Simple, but seductive. Game addiction at its finest.
I've played two versions of this game, the PC version and the SNES one.
I haven't run across the genesis version so don't assume it's identical. While ultimately game play is the same on both the SNES and PC versions, the SNES version looks better, due to less pixelated art.
When it comes to battles this seemed to make things a bit easier to. The PC version battle map is presented at an angle, while the SNES version is just side to side. Considering how the position of your units on the battlefield can be important in some situations, and it is easier to eye up the position of units with the SNES version, it makes it better version to me. You may feel differently.
Both the PC and SNES versions have a great intro, the PC version being a little bit longer and more informative, but both do a good job of introducing you to Genghis Khan.
Lastly the SNES version had better music. I didn't find anything memorable about the tunes in the PC version, while the totally different soundtrack of the SNES version fits the theme better. I'd be surprised if anyone disagreed on this point.
Now what is good about the game?
You start with the option to play three different scenarios. The first choice is to play in Mongolia before Genghis Khan united its tribes, back when he was merely known as Temujin. Here you may choose Temujin, or some of the other warlords. This is perhaps the hardest map, considering almost everyone has access to the same units, and to actually defeat every other single war-lord before you grow too old and die is nearly impossible.
Not to mention that if you do complete this scenario you will go into the second scenario automatically, which changes the scale from one country to the entire old world! While it is possible to accomplish winning two games in a row, it is going to take a really long time and could be nearly impossible.
As mentioned, the second scenario is the entire world map right after Genghis Khan united the tribes and began his conquest of the world. If you choose to forgo trying to complete the first scenario, and skip to this one you will likely never want to go back and play the first.
One big reason is you can play some of the other nations. This was the most interesting map in the game in my opinion, since you may choose Japan, or England as well as two other Asian nations plus Genghis. All of them are spread out nicely, and in the case of England or Japan, you start with a great position. Borders are of extreme importance in this game as with most of Koei's games.
The third map is the same as before, but about 60 to 80 years later. After Genghis died and the nation of Mongolia had fallen in size from the massive amount of territory Genghis had managed to take in his somewhat short but amazingly successful life. Now Kublai Khan, one of Genghis' grandsons, has taken the reins. This map is the easiest for a new player if they choose to play Kublai, otherwise known as the Yuan Dynasty, since you start the game with about five countries. More then any other starting nation!
Not as interesting an era, since most of the nations you can play here had very little impact on history, except perhaps Japan, France and Kublai. That would depend on how you look at world history though.
Game play is very easy to get the hang of at first. At the start of each turn, which is one season, you are given a new set of health points to work with. A young strong man should have about 13 to 15 points, while a aged leader who is dying might be as low as 8 or less and sometimes you will run across generals with even lower hit points. I've seen as low as 6, which from the standpoint of a ruler or lord is effectively useless.
But these points are not the only thing that determines how much you can do in a turn. You also have four statistics. Politics, War, Leadership and Charm. These are rated on a simple scale of A to E. A is the best of the best with honors in that skill and very rare, E means you really stink at the skill.
If the character has A in leadership for example, any task which requires good leadership takes less hit points to do. Obviously a highly skilled and healthy ruler can make a big difference, and the computer AI is fully aware of this. Most of the skill and hit point poor rulers will have there countries taken over, unless they have some really good generals.
Don't completely panic if you somehow end up with a ruler who has an E in every skill if he also has 15 health points, since you can still do a fair amount per turn, just not nearly as much as a highly skilled character.
The real challenge can be to find generals with high skills and hit points. If you try to recruit from your own country, most of the time you get someone with very poor skills, and sometimes low hit points.
The general situation is a good example of one of the small details in this game that makes it interesting to play. Most of the time, your best chance of getting a "okay" general from your own country is to recruit the first man you encounter. If you send him away then the next best choice will come up to bat. Obviously he was the second choice, so he will almost always be not quite as talented. But not always.
Going along with this, if you manage to capture any generals you defeat, they can be recruited, freed, or executed. These men tend to have good stats, but they are also enemy generals. How far should you trust them?
You can also get the chance to recruit a general from a territory when you take it. These men, while not from your homeland are less likely to stab in you the back.
