The Total War series of games have a reputation in the strategy gaming space for their bombastic, larger-than-life, but simultaneously grounded depiction of history. Mechanically, they mix sweeping turn-based strategy campaigning with real-time tactical battles between huge armies in a way which is rarely seen elsewhere, despite its great financial and critical success. Shogun was the first Total War. It's simplistic in comparison and might even seem crude next to its sequels, but to my mind it feels like a game with nothing missing, nothing much that could be improved upon beyond its badly-aged user-interface, and nothing to apologise for. A rare pure game. A rare complete game. It's confident, bold, and every Total War game since has lived in its long, dark ō-yoroi-clad shadow.
I don't really remember what age I was when I bought the Sold Out version of Shogun for a tenner from the GAME on Frederick Street in Edinburgh. Perhaps 8 or 9. (The shop isn't there anymore, but there's another just around the corner. Brick-and-mortar retail is rubbish for PC games these days anyway.) I played the shit out of it. My brother played the shit out of it. I sat over his shoulder and watched him play the shit out of it. Vice versa. It was a Good Time. It made a pretty deep impression in my mind, painting a land where honourable samurai fought in pitched battles, where ninja assassinated leaders while shinobi spied and tried to track them down. A beautiful land beset by brutal conflict. A real place and time, brought to life and made interactive. This game alone is probably a big part of why I started wanting to make games when I grew up, one of my formative games, I guess.
Point is, the second paragraph might just be nostalgia speaking. Then again, it might not be. Everything I said might actually be true. Finding out the reality is what this campaign diary is all about.
The Age of the Country at War
The game doesn't aim to be historically authentic. Instead, it takes the flavour of the history, the images it conjures in mind and feelings it generates, and pours them into the mould of a game. Stories are simplified or exploded. Ideas are picked up and run with as long as they create interesting gameplay and then, delicately, put back down. The impossibly complex graph of different factions, clans, families and individuals who vied for power and survival is boiled down to 7 playable clans which the player can take control of, who divide up the map of Japan into clear colours, leaving any remaining territory to unplayable grey-coloured rebels, ronin or Ikko-ikki. The player aims to lead their clan to power and become Shogun, the supreme military leader of Japan, by crushing their enemies underfoot and claiming control over all or most of the country.
(And yes, that samurai on the left is holding an arquebus. Late-game tech in this game includes an array of gunpowder weaponry, and it's great because it's terrible.)
I control the south of Kyushu.
To make me feel even worse about my liberal spending, the game pops up a message to tell me that the Hojo clan are the most rich. Smug bastards.
Invasion of Chikuga
The Defense of Buzen
It's a misty spring day. The valley is quiet and calm. I position my spearmen on a wooded hilltop where they will be protected from ranged attacks, and wait.
My whole army marches on Hizen.
We capture Nagasaki. It's all over for the Imagawa.
Or is it?
Meanwhile, my campaigning left no troops in the south to repel a rebel invasion from Shikoku.
My daimyo and his forces are surrounded, cut off from my capital in Satsuma. The only troops I have elsewhere that could relieve them are in Nagato, on my border with the Mori (red) faction, who I'm reluctant to move. Will I be able to stamp out these rebel forces and consolidate my rule of the island? Or will my forces be defeated, and my strategy be plunged into chaos?
What a cliffhanger!