There was a time in history when matters of great import concerned the world and mankind lusted to become a part of it: when wars were fought and not winning but honour was what mattered most. Japan, that orange land bathed by the light of the rising sun, was one such place.
Cinemaware, long renowned for the astounding Defender of the Crown have produced this new interactive movie set in that 12th century land of honour and dignity.
The game sees two would-be emperors fighting for domination of one crumbling empire. Yoritomo, the consummate politician and strategist faces the battle-skilled Yoshitsune in a legendary struggle to win control of the Japanese dynasty. You can select to paly either of these characters, assuming the obvious advantages associated with each. The objective is to capture all 19 castles spanning the map of Japan and stil manage to stand up straight afterwards. Along the way you can build up your skill ratings depending on the outcome of battle and your leadership abilities. Just to make sure the game is not all blood and war, you can win the hand - and body - of a beautiful princess if you are lucky.
The game is arranges as a giant map with monasteries, castles, cities and an imperial palace strategically positioned to keep the action across the whole area. You initially take control of three soldiers who always begin the game in the same location. These are directed around the map by selecting them whenever they come to a standstill and directing them to their new location. They then follow the shortest path either on foot or by boat - if they are beginning their journey at a port.
Different locations offer different features: monasteries are neutral territory and can often be relied upon to supply food. Castles can either be attacked or an alliance suggested and the imperial palace is the place to go for imperial regalia such as the Sacred Sword or Scroll.
As you make your journey, you encounter other troops at which point you can intervene and suggest forging an alliance with the leader of attacking them. Either is usually a good suggestion since your own castles are often liable to attack if you are not careful.
As you make your journey there is often the need to stop for food to supply your troops. Visiting one of your own castles or a friendly monastery is advised for this task although the imperial palace is neutral territory and will often give food.
The game is punctuated with moments of interaction where you must participate in all sorts of encounters or attacks. In these moments the map is frozen and you move into the interactive phase where skill is rewarded with extra troops or new territory.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Considering that this type of game is based largely around its strategy elements, the graphics have been remembered at every turn. There is a remarkable resemblance here with Cinemaware's previous hit, Defender of the Crown, but there is far more interaction with the player. All sorts of animated routines appear at opportune moments from attacks by a Ninja assassin to tense battlefield occasions when you must participate in the bloody wars.
The superb animation is supplemented in most circumstances by atmospheric musical effects to convey the impression of ancient Japan. Probably one of the best examples of this occurs during the opening credits of the game, although the music at other points is almost as good, if a little repetitive.
Grunts and groans as you strike your enemies also appear at times as well as other spot effects to assist gameplay.
In its day, Defender of the Crown was reckoned to be one of the finest strategy games ever, but Lords of the Rising Sun could be viewed as the next logical step considering the progressions made with the ST and Amiga on the games scene over the intervening years.
The challenge, as ever in this type of game, is not one likely to appeal to anyone unprepared to play for a long time. It is very much of a strategy game so the action moves sufficiently slowly to give you time to think. In moments of tension this can often prove to be too slow despite a speed-up option, although a save to disk feature is available. The game spans a wider battlefield than Defender ever did, and as such the gameplay is far deeper and potentially more appealing for the avid strategist. With the long shelf-life of this kind of game it is certain to become the same classic which Defender proudly claimed.