As an adaptation of a novel, Infocom's James Clavell's Shogun is an excellent work. But as a game, it's a fairly bad failure.
The game has the distinction of being one of only three Infocom games with graphics and, for most part, uses them (sparse though they might be) simply to embellish the text-based adventure experience. A few bitmap graphics accompany some of the game's scene descriptions. Although decently drawn with some Japanese stylistic traits, they don't add a lot to the ambiance of the game.
Additionally, there are two parallel borders with Japanese style flower prints, one on each side of the screen. These actually do add a bit to the game's Japanese flavor initially but become quickly overlooked as you concentrate on the text.
As you play the game, it quickly becomes apparent that the designer's first priority is to tell the Shogun story. Thanks to James Clavell's ability as a writer and Infocom's faithfulness to the book's plot, the story the game tells is one of the most well constructed and gripping you'll find in the electronic game world. This comes at a cost, however, as the game sacrifices some puzzle gameplay for the sake of advancing the storyline.
The game is divided into 18 sequential chapters with the only linking factor the overall plot. You don't get to carryover any inventory items from chapter to chapter, only your score, and this can make the game feel like 18 mini-games rather than one unified experience. If you're primarily interested in the puzzle gameplay, this is annoying, but, if you're more interested in the game's storytelling, it won't be such a big deal.
One thing that is such a big deal is the way the puzzles are structured. There are times when, for the sake of sticking to the storyline, the game basically forces you to wait for events to come to you. This may be an effective and accepted way of telling a story in a novel but making you wait during gameplay gives you the feeling you're just a spectator rather than a player.
Another problem is the knowledge the game requires in order to solve its puzzles. The designer's seem to almost assume that you've read the novel or at least watched the television miniseries of Shogun in this regard. Without this knowledge, you're either going to be very confused or frustrated by some of the puzzles or find yourself constantly referring to the hints.
Your enjoyment of the game will be directly related to your feelings about James Clavell's epic novel. If you read and enjoyed it, playing the game will be a great experience. You can live through the adventures of John Blackthorne as if they were your own. On the other hand, if you found the book boring, you wouldn't want to play a game adaptation anyway.
Finally, if you've never read the book, you should seriously consider doing so prior to approaching the game; otherwise, you'll be terribly frustrated by the way the game requires you to magically divine what you should be doing in many instances.
Graphics: Meager bitmap graphics are decent but don't enhance gameplay significantly.
Sound: No sound used in the game.
Enjoyment: The game has a great storyline based on Clavell's epic novel but has some frustrating puzzles.
Replay Value: Story is completely linear and the puzzles have just one solution with some synonym usage.
In this Infocom interactive adaptation of James Clavell's Shogun novel, you play John Blackthorne, the first Englishman to set foot on Japanese soil.
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