The year is 1467 and the place is Japan. The Emperor has lost his political power and serves as a largely ceremonial religious figurehead. He rules through a great lord known as the Shogun who issues orders through the regional leaders, his Daimyo. However the Daimyo from the far provinces will not obey his commands because he is not the Emperor and there is conquest to be had — what a lark, “we won’t listen to the Emperor because he’s not really in charge and we won’t listen to you because you’re not the Emperor. I didn’t just steal all this land. Pics or it didn’t happen.” You play one of these Daimyo in his bid for domination of all Japan. Battle, negotiate, and backstab your way to the top of the pile.
When they were done making sports games Creative Assembly created Shogun: Total War. At the time Command and Conquer was really popular so they thought it’d be keen to make a similar game. They settled on Sengoku Japan as the setting simply because it was cool and because there were many warring factions that could have potentially been victorious. Utilizing the new 3dfx technology that was becoming available they would make a 3D game. It started off as just a series of battles but Creative Assembly thought the battles were too short to create a substantive game so they created the campaign map which then lead to all the accoutrements that go with it. Shogun: Total War was released on June 13th, 2000. It’s competition was The Misadventures of Tronne Bonne (PS1), Diablo II (PC), and Daikatana (N64).
My cousin and I would play this game a lot when we were young, stupid, and fascinated by samurai. We also, naturally, thought ninja were the coolest thing evar and therefore employed far more than was useful. It soon became a lesson in frustration as we struggled with the UI, were disappointed in how much our ninja were dying, and utterly unable to find victory in battle or commerce. We kept playing it though because we knew that samurai and ninja were cool and therefore this game had to be cool. We still had fun but we never really got anywhere.
If you read my article about Medieval II: Total War then you basically know everything you need to know about this game. Shogun has even fewer tactical options, diplomatic options, or other things to worry about. It’s still split between civil administration and battles but there’s not much more to do than that.
Your armies don’t actually march across the field they just sort of teleport between friendly provinces with ports or any adjacent provinces. This is how all units travel as represented by pieces on the campaign map.
The battle system is very similar to medieval’s except the models look like they were made in 2000 and everything seems less responsive.
The music in this game is pretty solid. It’s sweeping with decent throat singing and fine but simple instrumentation. It’s accentuates but it doesn’t distract. It makes me feel pumped and ready to try to think strategically or think, “If my center could just hold. If it holds then the day is won,” as I start sweating buckets.
The Kensei is a mostly mythic but nevertheless awesome unit. It’s not a squad of men, it’s just one swordsman who has the strength of a squad. It’s incredibly difficult to build up the infrastructure to support one and they’re generally not practical but they’re the best when it comes to holding choke points or other vital areas. Personally, I usually end up giving them silly pet names and keep count of the heads they collect.
It’s incredibly frustrating that you can only engage the enemy Daimyo in diplomacy. If you don’t know where he’s gone then your diplomats will have to scatter to the four winds to find the bastard. If his lands are vast that will make it that much more difficult — and vital — that you find him and if he’s on the move then sometimes it’s just not possible. I guess that’s realistic but it’s super frustrating that his giant army is able to outrun your single traveling diplomat.
Ninja are borderline useless. It’s either they assassinate their target or they die. There’s no middle ground, no failure followed by escape. Because they die so often they’ll never gain the skill they need to assassinate higher skilled targets and then they will never be able to gain it because all the available targets’ skills are too high. What really irks me is that the reward for building the top ninja training facility reward the player with the Legendary Geisha who is a ninja that cannot be killed for failing. They can only be killed via assassination — but I wouldn’t try, I trained 20 ninja to kill one and they all came at her in the same season and they all failed. It’s just frustrating that the investment takes so long to pay off. I just want my ninja to be cool, man.
Sieges don’t work the way you might expect. When your province is attacked your men can defend the field or flee to the castle. But castles can only house so many soldiers. So the AI will choose what soldiers make it to the safety of the walls and the rest die without a fight. How about this? I can fight in the field and my survivors can run to the castle after they get their ass kicked and try to hold out or I can keep 120 guys back their for safekeeping and have the remainder try to win the field.
I have no idea how retraining or restocking units works. I’ve got this badass five swordsmen who have been forged in the blood of their enemies and their friends but how can I keep the legacy of their unit going? What’s even worse is when my army is composed of 20 units which all contain fewer than 20 men because they’re all so thrashed.
If a general reaches a certain level of skill he may unlock the ability to employ Katana Samurai but that’s two ‘ifs’ right there. IF he reaches that skill it MIGHT unlock. I don’t know what the exact unlocking mechanism is but there are some games where I’ve gone in-game years without it triggering.
Shogun: Total War is finally available on Steam for $10 and I’m not sure it’s worth it. Shogun 2 is available for $30 and to me it’s just the better deal. There’s more to do in Shogun 2 and it’s just more fun and interesting. I would definetly say that it’s interesting to look at as a piece of history. It’s only really playable before you play Shogun 2. There’s no going back, Shogun 2 just has so many more quality of life improvements.
Next Week: Tales From the Borderlands