Shogun: Total War

Civilization meets Age of Empires!

Released late 1999/early 2000, Shogun: Total War was developed by Creative Assembly and distributed by EA. This was a revolutionary game in that it brought large scale empire building and mashed it into some Real Time Strategy (RTS). While not as an extensive world as Civilization, and while battle is not as ongoing as Age of Empires, it creates a rather satisfying hybrid.

Being a few years old now, the graphics are starting to look tired and old, but you can only make a static map with playing pieces look so good. The battle scenes, however, are, and were always, not so great. The surroundings weren't bad, but pop up was a let down, especially in rain or fog. What really let down the graphics in this section was that despite the fact the battles were in 3D (stiff camera restrictions, but still 3D), the units themselves were 2D. They looked like cardboard cutouts running across a 3D landscape, which wasn't too crash hot to begin with. Although, the game mechanics are somewhat more complex than Age of Empires and others. For example, archers run out of ammo, and formations are a huge consideration - a carefully formed army, with careful unit placements can defeat even the largest army. The soundtrack, however, makes up for this somewhat. The powerful feudal Japan music underscores the heavy feudal Japannese theme, and in battle changes to a frantic score when battle erupts.

Which brings me to another point - Generals and the Daimyo (ruler). When a General wins a battle, assuming he has won more battles than he has lost, he will gain a rank of honour. As explained later on, a general with high honour helps you win battles, primarly by inspiring morale amongst his troops. Your Daimyo acts as a general too, however is much better than normal generals as he inspires far more morale. There is a trade off for this extra morale, however, in that your Daimyo can be killed, and if he has no heirs, your empire will degenerate into rebels and you will lose. There is a low percentage each season that one of your many wives shall give birth to an heir, and once one is born it matures in time. Heirs, and your Daimyo, do not age, simply await for the current Daimyo to die so they may take over the empire.

Although the battles are in real time, the rest of the game is not. It switches to a system highly remiscent of Civilization. Just like in Civilization, you press enter or hit the button to end the current season (obviously there are four seasons). There is a harvest once a year, in which you receive your kokiri (money). There are varying degrees of harvest, ranging from very poor to bumper. This is purely up to chance, you cannot influence whether you will get a good or bad harvest; even farm upgrades only increase the amount you harvest on average, this will still be reduced or increased with a good or bad harvest. This is rather irritating, because for the four seasons you have to manage your spending carefully, and during a war, if you suddenly encounter a bad harvest, you will find yourself incapable of producing reenforcements.

Another let down to the game is the Clans. There are six Clans, and the computer only Rebels. Choosing a Clan gives you a different starting position and slightly varying advantages and disadvantages. All the Clans are balanced, such as if a Clan starts off with only two provences that are seperated, they will have many advantages, such as many starting units or massive bonuses on certain units or game aspects. Other than this, however, there is really no variation between the Clans. They don't have any unique units or special abilities, other than bonuses (i.e. +30% attack with archers). Later, the Portugese and Dutch come bearing gunpowder and, in the Portugese case, Christianity. These races cannot be played, and bear little significance in the game. If a leader builds a Church, he becomes Christian, and may cause his provinces to revolt. He may also use priests as a weapon in order to cause enemies' provinces to revolt. Other than this, the only change the Portugese and Dutch bring is the ability to produce Arquebusiers and Musketeers (gunpowder units).

However, there is still hope for this game. Firstly, its non-linear, so no missions! Although there is no storyline as such, you still have a goal to unite Japan under your rule, after the death of the Shogunate, forging a spot in history for your Clan by conquering every province in Japan. You can play it how you want, and this gives it alot of potential. If you're more of a overall strategy person, you can concern yourself with your empire and choose to have the petty squables over provinces automatically resolved. If you choose so, the honour of your general shall be compared to the honour of the enemy general, then the unit types shall be compared (ex. spearmen do well against cavalry), and finally the size of the armies shall be compared, and casualties calculated. This does not leave it up to blind luck, and a smart ruler will use spies to find out what is in the enemy armies and deploy appropriate counter-troops. It is, however, a more costly procedure than resolving it personally. For those who wish to mix the two genres together, that can also be done. Shogun also caters to anyone simply wishing to get in there and fight a battle, with its Quick Battle option that takes you straight into a battle with random troops. However, such battles aren't nearly as fun as a game of Age of Empires.

There's more to cater to others, such as espionage and covert operations. Ninja and Legendary Geisha can be sent out to assasinate targets. Like generals, they gain honour whenever they succesfully assassinate a target. Once they are at a high level, they can even be ordered to end the life of an enemy Daimyo, and not just a lowly emissary or general. This is another way to win the game, other than crushing all opposition with force and conquering Japan. One can, instead, continue to assassinate a Clan's Daimyo until he has no heirs and his Clan degenerates into rebels. They are then easy pickings, and although one must still conquer all provinces to win, rebels are far less of a challenge than an active Clan. Such assassinations are also accompanied by a rather cool cinematic. Despite all this variation, the game can only be replayed so many times in a row before it becomes tiresome. Best to variate with other games.

Overall, Shogun: Total War is an enjoyable and refreshingly original game. Anyone who is into history, particularly feudal Japan, will be elated by its historical accuracy and heavy theme settings. Fans of empire building, turn based games will find this game homely, while RTS fans will get a kick out of the battle complexities - but then again, some may be turned off by this. For any who are not fans of any of the above, this is still a fun game and is original enough to not be considered either a turn-based strategy nor an RTS. I reccommend this game to anyone, however if I were to buy this now, I would opt for the more modern Medieval: Total War.

Final Verdict:

Graphics: 2.5/5
Sound: 5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Playability: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

Aside from being one of my favorite strategy games, Shogun - Total War also features my favorite video game character of all time: a nameless Samurai general, who served as an honor guard for my Daimyo.

