Set in the period of Japanese history known as the Sengoku Jidai, or Age of Civil War, Shadow of the Shogun does a good job of providing a deep tactical experience,although this comes at a cost.
The game, developed by Byzantine Games and published by Slitherine, is at it’s heart a tactical battle simulator, with some elements of strategy. As I said, the game’s focus is the battles. There is a campaign map, but it’s just a zoomed in map of the regions making up whichever scenario you play, with a couple of markers showing your armies and your opponents. There’s not much else really to say about the map. At first, I thought it seemed like maybe it had just been thrown together, and that it seemed a little pointless. I still think it’s a little superficial and could have perhaps been taken out of the game without losing much.
However, the point of the map is simply to give you a greater choice of where and when you want to fight. While this may not be the most efficient way to draw the player in, it’s good to see that the development team clearly put some thought into creating a more immersive experience.
The majority of your time with this game will be taken up by selecting a scenario, of which there’s a respectable number. While the game is titled Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun, there’s also the Imjin War, which was when the Japanese invaded Korea, which led China to step in and fight them off, with a couple of other lesser wars and conflicts available. Each of these major wars is broken into a couple of other scenarios, and you’re able to choose your side in the war to come, as well as to customise your starting army.
Once you’ve picked a scenario and engaged in a battle, you’ll find a detailed, varied and interesting battle map, full of forests, hills, mountains,villages and other things, each of which will have some sort of impact on any troops passing through.The map’s are really nicely designed, and there’s a real sense of reward for being able to position troops in the right places, which is something the game makes a point of showing the importance of, although it’s also nicely balanced in that a battle can still be won even if you’re at a disadvantage.
The units, and indeed the majority of the game, are very reminiscent of Pike and Shot, which makes sense as this game is being developed by a former P&S modder. There’s a really good variety of units available to you, and they’re pretty accurately depicted. It’s also good that they’ve included a lot of information about each unit, to make it more obvious to the player that the unit they’re looking it is experienced, armored, equipped with swords and bows and so on, making them more effective than another unit that only has bows and is in it’s first fight. The unit’s do have a bit of a learning curve to them, as you’ll have to learn quite quickly how to counter any troops the enemy has, as well as attack ranges, movement allowance and all the other odds and ends that make up your forces statistics. Take my word for it when I say that trying to overwhelm a strong unit with superior numbers of inferior troops doesn’t always mean a win.
There’s not really anything spectacular in Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun. That’s not a criticism, if anything this works in the games favour. While the controls take a bit of getting used to, the developers have done a really good job of making sure that it’s not pointlessly complicated, and the same could be said for the vast majority of the game. There’s never a point in time where I was playing and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. There’s no real gimmick to this game, because there doesn’t need to be. The history, and what is a fairly authentic simulation of it, is what brought this game to the dance, and that’s something that you can really tell the dev team wanted to stick to.
Without being too vague and wishy-washy, this is a good game that is purely good because it doesn’t throw ton’s of information at you, it doesn’t overwhelm you with options and situations. Everything that’s in this game is there for a good reason, and it fits nicely. Sure, a game like this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and for those that don’t have much interest in the era, or in this type of game are going to really struggle to see the value that’s present here. But for the Samurai fanatics, and Pike and Shot enthusiasts, you could do a lot worse than to at least take a look when the full game unlocks on May 19th.
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