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Sword of the Samurai (DOS)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.7
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Written by  :  Terry Callahan (67)
Written on  :  Mar 13, 2009
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
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Summary

One of the best Samurai games ever!

The Good

This game has the words 'awesome' written all over it, from the very start to the very finish, this game has challenges and features that even after playing it repeatedly for years on end I have yet to see everything it has!

The start of the game features you as a lowly samurai from a barely known family inheriting your father's fief to serve your clan. Which clan is that, you might ask? Well let me tell you something... this game has just about EVERY Japanese clan in every Japanese province of the feudal period! Seriously, each one with their own strengths and weaknesses and with their own terrain for virtually unlimited challenge and variety. The difficulty levels also have their own share of deviousness, but you have to ask yourself this one single question... are you tough enough to handle the No-dachi difficulty? Under that particular level, some of the mini-games become nearly impossible to finish and completing them consistently then would make you a god of this game and deserving of all the respect that that station has.

So how do you play the game? How do you get to number one? That's the really cool thing about it, you can practically do it in any way you want, from treachery and deceit, to being fair and honorable, to a mixture of the two in various degrees. You can roam the countryside fighting random challenges to increase your swordsmanship ability and honor, take on bold deeds whenever your lord calls you to it, or even have a go at attacking an enemy clan member in the same treacherous stuff that you do to your own annoying clan members except you get praise for it.

The mini-games include road, rice field, village, and castle skirmishes, duels, and battles, each one requiring a different tactic to complete successfully, and no matter how many times you've played them, you always feel that same great feeling of satisfaction when you hear the victory music coming on and see the beautifully made screen signifying that you've won.

So what kind of samurai are you? Are you the type who prefers honor and diplomacy, or are you the one who would rather cut throats and throw anyone that gets in your way out the hard way and make sure they never get up again? Or a combination of both. Some rival is above you, or below you, but constantly threatening you? Well you could do the 'honorable' thing of being upfront about it, insult them and hope they challenge you to a duel, where you could then kill them... or maybe your abilities as a swordsman are too good and theirs aren't, so they back down and are humiliated, thus making your status much higher. Or you could sneak into their homes and assassinate them secretly... or do something that would dishonor them (which could be a surprising number of things) or kidnap a relative of theirs that you can hold for ransom, or you attack them with your army, although you need a strong justification for that, and defeat them on the battlefield. But beware, if they hold your relatives hostage, they might kill them in retaliation. These are just some of the variety that you can find in the game just in dealing with SOME of the challenges.

Everything in the game depends on your samurai and how well you develop them, this adds an RPG element to the already expansive political, strategic, and action-based game play. How well would your army fight in battle? Its not just how well you use them or how big they are, but the most important factor is your generalship. Drilling your soldiers constantly (then testing them in real battle) to get your stat high is the key to winning the majority of battles with minimal causalities. There are also other stats, land management, honor, swordsmanship and the number of soldiers at your disposal. All could be reduced and increased accordingly depending on either your actions, or your character aging. That's right, your character gets older and as he does, his mental and physical skills decrease and you might even have to retire and let your heir (you did remember to get married and have kids, didntcha?) take over... and his skills are proportionate to your own, but if you let him have it too young, he won't be nearly as good if he was older, but then again, younger means more time to make up for it.

There's just so many of these little things and options that I could literally write all day about it. The dynamics between your own clan members can be very interesting. Just as you can assassinate, insult and dishonor your clan members and vice versa, they can do it to one another just as well! While some of the events are fairly rare in their occurrence, I have seen some of them happen and it is just interesting to see what goes on. Plus there comes the enemy clan member, he can attack you just as you attack him... and you can decide to go over and show him a thing or two in covert style kidnapping and murder. You want to be friends with your clan members? Well you can invite them for tea, intermarry, and if they're too stubborn for that, when they're attacked my marauders, you can send your own army to help, thus forcing a slightly better relationship with them.

The main goal of the game is to become Shogun of Japan, and in order to make it there, you need to be the Daimyo of your clan. When starting out, you're just the stooge of a lieutenant of a Daimyo, but as you rise up the ranks, you can wait for the lieutenant to die (in various ways) or you can expedite his demise by assassinating him, not the most honorable of actions, but to quote the old mafia saying 'you're only guilty if you're caught', thus leaving no witnesses means no one will ever know...

Playing as the lieutenant is fundamentally the same, except you're no longer dealing with other simply samurai, but all your opponents are lieutenants themselves. The biggest difference is the fact that you can have a larger army than before, and... well, the succession is mildly different. For one thing, if you don't want to wait for him to die, you don't need to be deceptive to bump him off, you can be overt about it! If your army is large enough, you can attack him directly, then go into the 'sneak' mode inside the castle and finish him off, and no one will argue with you that you are, in fact, the new ruler of the clan.

But if you don't do this, there will be an interest situation if you murder him or he dies normally... since he was the big boss of the clan with no one above him, how would the clan figure out who gets the position? You can make a claim 'I want to be the Daimyo' and if your stats are maxed out, no will argue with you, but if there's a strong competitor, you might have to fight a battle with him to get it... or if you aren't strong enough to have a say, and two different people are fighting for it (with the third guy being allied to one of them) you can vote for the underdog, thus making it two-against-two and you will fight a battle supporting that guy, and if you win, you will be rewarded by the winner.

Being shogun is even cooler. Not only is searching for 'random encounters' a ton easier (they come to you) but you need to start taking over independent clans or clans ruled by a named guy (your rivals), and everything else is just on a far larger scale as you claw, fight and deceive your way to victory... with a few different ways of doing it, too! Take over every province, or just get enough to declare yourself shogun, then bump off the rest in one big battle. Naturally, the former takes longer, but it will make for more finishing points.

Once you're done, you not only get a final scroll showing your statistics, but also how long your dynasty lasts... did you ever make it to having it last 300 years? I never did, but I came dangerously close...

The Bad

There isn't really anything bad to say about this game. Seriously, it's one of the best done I've ever seen in my life! I played it near religiously as a kid, and I continue to do so more than any other retro game. I must have finished it over a hundred times by now to some degree.

If I can say something bad, its the fact that this game was so criminally underrated and unknown that it wasn't funny. Just thinking of the old Pirates remake back in 2004 makes me think... dude, why didn't they remake THIS game! Even a near word-for-word remake would still be awesome. Or better yet, remade and updated, with a new battle system similar to the Total War series, a more streamlined political system (more than just tea with your friends and helping them out in battle), as well as more improved 'stealth' based fighting when you're sneaking around.

Other than that, I suppose I could nitpick some stuff, largely because the game has so much to it I was surprised that some features were not implemented. For one thing, why can't you hire ninjas to attack your enemies? There are Ninjas in the game and there is a skirmish battle when you need to deal with them in a village, as well as when an clan member is trying to kill/dishonor you or kidnap a relative. Double this point for when you're Daimyo.

Another thing I can nitpick is the enemy clan member... you can assassinate him or kidnap a relative of his, but for some reason, you can't dishonor him. Why? Seriously, the political system between clans could have been improved, making more use of deception, alliances, or at least something of that sort. If a remake was ever made, this is one of the parts that need to be dealt with the most.

The Bottom Line

Look at a Japanese portrait of a samurai, now imagine yourself playing as one. Nuff said. ;)