Set in the regal turbulence of 12th century Japan, Lords of the Rising Sun is an adventure of honor, power, and vengeance. Players take the role of a young feudal lord destined to reunite the three kingdoms -- or die trying. Like many other Cinemaware titles of its time, this is a game of diverse action and playing styles, designed to provide a well-rounded representation of the life of a noble warrior in medieval Japan.
Much of the game involves leading an army across the countryside, claiming vital towns for supplies in return for protection. When an enemy army is encountered, real-time battle ensues, controlled from a simple, top-down perspective. Other modes of play involve other aspects of the warrior's quest, from action-oriented siege defense to strategic political maneuvers, and players must overcome all obstacles and opponents to unite the people and lead them forward to a new age.
Since Cinemaware took the idea of the interactive movie seriously they've spent much of their time pursuing an interest with the kind of subject matter found at Saturday matinees: Sinbad was a fantastical Far Eastern adventure, Rocket Ranger a camp Forties romp, and The 3 Stooges, pre-war slapstick.
Having seemingly exhausted this source of inspiration they've turned their attention to subject matter of greater scope and depth. Lords Of The Rising Sun is their ambitious attempt to take a Kurosawa-like epic and turn it into entertainment software. This is 'Ran' for 16 bit micros.
Set in Twelfth Century Japan Lords Of The Rising Sun is a tale of warring feudal clans. It follows the fortunes of two brothers in their quest for power by way of a bloody conflict with an opposing clan. The game develops in the style of their earlier work Defender Of The Crown, a polished combination of arcade and role-playing elements, linked by location stills and descriptive narrative. The sum of these parts blends together smoothly to form an impressive whole.
The detailed and, for once, interesting booklet enclosed in the packaging, makes the need to precise the plot superflous. You have a choice of playing either of the two brothers in their attempt to regain power and honour for their family. This is achieved by gaining control of the forts of your enemy, the Minamoto clan. How you do this depends on your blend of strategy and arcade skills. These come into play at various times during the game, particularly if you play Yoshitsune, the more warrior-like of the two brothers.
These take the form of a number of interactive sequences, some of which you can bring on, others you have no control over. Of the latter kind, two spring readily to mind, one when your castle's under siege in which you fire arrows from a castle window at on-rushing warriors. The other occurs when you're surprised by a ninja assassin armed with shurikens - you have to block them with your sword as they're thrown. Miss them and nasty splurts of blood fly out until everything goes red - end of game.
Of the sequences you have control over, there is the retreat when you can charge your horse through troops, fight a battle and, best of all, lay siege to a castle. This takes the form of a small neatly drawn warrior under your control. You have to guide him through the castle grounds to the keep in what rapidly becomes a frantic Gauntletesque battle, sometimes with dozens of opposing troops.
Much of the game though is played from the beautifully drawn map. Lords Of The Rising Sun plays in real time, and the map reflects this as clouds drift across the skies above the archipelago. As you move your forces around you may watch their progress. Sending out scouts for reports on troop movements and positions is crucial, as is regularly reviewing your own forces.
The scope of LOTRS is breathtaking. It truly is an epic in all senses of the word. It takes a grand story with heroic events and gives it tremendous breadth and depth of gameplay. The strategy is absorbing, the arcade interludes relevant and entertaining. There's many hours of enjoyment here.
Visually LOTRS is a truly stunning game. The graphics, both of the arcade sections and of the stills are superb. The latter though are often animated and the silhouetted screens, with their saturated colours are outstanding. They lend the game still more atmosphere. Whilst what sound exists is good - there's an oriental tune, and some sampled battle effects - large patches of the game are played in silence. It's a minor gripe, but some kind of extra aural accompaniment would have added more, say in the way the ethereal soundtrack works with Populous.
Lords Of The Rising Sun ranks as Cinemaware's finest interactive movie yet. It has a superb combination of disparate yet mutually complementary elements that combine to make one of the most comprehensive pieces of entertainment software yet released. Sayonara!
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