Yet another option is to have a son, wait until he is old enough, and make him a general. He will usually look like you, have stats close to yours and are completely loyal. However sometimes they are disappointments. These prince generals have another use, as they are the only ones who can take your place if you are killed or die. If you have more then one son when you die you choose one over another to become ruler, then the other sons while incapable of becoming the next lord, will still remain 100% loyal. This is also true of generals who marry a daughter. They can't take the throne, but they won't betray you now.
While having children isn't a new feature to Koei games, children are important and this game handled it in a simple yet effective way. You must have a son in case you die, but you can only have children by spending time with your family. Its usually an easy thing, unless your wife either doesn't like you or seems to be nearly barren. I've never quite understood this but I have had characters who's wife would be happy to see him almost every time, yet only had one child. Its an odd dose of reality in a way.
How children turn out also appears to be random. While daughters don't really have any purpose other then to be married off once they are old enough, sons are very important, and what there skill levels will be seem to be something you can't change or alter. Sometimes they are better then you are, sometimes worse. I've tried spending more time with the family in hopes of effecting the outcome, but I never could tell it did any good.
In an attempt to sum up, while building an army, nation and ultimately a true world power, is your goal, you must focus on these little things like family to hope to win. While some might find this annoying, I think its what makes this game so addictive.
Lastly, while battle itself is prettily simplistic seeming for most Koei games, it can still be worth your time to play out. Actually building an army isn't that hard. You must first gain enough gold to recruit units, then train and arm them. Training, while free, takes time. Arms are always expensive, and can only be purchased from traders who sometimes only seem to show up when the going rate is high. It can take years for a good deal to come along, or happen when you least expect it.
But not every 20 unit army with full training and arms will be a force to fear.
This is because of the different types of units. For example, Mongolia can build Mongols. (Duh?) Japan, Samurai units. China, Cannon units. Most of the western Europe countries build knights, pike men and long bowmen. There are quite a few more unique units who have there own uses in battle as well as weaknesses.
If you are willing to pay the price, you can hire mercenary units from the area a trader is from. So, it's possible for a western European nation to stock up on nomadic warriors and cannons, but doing that is usually expensive. All the special units are more expensive then average or light units, but there usefulness makes up for the price. Losing them in mass then, obviously, can really hurt.
A knight for example has the most devastating charge attack in the game. Mongols have the most movement points, good close in fighting skill and can use bows. Samurai are much like Mongols, but are not as mobile. Cannons, which can be wiped out at close range by even a simple unit like archers, have a downright scary distance attack. So yeah, just because the enemy has 20 fully trained and armed units, doesn't mean he is unstoppable. Samurai, while dangerous, aren't as deadly as Mongols. Knights can't take a charge as well as they dish it out. To go into more detail would ruin the fun of learning.
With all the different unit types, combat can become complicated. Thankfully this game takes all the above mentioned features plus more, and blends them nicely together.
After such a good review, what could be bad? Actually there are a few things that could have been different.
For example, combat really cried out to take place on bigger map areas. So many of the tactics the Mongol horde actually used are impossible due to this size constraint.
It would have been nice to know if your wife was pregnant, and how far along her pregnancy was going, since it would really have saved you from having to visit her while trying to have a child.
The ability to make a general a prince also would have been nice, just in case you where to old to have children or your wife was unable to.
Being able to train one of your sons, instead of just hoping they don't turn out a dud. While the game tries to offer you the ability to learn what your child will be like through random comments by your wife when the boy is still at home, it never gives you the whole picture until they are already generals.
More diplomacy options would also have been nice. I would have liked to have been able to trade with nearby countries directly, instead of having to go through the traders who only visited some of the time.
Considering how many different types of items one can sell or buy at a merchant, it would have been interesting if these items had some in game effect. For example, furs that could effect how bad your nation is effected by blizzards. Perhaps owning lots of medicine if you are old could keep you alive a bit longer, or help your people if a plague struck?
Small things, I know, but considering how many little details where already in this game, why couldn't they have added more?
The Bottom Line
4 out of 5
The game needed more features to have made it truly fantastic but it was well balanced. Nothing too hard, nothing too easy. If only they had kept at this series and made more sequels like they did with Nobunaga's Ambition.
One last point. While the original game is more complicated then this sequel and about as addictive, this one plays a little "smoother". If you liked the original, you will either love the ease of play of this sequel or hate the dumbing down from the first. It took me a while to decide, but the better graphics certainly helped.