It was my first campaign. I had chosen to play as Clan Uesugi, starting out at the north and east end of the map. I had, from the start, relinquished my holdings in Shinano and Hida, preferring the defensive strength and rich farmlands of Mutsu. For years within the game, I had fought bitterly with Clan Hojo, them trying to gain control of Mutsu, and me trying to gain control of the river province of Musashi, with Kozuke and Shimotsuke trading hands in between the brutal battles.

Our strategies were as different as could be. The Daimyo of Clan Hojo was recruiting conscripts as fast as he could muster them. Peasant spearmen (called "ashigaru") and archers made up the backbone of his armies, and since they were so cheap to recruit, arm, train, and maintain, I was commonly contending with forces of well over 5,000 men. I, on the other hand, went with a quality over quantity approach. My weaponsmiths and armories were hands down the best in Japan. I had the finest trainers in the land, the finest metals, and the rich farmlands and gold mines of my territories gave me plenty of money for recruitment. Displeased with the unreliability of peasant conscripts, I had nary a one recruited in my army, an arrangement which I'm sure was more than amenable to the peasants. Nay, my armies were held together with forces of naginata, well-trained pikemen with well-forged heavy armor, as compared to the thin clothing of the ashigaru. Backing them were the best-trained archers, along with hundreds of heavy calvary, warrior monks, and, of course, my prized unit.

The samurai.

They fought alongside my Daimyo almost from the very beginning. In Shogun, when a unit wins battles, their general gains honour, which increases the effectiveness of the unit. My samurai were very, very honorable. Over time, they began to get impetuous, almost to the point of being irritating. Many a time, I fought a battle where I had been keeping the samurai unit as a reserve, only to look up and find them smashing into the enemy units, cutting with wild abandon, and steadfastly ignoring my orders to disengage. Eventually, the brash tactics of the samurai cut down on their numbers, leaving only the general still alive out of the original sixty men. I kept him next to my Daimyo, trying to keep him alive until I could recruit him another unit to command. Increased rebel activity near my recruiting and training center, the small island of Sado, however, kept me from doing this for some time.

Then came the battle that secured this lone samurai's place as the most stupendously badass character I've ever seen in a video game.

It was a brisk spring morning when Daimyo Hojo led a force of over three thousand peasants to attack Mutsu. I was defending with a force of around nine hundred. I immediately found a handy hillside to defend my territory, forcing the enemy to work uphill. My naginata were packed into tight ranks in front of my spread-out archers, with my warrior monks on my left and right flanks, prepared to sweep around and decimate the enemy conscripts. My army stood patiently in formation, the very epitome of discipline.

The enemy army came into view, stretched out in lines as far as the eye could see. A few scattered units of archers fired arrows ineffectively at my naginata as the peasants began their long charge up the hill. I waited patiently, then sent the order for my archers to fire. Rain upon rain of arrows poured down on the peasants, slowing their climb. Finally, the ashigaru hit the naginata like an ocean wave over rocks, and like a wave over rocks, they broke. The heavily armored naginata cheerfully ignored their ineffectual attacks, and tore through their ranks with glee. The warrior monks were flanking around, and I could see that the enemies morale was faltering.

I sprung the final phase of my trap. Heavy calvary poured out of the trees at the top of the hill, charging into the already faltering enemy forces. It was over before they even got there, as the enemy routed before the horsemen even made it to them.

I chuckled as the army turned to its heels and ran, and recalled my forces to their original formations. Some generals liked to chase down the opposing army as they ran, but I'd defeated many an army by pretending to rout, only to rally on the other side of the map, destroying the newly fatigued and disorganized forces. So I didn't hold much stock in chase tactics.

Once the last horseman had stopped in its formation, I immediately noticed that something was wrong. I could still hear the clash of steel, and the sounds of men dying, and my 'battle active' indicator was lit up. What was going on?

I quickly sent my omnipresent eye across the battlefield, surveying the fleeing troops. All of them were still fleeing for their lives, so they hadn't rallied. I then checked my units, one by one, to make sure all of them had gotten the command to resume formation. They were all there, except... Shit.

I clicked on the unit listing for my single samurai, who I had explicitly ordered to stay at my Daimyo's side, and sent the command to bring my viewpoint straight to him. There he was, katana in hand, miles away from the rest of his army, running like a madman after the nearly 2,000 enemy troops as they fled for their life before him. I frantically issued the command for him to disengage, but he just wouldn't obey, opting instead to wildly chase an entire enemy army back across the map and back into their own territory, hacking them down as he went. There wasn't a thing I could do to stop him. All I could do was watch helplessly as this swarm of enemy troops retreated, my single samurai killing them en masse the entire way. Occasionally, a group of twenty or so men would turn and try to stop him, but he would just slice through them, and keep right on chasing. He was on their heels until the last enemy troop left the map, and I imagine he took the time to yell "and stay out!" in some archaic Japanese dialect before hiking all the way back to the rest of my army to clean the blood of his sword.

When the battle totals came up, I had, of course won. I fell into fits of laughter, though, when I saw the kill total for the lone samurai. He had, completely solo, killed one hundred and ninety seven men. That's right: 197. Over three units had fallen to this man alone.

Eventually, he was killed in combat. He single-handedly attacked two hundred horsemen, against my orders, of course, and had killed almost sixty of them before they finally managed to drop him. It was almost as if his death were an omen; not long after, Mutsu fell. In the attempt to retake it, my Daimyo was killed, and with no heir, my Clan was reduced to rebels and outlaws. The leader of the Hojo Clan eventually became Shogun.

I'm told this entire scenario was due to a bug which allowed Clan Hojo to recruit completely unrealistic numbers of conscript troops.

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