The best strategy title for 8-bit consoles.
The graphics in Genghis Khan (GK) are actually pretty good for a text-heavy game. The character portraits in particular are a really nice touch, as they help inject some personality into what would otherwise be an overly spreadsheet-like game. Another nice feature is the battery backup for saving your progress. It’s an absolutely essential feature, since completing a campaign takes a very long time.
The game concept is simply outstanding. Who wouldn’t want to step into the shoes of the infamous Genghis Khan and try to duplicate his ludicrously successful military career? This theme/setting will probably be more interesting to Western gamers than those of Nobunaga’s Ambition (Japan) and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China).
Excellent role-playing elements abound. Character development is probably the central aspect of the game,
a feature that definitely set GK apart from its contemporaries. Dynastic decision-making is very engaging and challenging. Marry your daughters off to your most valued generals, and you guarantee their loyalty. Promote your sons to Prince to make them a general or governor, or groom them for eventual succession to the throne. Characters even grow old and die – if they aren’t killed by your enemies first. Great stuff!
There are tons of decisions to be made: allocate personnel to industries and the military, tax and spend funds, appoint and manage provincial governors, trade various goods, buy weapons, build armies, play the espionage game (spy and counter-spy, complete with dirty tricks), and engage in diplomacy. But the key to GK’s success is that you simply can’t do *all* of it, even if you want to. Your ability points are depleted with every action, and you will need to spend time building up you own skills periodically, in addition to training your princes and troops. It simulates the limitations of leadership in a realistic way, and it’s a very clever game mechanic. Too bad the designers of Master of Orion 3 didn’t copy this system…
The turn-based battles make sense. Cavalry, infantry, and archers all have special tactical abilities (speed, ambush, and ranged attack, respectively) that encourage use of combined arms. You can organize your forces however you like, dividing your army up on a percentage basis into units of whatever type you choose.
The diplomatic subgame is simple but elegant. You can demand (or pay) tribute, and you can form non-aggression pacts that cannot be broken for a set number of years. This is a good way to protect your flanks while you pick off your most serious enemies. It may sound pretty basic nowadays, but it seemed sophisticated before Sid Meier’s Civilization and Master of Orion came out.
It’s hard to summarize all of the features of Genghis Khan in a review. There are a lot of ingredients in it, and the final product has a very distinctive flavor. Few strategy games place such heavy emphasis on character development, family ties, and honor. I’ll just have to say that if you like serious strategy titles, and the subject matter interests you at all, you definitely should get GK and check it all out for yourself.
Ok, there are some minor drawbacks to GK that I have to acknowledge. The interface is rather clunky; the limitations of the 8-bit console platform are really exposed here. A mouse-and-keyboard based approach would have been much better, but then again, who in the world had a mouse and keyboard for their NES? Also, the music and sounds aren’t really bad, but they get old fast. I spent most of my time playing GK with the volume off and my stereo system on.
It isn’t clear to me why you are limited to just 4 possible countries in World Conquest mode. It can’t be because they are well-balanced. With its lucrative silk trade, it’s far too easy to win the game as Japan. (Isn’t Koei a Japanese developer? What a coincidence!) Genghis Khan’s Mongolia and King Richard’s England are much more challenging by comparison.
I’m all for family values, but rebellions by non-relatives are a bit too frequent. You start to get really tired of going to the battle screen repeatedly just to swat those annoying little flies. In fact, battles can become tedious in general. They are quite frequent, and they are very time consuming. You can delegate warfare to your generals, but it’s a costly move, as they don’t perform all that well. The computer opponents can be baited into traps fairly easily in battle, which gives the human player a pretty big edge.
The trade system is nice, but it becomes less of a pleasure and more of a distraction in the late game. And the endgame definitely drags, particularly in the World Conquest mode, when you know you’ve got the game won, and there isn’t much to look forward to after that. This is very typical of 4X and conquer-the-world games, but it’s still a problem.
You can only save ONE game at a time. Grateful as I am that you don’t have to copy down a 100 digit password, I sure wish I could save more than one measly game!
Finally, the amazing depth of GK could be seen as a negative. The game is so complex, and there are so many options, that less experienced strategy gamers might be turned off. I soaked it all in and enjoyed doing it, but I’m weird like that.
The Bottom Line
Before I discovered the incomparable Civilization, THIS was the strategy game I spent the most time with. Hours and hours spent happily conquering Mongolia and the rest of the Eastern Hemisphere. Genghis Khan was the best, and most accessible, Koei title to date when it was released. While it has aged a bit, it is still a remarkably deep and interesting game. The king of 8-bit console strategy, hands down.