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Sword of the Samurai (PC) artwork

Sword of the Samurai (PC) review

"Classic retro PC gaming at its finest."

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

Sword of the Samurai is a classic samurai role-playing game. It takes place during the Sengoku period of feudal Japan, a time where chaotic upheavals and near-constant military conflict between warring clans was commonplace. The goal of the game is to bring an end to this chaos by becoming shogun and unifying Japan. In real life, the Sengoku period ended with the institution of the Tokugawa shogunate, but in this game you get the chance to rewrite history and claim the title of shogun in your own way.

That's a tall order, though, because you begin this game as a lowly samurai instead of a powerful lord. Samurai are not without prestige, however; you have servants, soldiers, and land holdings at your disposal, but much like the chivalrous knights in the West, you are restricted by a code of behavior, and expected to conduct yourself honorably at all times. Stepping out of line will quickly drop you to the bottom of your lord's list of favorite vassals, and if that happens, you might never get that sweet promotion you deserve.

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

Thus, your first order of business is to kiss the ass of your ruling lord in hopes of landing his job one day. You accomplish this by completing honorable quests, slaying bandits, dispatching rogue ninja, suppressing rebellions, or disposing of other unruly folk who might seek to tarnish your lord's honor. You can also lend him the aid of your troops to help him with his various military campaigns, if you like. It is also possible to gain honor and prestige through more passive means, such as marrying into an honorable family or making the right friends.

Or if you want to be a total bastard, you can rise through the ranks by performing treacherous deeds against your rivals in order to make them look bad. Examples of such mischief include inciting rebellions within your rivals' land holdings, framing them for crimes they didn't commit, or slandering them in public. Or, if you simply want to get a troublesome individual out of the way, you can attempt to assassinate them. Such duplicitous deeds are done at great risk, however, as Japanese society is all about appearances. Fuck up once and you might be paying a hefty fine to a smirking rival, or you might end up getting yourself executed for being such a bad kid. However, if you manage to get away with all your schemes, you might just end up being the "best worst choice" when promotion time comes around, and that's all the better for you!

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

However way you do it, you will eventually rise through the ranks and become a Daimyo (an independent warlord), and the game will then shift focus from interpersonal intrigue to large-scale strategy. At this point you will have access to the full map of Japan and can decide when and how to invade neighboring provinces, or you can elect to administer tactful diplomacy. At this point it's all or nothing, though - Your rivals must bend the knee or be annihilated. If you can't rise to the challenge, you will quickly find that your rivals will be more than happy to crush you and take the title of shogun for themselves.

While it might be theoretically possible for a single individual to accomplish all of this within a single lifetime, it isn't very likely, which is why there is a generational aspect to this game. If your character gets too old or dies, you will still be able to continue playing, so long as your character was married and had at least one heir to continue his legacy. You may have to build your character back up a bit though, as the assets of the son may not be equal to the father's. Daughters are valuable to have too, but mostly for the purposes of arranging political marriages.

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

I could probably write a whole article about how amazing the storytelling is in this game, but that was already done by another HonestGamers community member a while back. Suffice to say though, Sword of the Samurai feels about as robust and complex as a better season of Game Of Thrones. There's a reason for that. This game is incredibly well researched. This game was made back in the day when PC games were made for the consumption of nerdy hobbyists instead of general audiences, and this is confirmed by the fact that the boxed copy of the game came packed with a manual that included a comprehensive history of the Sengoku period, chapters about what it meant to be a samurai, and even glossaries of Japanese terms.

However, whether you've read the manual or not, you will undoubtedly learn a lot about feudal Japan just by playing this game, and there's something really cool about that. Entertainment and education? Outrageous! When was the last time you saw that? Don't worry, though. There aren't any confusing walls of text here, and the writing is actually very approachable. The focus is squarely on the fun, on the experience of being a samurai, rather than boring you with historical facts, and that's just one more aspect about this game that makes it all the more awesome.

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

It's also not a hard game to play. Most of the action is menu-driven, except for when you have to move around the world map or engage in combat situations. The combat itself is divided into three mini-games: A dueling mini-game for when you have to fight another samurai one-on-one; a "melee" mini-game that is sort of like a top-down shooter, where you fight hordes of enemies armed with only a bow and a sword; and a tactical combat mini-game where you command larger armies on the battlefield. These sequences are generally fun, though the controls can be a little clunky at times. It is essential to have the reference card available so you can figure out which keys to use, because there is no way to remap the controls; joysticks cannot be used in every sequence.

On that note, I should be fair and say that this game does have its share of faults. In particular, the melee sequences can be tedious, especially on the higher difficulty levels (because moar difficulty naturally means MOAR ENEMIES), and the enemy AI can also be a little suspect during the battlefield sequences. There is also some repetition necessary - For example, improving your character requires that you raise your four primary stats (honor, land, generalship and swordsmanship) as high as they can go, and this sometimes requires repeating the same actions or training exercises over and over again.

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

Regardless, Sword of the Samurai is an excellent game that every PC gamer should play at least once in their lifetime. It has an unprecedented level of depth, and as far as I'm concerned is one of the greatest classics of PC gaming. I revisit this game every couple of years because it's just that good. For a game that was released in freaking 1989, it holds up extremely well, even today.

For this reason and more, it's weird to me that this game isn't talked about very much. After all, it was developed by the legendary MicroProse studios, the same people who gave us the Civilization and XCOM franchises. Oh, and guess which PC gaming celebrity also worked on this game? Freaking Sid Meier, that's who. If that doesn't tell you anything about the level of quality put into this game, perhaps nothing will.

Sword of the Samurai (PC) image

As for its current release status, I am happy to report that it was recently re-mastered with releases on Retroism and Steam. I highly recommend giving it a try. It's seven dollars you won't regret spending.


Nightfire's avatar
Featured community review by Nightfire (April 08, 2016)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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EmP posted April 10, 2016:

I thought you were just being a cool retro player - but this has a steam release! That's as unexpected as it is awesome. Man, this game claimed some hours from me... It's almost enough to make me forgive Night Dive for re-releasing BloodNet.
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Nightfire posted April 10, 2016:

But... Vampires and cyberpunk, what could go wrong?

...Oh. XD
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Masters posted April 14, 2016:

The pictures are all broken!
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Nightfire posted April 14, 2016:

I think my image hoster went down for a bit. The images appear to be working now.

EDIT: Anyway, I've just switched the image source to the HonestGamers image assets instead. That should work better.

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