Sword of the Samurai
Many computer games consider European feudal strategy: swords and knights and kings.
Microprose's Sword of the Samurai was the first game I played that simulated feudal leadership in 15th century Japan. You play a young samurai warrior with a small kingdom. You and your neighbors vie for land and perform feats to win the favour of your lord, struggling to win the shogunate.
You'll spend your time managing your kingdom and wandering feudal Japan; setting the scene for arcade sequences that determine your standing. Win the battle, gain land; beat the swordsman, gain honour.
The sequences are fun and seamlessly integrated into the plot - sneaking into a rival's house to steal his daughter is fun even in blocky pixels. Unlike the purely arcade game Ninja, from 1986, where you simply dance around in the clothes of the typified Japanese assassin character hurling ninja stars and using a katana, Sword of the Samurai develops a context for role-playing in renaissance-era Japan.
Besides these unusual social elements of the game, Sword of the Samurai reaches for approriate justice to its subject. Short "zen" phrases punctuate your loading times and neatly chide you into patience. Traditional Japanese court music rendered in Adlib synth sound is odd but fitting. The graphics are sparse and direct EGA (16 colour), quite simple. It looks as though the people behind the game might have actually looked at Japanese woodblock prints, and some painted scrolls and the like. There's an authenticity to the art direction here, like they did their homework and didn't just assume what Samurais might look like.
There are very few games that involve the social order, tangible honour, and especially marriage - courting. Admittedly the weddings here are absolutely political, and primarily for the purposes of spawning. The romance wasn't rich, but I think it was the first time I wooed, married and had children in a computer game.
dare to retire
there is a deliberate poetry to the game, like a flower.gif
What's missing, or simplified, is the kingdom-management. You never arbitrate a dispute, suffer a famine, or develop a kingdom deeply, as you might in say Civilization. It's a shallow depth here - artful context, the situations of samurai. But ultimately shorthand. Pleasurable, and playable, even years after. Still I wish for more role-playing, deeper kingdom management. More extensive social networks. Civilization looks at the world over thousands of years; it would be nice to have that kind of kingdom building applied to the kind of tight cultural/temporal window that is Sword of the Samurai.
So ultimately, Sword of the Samurai: engaging, pretty, original, even well-researched; more arcade than strategy.
Music & Sound