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Sengoku Preview: A Ninja-Hiring, Castle-Building Simulator

Feature; Sep. 5, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Tyrone M. Cato
Subtypes: Preview
Developer Paradox lets you ruthlessly seek power in feudal Japan any way you please

It's rare that you're ever given the chance to marry off your daughter to a neighboring region’s daimyo’s son.

Click the image to view game screenshots

Even more rare is being able to do so in a video game, yet historical strategy game-developer Paradox Interactive, makers of the Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings series, decided to include that now morally ambiguous tactic in Sengoku, a game that provides a complete experience of being a power-hungry feudal lord during the Sengoku Era (Warring States Period). That was where, from the mid-15th century into the 17th century, Japan had no overall leadership, and it was all a complete free-for-all.

For those looking for an experience that benefits from conniving planning ahead, Sengoku looks to be right up your alley. There's one thing that needs emphasizing, however: This is not a Shogun 2: Total War ripoff. It's not even the same type of strategy game. Whereas Shogun 2 focuses on combat (pretty wide-scale combat, at that), Sengoku encompasses tending to relationships within one's clan as well as with outsiders, micro- and macro-management of one's land/military/plots, and hiring ninja clans (which has particular, distinct appeal).

Fight for territory, then build a castle on top of it
Fight for territory, then build a castle on top of it

Aside from the tiered building system (you can build a moat once you've built a castle; you can build something else once you've built a moat, and so on), there are eight different main menu categories you'll have to pay attention to in order to rise to the top.

In your court, you're able to order your master of ceremonies to schmooze over local lords or send your master of the guard to go recruit ninja clans to spy on clandestine meetings (sadly, mine never found any clans after days of wandering, yet the promise of using them to incriminate opposing lords made me wait patiently).

Your military will need to be built up over time. In order to make the most out of your forces, you'll have to appoint the best master of arms and use infantry/cavalry when most appropriate. Later on, Europeans will make an appearance, and if you can make nice with them, your soldiers could get access to rifles.

The clan category is for checking up on your family and workers. Each character profile displays their opinion of the player character, so even your own children can grow to hate you if they're not nurtured (I haven't tried to appoint my kids to master of arms yet; that might help).

Plan well or you'll lose all your honor - then it's ritualistic suicide for youPlan well, or you'll lose all your honor -- then it's ritualistic suicide for you

In the plots section, you can set in motion underhanded plans to attack other lords. Just as with anything else, you'll need the support and trust of your own clan members in order to carry these out. These little projects can be set aside while other, more reputable business is addressed.

Diplomacy is the section where you make or break friendships. The available interactions for almost any other character include sending gifts, marriage offers, plotting, and demanding ritualistic suicide. Whether these interactions, offers, and demands pan out depends on the state of the relationship beforehand (especially for that ritualistic suicide one; I couldn't get anyone to agree).

The character category is where you can go through essentially every person's stats and opinion about you. As the plentiful details would be nigh-impossible to keep track of by memory, this is helpful.

Oh, and then there's the ninja clans, with an entire section set aside just for them. It lists the clans available and what kinds of missions you can send them on once they are hired.

Finally, there's religion. You can choose to have your clan follow Shintoism, Buddhism, or Christianity. No matter what you choose, you can build houses of worship almost wherever. 

Sengoku is being released in the U.S. on Sept. 13 and on Sept. 16 in the UK. It may seem scarily demanding at first, yet taking into consideration the myriad ways to play, it could easily eat up a lot of your time once you get into it. Though that might be frightening too.


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