. Shogun - Total War is definitely a game that will go down in history and will be the benchmark of comparisons for many similar games, setting the bar very high.

Many thanks to the expert on the subject, which is my Sensei: Mr. Marek Grosz for short but very interesting and informative talks about the history, culture and customs of the peoples of Japan and China. Also for help in reaching interesting publications, the knowledge of which I did not use to a large extent in this review, and these are:

I highly recommend the above-mentioned items to all interested parties !!!

I say goodbye with the words of Sun Tzu:

"There are roads that should not be followed, armies that should not be attacked, fortresses that should not be besieged, territories that should not be fought over, ordinances that should not be followed."

ZawaR