Sengoku Review

By Colin Tan on September 21, 2011

Do you enjoy a rather dense immersion into the history of Japan? Specifically, the Sengoku period? If so, then you might very well enjoy Paradox Interactive's latest strategy game aptly dubbed Sengoku. It's not your typical real-time strategy experience and there is a whole lot more to the war than simply flexing your military might. However, Sengoku will definitely try your patience and determination as you vie with rival warlords to become the next Shogun of Japan.

Set during the Sengoku Period, otherwise known as the Warring States period, Japan is at its peak of constant war and social revolt. This is the period of time in Japan that eventually leads up to the Tokugawa era. However, that's enough of the history lessons. Sengoku puts players into the shoes of one of the smaller lords with aspirations to become the next Shogunate. Unlike other games of the same genre "“ that being said quite liberally, players will get to choose key characters to play as and the campaign will roll out accordingly.

The goal is simple: become the next Shogun to rule over Japan. The journey there? That's an entirely different story. Players will find that raising armies and besieging castles simply isn't enough nor are they the only ways to conquer enemies. At your disposal are numerous tactics, including forging alliances, plotting against fellow feudal lords, diplomacy and even arranged marriages. It's important to keep track of all of these. While your armies lay siege to an enemy castle, you may attempt to forge a peace treaty by exchanging hostages or setting up your son for marriage, securing your family's rule as well as the inheritance that follows.

Sengoku

The game takes place in pseudo-real-time, where days, months, years and even decades and generations can pass before your campaign ends in success. Notable family members can die, you can die, leaving everything up to your first-born son. Don't have a son? Then it's time to get busy, else risk forfeiting everything to rival clans. With that said, time can be paused if things begin to get out of hand and micro/macro-managing your family and its ambitions become a dizzying undertaking "“ which tends to be more frequent then appreciated.

Unlike most real-time strategy games on the market, Sengoku does just about everything very, very differently. It's an entirely menu-based experience and there are a lot of menus to sift through. For the newly inaugurated strategist (even veterans might need to take a step back to absorb everything), it's a very dense game to jump into. It'll take quite a bit of time before getting into the swing of things as learning how all the mechanics and systems work can prove to be a challenge in and of itself. Each core tactic generally has a menu whereby players can manage just about any aspect of the respective tactic. Raising armies and hiring Ronin can be managed through the Military menu, whereas arranging marriages or exchanging hostages can be set up in the respective Diplomacy menu. Players will even find a Plot menu where key figures plot against the other.Unfortunately, players shouldn't expect to be using their keyboards as often as they'd like as Sengoku is largely a point-and-click affair. It doesn't help that the menus look extremely cluttered and looking for the right information is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The game map is a full 3D representation of Japan and players will be able to zoom in and rotate on any desired location. In addition, the map can be viewed through a multitude of colour-coded filters, enabling players to quickly see strategically important aspects of clans, military campaigns and the like. Armies are represented with single troops bearing the flags and crests of their clan while castles and trees line the nation's topography.

The entire campaign can be described as being based on how much wealth and Honor you hold. Wealth is self-explanatory, land, gold, possessions and whatnot constitute this aspect of the game whereas Honor is earned based on your relations with other regions and families. Building up a good relation with other clans can increase your Honor, which can then be spent on certain actions such as declaring war against a rival clan. It is possible to lose Honor even into negative figures, resulting in your person committing Seppuku "“ otherwise known as ritual suicide via disembowelment. Honor can be lost from failed plot attempts or waging war one too many times.

Simply put, diplomacy is clearly the largest aspect of Sengoku and the game tries quite hard to have players put it to full use. However, the task is literally a long, arduous process as results may not be seen for generations to come. Wars can last years while diplomatic solutions take generations to take effect. That's not necessarily a bad thing, in fact the moment you delve deep into the game is the moment you really begin to enjoy it despite its faults. However, getting that deep is quite challenging, especially for those not familiar with the strategy genre.

Sengoku keeps its aesthetics quite simple. A definite plus considering the amount of information it throws at you. As mentioned earlier, the map denotes important strategic information and can be filtered through with a variety of colour filters. The graphics themselves aren't anything impressive, but they do more than enough to give players what they need. I'm afraid to say that if it were anything more fancy, it would more than likely make the game a much more confusing experience than what it already is. The soundtrack is a lovely mix of traditional Japanese compositions and does well to make you feel like you're a part of the time period.

Final Thoughts

All in all, Sengoku is a game targeted at a very specific market. It's definitely not a game just anyone can get into, even for the most hardcore of strategists. The game presents a very fresh and different take on the real-time strategy genre "“ albeit a very slow and meticulous take, but for all its ambition it's not without any downfalls. Patience is a virtue, but Sengoku takes it to another level. Military and diplomatic solutions take years to see effect while plotting and sowing dissent in the regions controlled by rival clans are high risk activities. Sifting through the amount of information and menus to get things done can be a dizzying task. Regardless, it's a strangely satisfying feeling when you see your influence over Japan increase slowly, but surely, over the years until you finally become Shogun.

A very fresh take on the real-time strategy genre.
In-depth mechanics offer a multitude of solutions for your campaign.
Gives players a good look at the Sengoku period in Japan.
UI is cluttered and it's hard to sift through all the information, making things confusing.
A very slow and meticulous campaign, not recommended for those looking for some action.
Largely point-and-click, keyboard bindings are far and few between.
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