Mystery and intrigue surround the period of feudal Japan featured in Shogun: Total War. The images of warriors wielding ancient swords coupled with traditional Japanese music in the soundtrack create an ambience of great importance. The game is both factual and fictional with a portion of the game dedicated to the historical battles of the era.
However, these battles are highly disappointing and not the highlight of the game. Shogun: Total War can be described as chess combined with strategy games like Conquest of the New World. You move your individual armies in groups of 60 men, while adding on to your empire with castles, dojos, docks and farmland.
At the beginning, you begin with a set number of provinces that increase or decrease depending on your success. The map, music and sound effects all make for a rather pleasant but brooding atmosphere. Once you embark into a foreign province, you have the option to declare war and, if you do so, can either play the battle manually or let the computer determine results automatically.
The manual battles are very long and it's difficult to maintain a perspective of what is happening. The characters of your army are very tiny but the surroundings are graphically fantastic. You have several formation options from which to choose and you can strategically set up your army however you like. But, in the end, all it comes down to is you clicking on the other army to attack.
Once you begin actually fighting the other clan, the sounds are very brutal. Screams of pain and sounds of swords tearing into flesh are made excruciatingly obvious in Shogun: Total War during war sequences. This helps to describe the hedonistic nature of feudal Japan and asserts the fact that this game is definitely not for kids.
With all these descriptive war sounds, however, there is very litle to watch. The characters are so tiny they look like little playing cards and when your archers fire at the enemy the arrows look like puny specks of dust in the air. A question you'll no doubt ask yourself is: "If they could create such a wonderful background, why couldn't they have made the characters a little bigger?" This is only one aspect of the game and, with an option for computer-controlled battles, can be ignored.
Most of your time will be spent in building your empire. The first thing you have to do is construct buildings such as large castles and ports so your community can thrive. Another good thing to do is create as many troops as possible. Every time you end your turn, a disembodied voice tells you how your crop yields are doing and whether or not you won or lost a battle.
Each clan has diplomatic capability and quite frequently an emissary from another clan will visit your castle and ask for an audience. When you grant one, you are transported to the Throne Room where the emissary offers his proposal for an alliance which you can either accept or decline.
The characters in the Throne Room are very detailed and look almost real. After the emissary is finished with his business, he walks backwards out of the room carefully and darts in the other direction. The face and movements of the characters are very creepy, almost as if they intend to be deceitful.
Video sequences follow certain problematical events in the game and every so often strange and interesting things happen. For example, your emissary might be stalked by an assassin. When that happens, you see a video of your character with the assassin behind him and if he loses the confrontation, you'll have to create a new one. These little sequences are fun to watch and add some excitement to the game.
Overall, though, Shogun: Total War is a very slow paced game, not unlike many strategy games. The details and images created in Shogun: Total War is commendable. Other than the tiny armies in the fight sequences, every aspect of gameplay is well done. Armies are moved as if picking up a chess piece and moving it to another square, in this case a province.
The video and the Throne Room are all very smooth and mysterious. It's obvious that every detail of the game was carefully considered in relation to historical fact and you'll feel as though you understand feudal Japan a little better after playing. Shogun: Total War is exactly as it seems: violent, chaotic and majestic.
Graphics: Lifelike character portrayals during movie sequences and detailed landscapes during fighting are impressive. However, the actual troops are a little too underdeveloped. It would have been more interesting if you could see what your troops looked like. Also, the appearance doesn't support the vivid sounds.
Sound: This is the best feature of the game. The mysterious Japanese music and voices put you directly into a specific time and place: feudal Japan. The stringed instrument chime after each ended turn is a great idea and the armies you control sound like they're in excruciating pain when losing.
Enjoyment: This is an addictive strategy game. Like Conquest of the New World, you're hooked building societies and watching them rise or fall. The occurences of spies and assassins are also fun to watch. The battle scenes are very long and sometimes get boring but you don't have to watch them as you can have the computer fight the battles automatically. It is a little slow paced but not more so than most other strategy games.
Replay Value: The many different clans and buildings you can create offer a unique game each and every time you play. Although, the different tribes all have the same functions, a determining factor is how much land they have available from the start.
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