Published by Paradox Interactive
Developed by Paradox Interactive
It's not often that we have the opportunity to enjoy two Japanese-themed strategy games in a year but that's exactly what's happened this year with the release of Total War: Shogun 2 and Sengoku. The Japanese theme and the period of Japanese history the two games cover are about the only things these two games have in common however. Sengoku is exactly what you would expect from the grand strategy masters at Paradox Interactive and those who have enjoyed their previous titles should definitely find a lot to like about the game.
As the name of the game would suggest, Sengoku covers the Sengoku jidai period of Japanese history of almost constant warfare ranging from the middle of the fifteenth to the early seventeenth century. The goal of the Sengoku is to conquer, with the aid of your vassals, at least 50% of Japan for your clan, claim the position of Shogun and then hold on to it for three years. Of course once you've been proclaimed as the Shogun you're going to have the other clan leaders gunning for you. The thing is of course that there are many other clans in the game and they are all pretty much trying to do the same thing. The game offers a range of historical starting points with some set in 1467 and others set in 1551. Even when playing different games from the same starting point with the same clan however, I found that games would play out very differently ensuring the replay value of the game is excellent.
With Sengoku being a grand strategy game, you need to consider the bigger picture, i.e., the long term plans for your clan. You need to make sure your clan members are happy and that a line of succession is maintained. During the course of the game characters will die and it's wise to make sure your characters are married (the men can have multiple wives and this is a wise thing to do in many respects as it ensures a pool of heirs). The characters in the game are by no means guaranteed to reach a ripe old age and you'll find on occasion that even children can die meaning you can never be sure that ideal heir you have lined up for your clan will survive long enough to take up his intended position.
In Sengoku there are various resources that you have to keep your eye on. The most obvious one is money of course and you'll certainly want to make sure your clan is financially sound in order to be able to afford to recruit and maintain strong armies in addition to building attribute enhancing structures. Honour is also a resource you'll want to keep an eye on. Honour is gained by getting married and giving landed titles (which essentially means you're giving an AI character control of a province). You'll spend honour by declaring war and breaking alliances as well as other things. Should your clan's leader's honour fall below zero, he will be forced to commit Seppuku, in other words a ritual suicide, which can bring the game to an end if you don't have an heir to succeed him.
Sengoku is essentially a character driven grand strategy title. Your first job when beginning a new game will be to select three characters to occupy your court. The Master of Ceremonies is responsible for improving your village, improving relations with your civilians and collecting taxes. The Master of Arms can improve your castles, recruit ronin, and restore order. Finally there's the Master of the Guard who can expand your guilds, sow dissent and hire ninjas. Every character in Sengoku has three main attributes: Martial, Diplomacy and Intrigue but there are other things you have to take into account when selecting them for roles or as possible husbands or wives for your clan members. Age is important of course, as is fertility and health. You certainly want many offspring and for them to be in the best of health. Each character will acquire a collection of traits throughout their life which will modify their main attributes. The Ruthless trait, for instance, gives a boost to the Intrigue attribute and the Infirm trait predictably has a negative effect on all of the attributes whilst the Scholar trait will boost a character's Diplomacy rating. The characters also have opinions of each other and whilst some will develop a fondness for their clan leader, others will grow disenchanted.
One of the main twists in Sengoku is that there is a limit to the number of provinces that the clan leader can control. The clan as a whole may rule a large number of provinces but the clan leader will only have a handful under his direct control with control of the remainder being delegated to other clan members. Why is this so interesting? Well for starters it means that when you're playing as the clan leader you never have too many provinces to keep track of which is certainly a plus during the middle and latter parts of the game. More importantly however it opens up the possibility for unrest and factions can develop within clans. Plots can even be organised to overthrow the clan leader (and yes you don't have to play as the clan leader, you can choose to play as a vassal, and therefore you might want to overthrow the leader yourself at some point) or break away from the clan which helps to keep the game from getting stale or predictable.
Plots are an essential part of Sengoku as they allow you to co-ordinate your attacks with the help of the other AI clans. You can't simply arrange a plot and carry out your actions. In order to carry out a plot, you need the correct amount of Plot Power. Plot Power is essentially the ration of plotters' combined military muscle compared to that of the desired target. The basic idea is to recruit as enough military muscle to give you a good chance of winning. AI clan leaders are not stupid however and won't assist you if they think you don't have a good chance of winning. They also won't help if they think the enemy is too easy a target as there's not much honour in simply squashing an easy target.
The battles and the diplomacy in Sengoku are pretty much what you'd expect from a Paradox Interactive title. During a battle you'll simply see two characters fighting it out on the campaign map and you won't have any real control to affect the outcome of the battle. During a siege you have the option of breaking the siege but as this usually comes at a high price (assuming you're attacking) it's something you probably won't want to do that often. Diplomacy in the game allows you to arrange marriages, form and join clans and exchange hostages amongst other things. You'll also need to go through the diplomacy menu to grant landed titles to characters in your clan.
In comparison with many other Paradox titles Sengoku isn't that complicated but, nevertheless, it's a shame that a proper tutorial hasn't been included. Instead of a real tutorial, you're given tutorial messages when you open panels (and these will reappear until you choose to disable them). The tutorial messages are fairly decent but they never give you a real sense of how to bring all of the game's concepts together. I felt like I was learning the game through a trial and error process and whilst this wasn't too much of a problem for me, I can see this being a nuisance for those for whom Sengoku is their first grand strategy title.
The game's presentation is absolutely fine. The interface in Sengoku will be familiar to anyone who has played a Paradox Interactive grand strategy title before. The interface is serviceable but not quite as impressive as the one found in the Victoria II. However, it has a styling and simplicity that's completely in keeping with the Japanese theme. There are no problems for deaf gamers with all of the key information being displayed visually through the use of text, numbers and icons. All of the game's tutorial messages are in text and as they need to be manually dismissed, you can read them all at your own pace. The game manual has been well written and will certainly prove to be far more useful than the tutorial messages. I also found some invaluable assistance on the game's official forums.
There's a lot to like about Sengoku and it's definitely one of the easier Paradox Interactive grand strategy titles to get to grips with although with this being a Paradox game there's still a level of complexity here and the game could have really benefitted from a proper tutorial that illustrated how all of the game's concepts come together. The replay value of the game is actually quite impressive with no two games playing out the same way even when your starting positions are identical. If Japanese-flavoured strategy games are your thing and you appreciate the style of game that Paradox Interactive produces then Sengoku is well worth a purchase.