Hundred Swords is one of the few games initially made for the Dreamcast in Japan, never localized for console release in North America, and then ported to the PC to make up for lost ground. The real-time strategy game obviously benefits from release to a wider audience on the PC as opposed to the now defunct console system, but must compete in a genre flooding the market. Hundred Swords offers nothing new to the genre, but despite having a fair share of quirks and not being entirely original, is still worth looking into for fans interested in a title with a unique style and story.
The first noticeable problem is the lack of good graphics. When dialogue occurs, large full color drawings of the characters appear on screen, and a number of very nicely done illustrated scenes help tell the story. The primitive 640x480 resolution is locked and can't be changed, which may be understandable since that was the limit for the Dreamcast, but such a low resolution is woefully out of date for the PC. Perhaps developer Smilebit and publisher Activision Value should have updated the graphics, though even at a higher resolution, the result would most likely still be below average.
Gameplay is rather simplistic but fun, especially if you can overlook the shortcomings. The AI is mediocre, both in tactics employed by the CPU against you and in your own units' path finding. You command small regiments of troops instead of individual units, and if units get stuck somewhere they're simply cut off from the rest of the group. While annoying, it's better than having the entire regiment get caught on a tree or some other object on the map. A way point system helps compensate for the poor path finding, but no group selections are available and you can't move units via the mini-map, resulting in some frustration since you can select only one regiment, scroll to their destination, send them there, then repeat the process. Thankfully, regiments can be accessed with a mouse click and isn't too labor intensive.
The meat of the game is the campaign, featuring an intriguing story that unfolds throughout that provides good motivation to play. Hundred Swords successfully integrates a story worthy of a console role playing game into a real-time strategy setting. If you get bored with the campaign mode, or simply want something a bit different, a good selection of single scenarios is available, and for the sake of variety, some of the stand-alone missions can be played with armies you're fighting against in the campaign.
Missions are a standard RTS mix, consisting usually of pre-attack base building or progressing through a mission with only a select number of units with no capability to produce backups. This tried-and-true formula is not handled any better or worse than most similar games in the genre. Battles are fun and can reach large scales, and while they might not achieve Shogun: Total War proportions, it's possible for the unit count to hit triple digits. Cavalry, mage, archer, and infantry units have specific strengths and weaknesses and each regiment has a commander. If he dies, he goes back to base, if one is available, and can be resurrected at a cost. Winning or losing typically boils down to which player's base is razed the fastest and whose troops die the quickest.
The multiplayer component allows up to four players to butt heads via LAN or a direct TCP/IP connection, but is hardly stellar. With no specific online servers supporting the game, hooking up multiplayer bouts is tough. In fact, the setup nearly forces you to limit fights to friends as opposed to random online opponents.
The MSRP for this budget-priced game ($20) indicates the effort spent on porting the title to the PC and is hard to argue with considering the good story. While Hundred Swords hardly distinguishes itself from other RTS games, the engaging story coupled with surprisingly good gameplay in an otherwise average title makes it a good budget acquisition.
Graphics: The locked 640x480 resolution graphics are not comparable to more modern titles. Hand-painted illustrations for characters and story sequences are done well, but the game has an overall crude look.
Sound: A good sound track pulls the audio aspect out of mediocrity. Sound effects, such as swords clashing and the sounds of soldiers dying, are inconsistent in quality and run the gamut from good to below average.
Enjoyment: The story is quite exceptional and, while gameplay isn't innovative, it's still enjoyable for the most part. The multiplayer component would have been helped greatly by dedicated servers.
Replay Value: Beating the campaign once leaves little reason to replay. Single scenarios provide some delay in wiping the game from your hard drive, but the sub-par multiplayer mode won't be a factor in keeping it installed.
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