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Sword of the Samurai (PC) artwork

Sword of the Samurai (PC) review

"The coward Kobayashi trembled at the sight of my gleaming blade. What's more, I told him, flat out to his face, that he was a pathetic wretch descended from a long line of dung haulers. A prouder samurai would not take such an obvious insult without a duel to the death, but not Kobayashi. His servants could only stare in disbelief at what was going on in this quaint garden teahouse. History was being made. My stoic glare cut deeper than any knife, yet internally I could barely contain my giddine..."

The coward Kobayashi trembled at the sight of my gleaming blade. What's more, I told him, flat out to his face, that he was a pathetic wretch descended from a long line of dung haulers. A prouder samurai would not take such an obvious insult without a duel to the death, but not Kobayashi. His servants could only stare in disbelief at what was going on in this quaint garden teahouse. History was being made. My stoic glare cut deeper than any knife, yet internally I could barely contain my giddiness. The very man who had stooped to employ the services of ninja, in order to slay my father as he slept, was now silently pleading for his life. The worm could not even conjure up a decent whimper. With a contemptuous snort, I sheathed the katana with a snap. Soon the clan would know of his utter spinelessness, an ugly brown skidmark across his family name. This was perfect vindication, and I hardly had to lift a finger. Such is life in Feudal Japan.

As a lowly vassal of the region's Hatamoto, you're expendable and perfectly replacable, but no less irremitable. This time through, I wished to play as a diplomatic character. Through building a solid reputation amongst fellow samurai in your clan, one can ideally ascend to loftier heights with sheer force of personality. This, I found an hour or so in, is quite a boring way to play through Sword. Lots of peaceful, elegant teahouse ceremonies will be performed, and there's generally lots of friendship and goodwill to go around. After a hard day giving spiritual fellatio, I was soon startled awake from my slumber to find an intruder in my household. Flanked, naturally, by a flotilla of shadowy figures with katanas poised to strike. My swordsmanship was rusty to say the least, and a crafty black-clad assailant had fired a poison dart into my rump with grace that would do Joe Musashi proud. The Gods gave me a backhanded blessing the next day, as my rival had never intended to kill me but to merely pluck my heir from his private room and do away with him. The perpetrator, Saizo, casually arrived at my estate the next day to set his terms.

For all his effrontery, he was no more than a common thief! He vowed to return young Mitsubishi to me, unharmed, if I would just deign to give him a portion of the rice tax collected from my serfs. By caving into his treachery, I would lose face but have peace of mind in that my heir wasn't locked in Saizo's dungeon in the company of people named Endo, who have forgotten more about pain than you or I will ever know. Saizo was held in high regard by our hatamoto and his other subordinates. Woe unto me!

I awoke oddly refreshed, and, after spending the morning practicing my Kenjutsu technique, I set off on foot across the windswept grassy plains of the greater Echigo province. After mere seconds on the road, more than enough time to get the overworld theme stuck in your head, one is forcefully reminded that Harlem has nothing on Feudal Japan. Some ruffians were having fun robbing innocent travellers, but running into me was obviously not part of their plans. I "drew my sword in the defense of honor", and I swiftly dispatched the bumbling ronin -- inept spearmen, swordsmen and archers -- as they tried to cross the rice paddies surrounding me. My bow proved an invaluable tool to dispatch the fools at long range; its deadly accuracy combined with frightening power turned the tide overwhelmingly in my favor. Word would spread of my deeds soon enough, perhaps this would be the final nudge to place me in the running for successor to the Hatamoto. Only Saizo stood in my way.

His smugness was all too typical. I relished the moment when I pulled out the old "dung hauler" line, expecting him to curl up in a ball and weep openly. But Saizo had far greater testicular fortitude than the maggot Kobayashi.

With a bloodcurdling cry, he had his sword pointed squarely at my chest before I could even tell what was going on. But this was not the end. We were both men of honor. This was a duel ... to the death! As Sid Meier had a hand programming the intricacies of swordplay, the results are typically spectacular. As Saizo circled me, his guard up at all times, I waited for the perfect moment to strike, the split-second when his guard would be lowered, a single instant of hesitation. Instead, a ferocious, unforeseen overhand strike sent me reeling into the corner. As I tensed up, I began to mindlessly mash the attack button instead of remaining in my zen-like detached trance. Saizo's swordsmanship was effortless, elegant. Mine was awkward and ham-handed. Three bleeding wounds in my extremities only slowed me down even more. There was no hope for victory. If I backed out, though, I would appear even more cowardly than the man who kidnapped my teenaged heir. In the name of honor, I gathered the little energy I had left, charged Saizo with reckless abandon -- and was promptly shiskabobbed. Death before dishonor.

My career was nowhere near over. Mitsubishi, hardly 13, was still old enough to ascend to my position of power within the clan. Within a year, he was hooked up with a hot little number named Ayame from the neighboring Wata province. They spent their blissful early days making love when Mitsubishi wasn't out on the fields drilling his samurai in battle maneuvers. The tactics in these battles are so simplistic, it's perfectly logical that a 13-year-old can quickly master them. Guard the flanks, use terrain to your advantage, greater numbers always win. Ho hum.

Newborns Nissan and Toyota quickly followed. When he was good and ready, Mitsubishi snuck out of his estate in the early morning disguised as a wandering ronin, and gutted the bastard Saizo in his sleep. No one was the wiser. If his father taught me anything, it was that diplomacy blows. It was not long before his skill in battle matched his skill in the bedroom. Randomly slaughtering troublesome niusances while on the treacherous roads of Echigo Province built up his reputation to ridiculous degrees, and when the Hatamoto was found dead one morning perforated by several hundred shuriken, there was but one clear choice for his successor.

Mitsubishi was hardly old enough to shave but he had already personally laid open countless men with his phallic sword. He was a murderer, hardly a noble samurai. Doing random jobs for the regional daimyo would only satiate his bloodlust every so often. As his land holdings grew from successful campaigns abroad, the samurai under his command would grow exponentially. Even his daimyo grew afraid of the armies he was gathering for his own malicious purposes. These purposes would become clear the day Lord Echigo awoke to find his castle surrounded by thousands of spearmen, pikemen, and musketmen, all atop wooden battlewagons. The battle was quick and brutal, the dead greatly outnumbered the living. The sun set on the blood-drenched fields surrounding Castle Echigo, and Mitsubishi was up in the highest tower taking it all in. Lord Echigo, on the other hand, was underground in the dungeon, ordered to commit ritual seppuku come the dawn. He and Endo would have a fun night in the meantime.

The newly formed Yagyu Shadow-Clan began its reign of terror shortly thereafter, and here's where I had the most fun with Sword of the Samurai: being an absolute and total bastard to everyone I came across. When my ludicrous amounts of battle-hardened samurai would steamroll over the nearest unoccupied province, I'd hardly give a crap about donating any excess land to Buddha. In fact, whenever anyone would bitch about my land holdings, I'd respond by raising the rice tax even higher. Naturally this became a problem when my empire became too huge for one man, and some of my disgruntled subordinates decided to create splinter groups. Some subterfuge, kidnappings, ransom demands and night guttings later, I was essentially shogun. Unmatched and unequaled.

Of course, one is perfectly able to play a wussy diplomat, or a fatcat with all the land. But those aren't nearly as fun as holding everyone in an iron grasp of terror. Maybe that's just me though. This game rocks especially hard because it goes between balls-out action, strategy and simulation at will, and everything just clicks together. Liberal amounts of ninjas and hot VGA Asian babes only sweeten the deal.

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Featured community review by johnny_cairo (March 02, 2006)

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