When the first Shogun: Total War came out, its real-time battles made you feel like you were playing through the epic battle scenes from one of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. Shogun 2 is like playing through a new, remastered edition of that game, complete with both the character dramas and the enormous battles. Merging beautiful graphics, scheming generals, improved multiplayer options, and deep strategic gameplay with countless small details that imbue it with historical flavor and drama, Shogun 2 is one of the most captivating strategy games ever made.
SJM seeks SJF. Interests must include poetry, strategy, and the wedge formation.
Like the previous Total War games, Shogun 2 combines a turn-based strategy mode with tactical, real-time battles. The turn-based portion of the game takes place on a gorgeous strategic map that, although limited to the country of Japan (minus Hokkaido), feels every bit as epic as the continent-spanning maps of previous iterations in the series. It is on this magnificent 60-province map of Japan that you make all of your strategic decisions, manage your dynasty, research technologies, build improvements like roads and farms, and direct your armies. When an army engages in combat, you can either use the auto-resolve feature or fight things out in fantastic real-time battles. The goal during real-time battles is to route the enemy army as an attacker and hold out as a defender. Either way, you have to make intelligent use of terrain and unit abilities, keep your flank adequately protected, and do your best to sap the enemy units’ morale before they can get the upper hand.
Shogun 2′s turn-based single-player campaign stands on its own merits as an excellent strategy game. You play as an ambitious daimyo, or leader, of one of the 10 most powerful clans in Japan. Each clan has unique strengths that you have to master if you plan to capture Kyoto, the nation’s capital city, and unify Japan as its new shogun. For instance, the Chosokabe have superior bow infantry, while the Mori are master shipwrights, and the Hojo get building construction bonuses. The choice of clan is an easy one compared to the many difficult decisions you have to make during the campaign. One example is the allocation of your research efforts, which must be carefully divided between the chi and Bushido arts (the civilian and military tech trees, respectively). A strong economy based on chi is needed to pay for a powerful army’s upkeep, but a narrowly focused autocrat, however enlightened, may be overrun by a militaristic brute. Furthermore, sound economic planning is necessary for success. Your economic potential and buildable units are limited by the types of buildings in your provinces. The size of a province’s castle determines the number of possible buildings that may be constructed there. Since larger castles consume more food, you have to carefully plan your upgrades lest you inadvertently cause mass starvation. Temporary prosperity is possible through honorable trade relations with other clans, but these arrangements rarely last.
By law, all Japanese generals must be exceptional orators.
Such concerns coupled with the constant barrage of special events and natural disasters are problematic enough, but the tricky issue of religion is added to this explosive mix. Allowing Nanban, or European, merchants into your cities lets you field units with powerful matchlock firearms, but it also opens up your homogeneous Buddhist society to Christian influences. The growing Christian population has to be either appeased or subdued in some manner. One solution is for the clan to convert to Christianity to unlock powerful European cannons or carracks, but this would outrage the Buddhist population and bring dishonor to the daimyo. The best course of action is to ensure that the majority of the populace follows the daimyo’s faith whether through conversion or isolationism. Angry religious minorities are an Achilles’ heel for any daimyo, so religious and secular grievances must be kept to a minimum lest bloody rebellions ruin your chances of becoming shogun.
In Shogun 2, generals add another level of strategy, as well as some much-appreciated drama. Generals have always been important for maintaining troop morale in the Total War series, but they’ve never had as much character as in Shogun 2. For starters, generals now have a loyalty rating, and one could conceivably turn on you, especially if his overambitious wife is feeding him poisonous ideas. As a result, you need to find some way to keep them loyal. You might give them important positions in the clan, or bring them into your family through marriage or adoption (which works even if the general is only slightly younger than the daimyo). For example, a general’s loyalty improves immensely once he has been entrusted with the clan’s finances. It is vitally important to keep generals around for as long as possible because their combat experience can be used to gain a variety of new skills and followers for the clan’s benefit. For instance, you could increase a general’s poetry skill, giving your clan a research bonus and opening up the path for your general to become a “living treasure” capable of bringing unrestrained jubilation to any province he passes through. Alternatively, you may mold a general into a feared tyrant, an expert at siege warfare, or a near invincible legendary warrior. The general’s retinue, which is increased every few levels, is equally diverse.
Keep an eye on the weather because adverse conditions can cost lives.
His retainers can be people, like a samurai master who gives a melee bonus to all units; animals, such as a lovable monkey; or even inanimate objects, like a Go board, which increases the general’s command ability. These are all in addition to random traits that generals pick up during battles or through marriage. The “fecund wife” trait, which ensures that a general sires many children, is particularly useful for daimyos since they need heirs to carry on their legacy after death. The daimyo’s male children will grow up to become fairly loyal generals, so you want to be blessed with a large brood. In addition to the generals, all special characters, such as the metsuke (inspectors), monks, ninjas, and geisha, gain experience points, skill traits, and a retinue. A Christian missionary, for example, can learn to become a scholar and aid his clan’s chi research, or he can focus his efforts toward proselytizing for Christian faith with the help of his retinue of church notaries and Japanese converts.