Uncharted Waters (originally known as Age of the Great Voyages) is a series of Japanese privateer/trader video games set in The Cavalier Years. The first game was developed by Koei in 1991 (for PC-88, MSX and NES, and later for Sega Genesis, Super NES, and the PC).Gameplay-wise, the series is a Wide Open Sandbox with RPG Elements in it. You play as an owner of a small fleet (up to 5 ships in the first game, up to 10 in the second) and are free to engage in any kind of activity on the high seas: trade, gambling, ship pimping, piracy, treasure hunting, exploration, even global politics, once you have the money (and firepower) to. What set the first game apart from its Western competitor Sid Meierís Pirates! was the sheer size of the game world: instead of being confined to the Carribbean, you have the entire world to explore. The exploration gameplay was further enhanced in the second game, where you could sell the maps of your voyages, find natural and cultural wonders around the world, and look for even more treasures. The underlying gameplay mechanic involves ship management (crew, supplies, captains, repairs), character evolution (both the PC and the captains you hire), port development (trade balance, investments), and maneuvering between the major factions (Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and pirates in the first game; England, Holland, and Italy join the club in the second). It's pretty complex but not excessively so.The story of the original game follows Leon Franco, a young Portuguese sailor whose father invested all his money into a voyage to India, hoping to make a fortune selling spices, but died on the way back. Only his trusted First Mate Rocco Alemkel made it back to Portugal with a small boat to tell the tale. And thus, young Leon has to assume command and to take on the rough seas of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men era. Starting with small errands for the local merchants and collectors, Leon's fame eventually reaches the King of Portugal, who becomes his exclusive Quest Giver. The final mission, of course, involves saving the King's only daughter, whom Leon had the chance to woo earlier.The series currently consists of following installments:
Alliance Meter: The relationships between the major naval powers are tracked on separate meters. If your relationship with a country is good, you will be given free entry into their ports and their fleets will offer you helpful advice when met out at sea. Hostile relationships will result in you being denied entry and attacked on sight by enemy war fleets. And if it gets really bad, they will come after you in force.
Boarding Party: The two basic means to attack another ship in a sea battle is either shooting them from afar with your cannons or "rushing" them, that is, going into hand to hand combat.
But Thou Must: Regardless of how you play, at some point, you will be asked to buy "14 lots of Coral", which can only be accomplished by traveling to the New World. Also, to achieve the highest nobility ranks, the King of Portugal will inevitably ask you to defeat powerful pirates or opposing factions' captains, even if you were going a pure merchant route before. Finally, the last mission is always a battle against a pirate fleet for the princess.
Character Level: There are actually two character levels for each character: the Sailing Level (gained by spending time at sea and affecting Intelligence and Wisdom) and the Battle Level (gained by winning naval battles and affecting Strength and Courage).
Cool Boat: Quite a few, especially in the second game, but very few compare to the Heavy Galleons from the first one. Those are so awesome, no port in the world builds them in the beginning of the game and you first need to invest LOTS of money to even get a shot at building one of those brutes.
An Entrepreneur Is You: In the first game, you will most likely begin by making the relatively simple sugar-porcelain runs between Lisbon and Bordeaux and go on from there until you have five carracks full of gold.
Global Currency: Gold pieces. It's different from gold bullions, which are goods (roughly, 1 bar of gold bullion = 1000 gold pieces).
Hard-Coded Hostility: The pirates. There are three other factions (Portugal, Spain, and Turkey) and while you always remain a Portuguese subject, you can normalize the relationships with Turkey and avoid screwing up the relationship with Portugal and Spain to avoid their war fleets attacking you. Pirates, on the other hand, are always hostile.
Infinite Supplies: Averted. Ports can run out of the goods that you're keep buying. It's especially obvious in Sakai where silver is very cheap. To the point that the game revolves around denying your rivals supplies to goods. Ports will only sell goods to guilds that hold a percentage of the port's Share, and the amount of Share you have is based on how much money the guild have dumped to the port as investments or defense funds.
Karl Marx Hates Your Guts: Averted with a vengeance. Price are different everywhere, even if only by 1 or 2 gold pieces. You can even make a profit out of goods with minimal price fluctuation, if you have patience.
Market-Based Title: The original Japanese title of the game series was Dai-kōkai jidai (Age of the Great Voyages) but "Uncharted Waters" does sound better in English.
Merchant Prince: While some of the playable characters had main careers as merchants and some did not, any character with enough gold could invest in the markets and shipyards of foreign ports, and with enough investment over time could bring the port into their home country's "sphere of influence" which would afford them a favorable market there as well as expand the power and influence of their home country. Such influence-buying helps the character enter the nobility and advance upward in noble rank, which implies increased political power.
The loot from destroying an enemy fleet usually consists of a large sum of money (how large depends on the level of its captain), some water, food, and lumber (essential if you go on a killing spree because large warship crews consume supplies like no tomorrow), and either a stockpile of goods or some valuable jewerly (depending on whether the victim is a merchant or a battle fleet, respectively). Jewelry is especially useful in the first game, since you can present it to the princess and receive 10k gold the next day from her dad. The only problem was that you could only carry one piece of each jewelry type at once, but that was fixed in the second installment.
The most lucrative booty, though, may be the enemy ships themselves. You need enough surplus crew to man both them and your own ships, extra navigators to command them, and the ability to defeat the enemy fleet without sinking all their ships. Still, they can wind up getting you a small fortune.
Player Party: To steer more than one ship, you need to hire a mate to serve as her captain.
Politically Correct History: You can't engage in slave trade, at all. The worst you can do is plundering remote villages for food and fresh water.
Relationship Values: All hired navigators have a Loyalty score, which can be increased by distributing spare cash but decreases sharply if your fleet falls onto hard times.
Romance Sidequest: Romancing the princess is optional but brings you considerable material gain if you do so consistently.
A Round of Drinks for the House: Ordering a round of drinks for the entire tavern gives a temporary bonus to how many sailors you can hire there afterwards. The more money you spend on the drinks, the larger the bonus.
RPG Elements: Actually, the games have enough customization to be considered full RPG: you and your mates have stats, levels, and skills; your ships come in different types, configurations, and upgrades; there are items that greatly affect the gameplay, etc.
The Smurfette Principle: The female presence in the games is mostly limited to various waitresses (each with her unique appearance), but there are a handful of plot-relevant women, as well, e.g. the Princess in the first game.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Gear: If you hit a particularly hard luck, you will notice that your navigator's loyalty is dropping, and when it falls all the way down to 30-40%, one of them (if not more) will certainly desert you, taking his ship (as well as whatever cargo and crew it was carrying) with him, never to be seen again.
Straight for the Commander: This is a viable tactic in the series: rushing for the enemy flagship and taking it out (with cannons or by boarding) is an instant-win condition, which helps preserve own forces and the cargo carried by other enemy ships (on the downside, you get less XP). In the second game, you can additionally challenge the enemy captain to a Combat by Champion by boarding his flagship with your own.
Treasure Map: In a particularly nice touch, a treasure map appears just like your own global map so if your visual memory (or geography knowledge) is good enough, you can find the location of the treasure just by looking at it. Otherwise, you can ask around in bars (first game) or cartographer guilds (second game) for approximate coordinates of the location.