Written by  :  Ray Soderlund (3609)
Written on  :  Mar 24, 2000
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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Like a superb blade, beautiful in its simple effectiveness

The Good

First off, I will admit a certain biased nature. I love Japanese culture, especially the samurai...and especially the events of the Sengoku (Warring States) period. So this game was created with me in mind.

Despite a general public fascination with the period, there are few games based on the subject and only a select few are worthy of mention. Lords of the Rising Sun (for the Amiga), Conquest of Japan, Kesmai's Nobunaga's Ambition Series, and the upcoming Shogun:Total War are the highlights. Sword of the Samurai is definitely among them.

Although simplified, the game captures many of the spirits of samurai culture. Tea Ceremonies, politcal backstabbing, and the maintenance of one's perceived honor are abound. In fact, honor is as important to raising and keeping your position as is the amount of land you own and the size of your army. There is more to this game than simple action. If you aren't already familar with Japanese culture, you will come away with a little bit of education.

Much like its spiritual older kin, Pirates!, Sword of the Samurai tries to be part action, part strategy, part role-playing game, part asset managment. Although it doesn't do it as effectively as its much more famous counterpart, SoS does succeed at its attempt, something few modern games have accomplished.

The overhead melee battles, while plain by today's standards, captures the feeling of 'one against many' that is often found in historical tales and Kurosawa films of the period. While the AI is primitive, it is enjoyable to watch the enemy try to flank you...or run in terror as you decide to bravely attack them with your sword instead of picking them off with you bow.

The whole concept that you not only play your main character, but each male heir in his family line is refreshing and provides a good way of giving a player 'extra lives' with minimal penalty. It also captures the whole Japanese mentality of 'family over self'. For fun, play an evil samurai who does dastardly deeds and get caught.True to life, not only do you suffer, but your entire family is put to the sword.

Written by the master,Sid Meier, the duel sequence is at first seemingly simplistic, but like many things Asian, hides much more under its surface.

Like most Microprose literature from those by gone days, the manual is excellently written, not only supplying you with what you need to win the game, but given you a complete and interesting number of chapters on the background of Japan in the 16th century.

Best of all, the game still runs fine on modern machines, although you may not get sound if you soundcard doesn't emulate the basic old classic sound cards.

The Bad

Simply put, the game suffers mainly from its age.

Many aspects of the game are repetitious. Despite randomly generated locales, the melee battles often feel the same, the duels become a matter of doing what you have learned works, and the battles easy if you are properly prepared. General dialogue trees are often limited to 'what will avoid the situation/lower honor' and 'what will engage me in situation/potentially win me honor'. It would have been nice for more verbal situations, as such were the case in the period. After all, samurai could lose honor more quickly by being inconsiderate and behaving improperly than from a loss on the battlefield.

Because you will have to duel many people, engage many in melee, and fight exhaustive battle after exhaustive battle, the repetition becomes painfully obvious...so much that by the time you're a daimyo vying for power, you will find yourself relegating most of the encounters to an underling solely because you don't want to have to have to go through anymore.

The game suffers from the lack of media space of the day. Your dueling opponent always looks the same, whether he be a crazed Ninja or a wandering swordsman. The image for you and your kin is always identical, making you wonder if your family invented cloning. Fief management is perhaps too macro-managed.

With some more depth added and the available space of a CD, many of this game's issues could be resolved.

The Bottom Line

While its age shows thoroughly, the beauty of its design stands as a testament that age doesn't always matter. A fan of Japanese culture and samurai should give this one a shot and at least play it through to its conclusion once. No means a masterpiece, Sword of the Samurai is one of the best unknown games of its time.