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Video Game / Sword of the Samurai

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Sword of the Samurai is a Video Game released by MicroProse in 1989. As with many games created by that studio during the period, it was an attempt to combine basic elements of Action, Strategy and Role-Playing into a single game. It is set in the time of the Samurai of Medieval Japan.

The game follows the life of a young samurai as he endeavours to do the bidding of his master, a low-ranking lord. Over the course of the game, the player must gather honor by performing great deeds, and hone his samurai's skills in close combat as well as military warfare. By outshining and possibly dishonoring the other samurai serving your lord, the samurai can eventually be selected to inherit his master's position once the master dies, gaining the rank of Hatamoto. As the samurai rises in ranks, the deeds he must perform become more difficult (and grander), and eventually he can come to lead the entire clan to which he belongs, being named the Daimyo. At this point, the player begins waging war against other clans, vying to unify Japan under him, as he strives to become Shogun.

The game is split into several distinct sections. At the beginning, the player is at his estate, somewhere within his chosen clan's domain. He can practice various combat arts, or change the level of taxation in his fief (his household territory). Occasionally, news will come about various events that occur within the clan's region, letting you know what deeds can be performed. To get to the meat of the game, the player has to leave his estate and travel on an overland map, whether at the head of his troops, alone, or disguised as a poor Ronin. The method of travel dictates how likely you are to attract attention (triggering Random Encounters while you travel) and how much honor you gain from successfully completing these encounters. Each encounter is a mini-game which tests one particular player (and character) skill, including one-on-one Katana combat or a massive melee against multiple enemies.

You can visit the master's estate and meet your rivals there, or court a sufficiently honorable maiden (who usually needs rescuing from a bandit's lair). Tea ceremonies will occur to improve your relations with your peers (the other samurai, who must eventually be surpassed if you want to inherit your lord's estate). Occasionally, your lord will call on your to mobilize your army, and then a real-time army-on-army battle will take place, a primitive but closely-reminiscent version of Shogun: Total War. You can also visit your peers' estates, and if you're in disguise, can break inside and try to dishonor them by kidnapping a family member or stealing something precious they were guarding for someone. On the flipside, your peers can also do the same thing to you - except they will come to your estate accompanied by Ninjas, making things nightmarish at best. Of course, the best thing you can do in disguise is to try to break into your own master's estate and assassinate him. If you're the favoured Samurai at the time, this is a sure-fire way to inherit his estate!

The thing that really sets this game apart is its unique atmosphere. Everything in this game, from the menus, the music, the artwork, everything is made in a distinctly periodic style. The minimalist music accompanies dramatic Ukiyo-e style drawings as you are notified that someone has died or that rebellious peasants are besieging your estate, and so forth.

This game is usually mentioned alongside other "Microprose Combo" games such as Sid Meier's Pirates!, Covert Action, or even Darklands, thanks to its reliance on mini-games woven together into a role-playing/strategy macro-game. Today it is all but forgotten, though it has undoubtedly inspired several tropes in the 90's "Golden Age" of Video Games.

Features examples of:

  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Rivals can send ninjas to attack you at home.
  • Appeal to Force: Averted. If your daimyo orders you to commit seppuku, you cannot solve the problem by launching a coup d'etat, even if you can get rid of him by force at any other time.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: You wield these in melees.
  • Continuing is Painful: If you have an heir whose age is at least youth and you either die or retire, you can continue the game as your heir. However, the heir will have weaker stats than his predecessor, so you'll have to grind your stats some more.
  • Damsel in Distress: There's a random chance when you court a bride that they'll be kidnapped by bandits and need rescuing. Also, any time the player's wife or daughter is kidnapped would qualify.
  • Decapitated Army: In the Daimyo phase, destroying a powerful rival clan can be accomplished by simply killing their Daimyo and his heir. This causes their entire domain to collapse back into independent provinces.
  • Duel to the Death: You can deliberately provoke your enemies into one of these to kill them without risking honor. Also, when you confront the lord of a castle to assassinate him (or when a ninja confronts you), one of these ensues.
  • Evil Power Vacuum: While "evil" doesn't enter into it, when a daimyo dies without an heir, it's every samurai for himself.
    • In the Hatamoto stage, the death of your daimyo leads to an election, unless you overthrew him by force of arms. If the election is closely contested, the two hatamoto in the lead will decide the matter on the battlefield.
    • In the Daimyo stage, if a daimyo who controls multiple provinces dies heirless, his empire collapses back into independent clans.
  • Hurricane of Aphorisms: The entire game - Japanese proverbs and aphorims are virtually everywhere. Even the loading messages.
    The tide hastens for no man.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: It's based on samurai swords of increasing length: Tanto (for beginning players), Wakizashi (for intermediate players), Katana (for experienced players), and No-Dachi (for master players).
  • Jidaigeki
  • Karma Meter: Your Honor stat. If it's high, your opponents will trust you. Your opponents also have their own Karma Meter, and dishonorable foes will frequently try covert actions like kidnapping and assassination. Honor is also vital for fielding a large army, as fewer samurai will join a leader with less honor.
  • Klingon Promotion: You can only become Hatamoto or Daimyo when the old one dies. You'll probably have to... help them along a bit, unless one of your rivals does it for you.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: If you get caught trying to assassinate a fellow samurai, your lord will give you one turn to commit seppuku. Otherwise, he'll kill your family.
  • Life Meter: Not visible in the melee minigame; you can take one hit and keep going, although you will move more slowly. In the duel game, each combatant can take four hits before falling; this is indicated by strokes in the kanji for "life" appearing when either combatant lands a hit on his opponent; the first combatant to have his kanji completed is the loser.
  • The Many Deaths of You: There are many ways to lose the game, the most typical being dying without an heir. Each different way to lose has its own message.
  • My Rules Are Not Your Rules: While the game appears to treat the player and AI characters equally, there are a few exceptions:
    • The lord of the player character never has an heir, presumably to make it easier for the player to progress. In addition, the lord is prone to certain events that will kill him but never happen to the player.
    • When the player is a Daimyo, having one's lands conquered ends the game. As for computer-controlled Daimyos, expect them to return later to revolt against your rule.
    • The AI players tend to harass the stronger players by making requests that are, as the game puts it, "Thinly veiled threats". The player character may make similar threats only in exchange of hostages.
    • The player often suffers random rebellions against his rule, which give half of his provinces to the rebellious lord. An AI daimyo never suffers this.
  • Ninja: In a game about Feudal Japan, what did you expect? Enemy samurai bring ninjas along when attacking the player. The player character doesn't get to hire ninjas.
  • One-Man Army: Melees. The manual even calls it "One against many."
  • Quest Giver: The main purpose of the Hatamoto or Daimyo directly superior to the player character.
  • Rescue Romance: Sometimes, when you try to get a wife, the matchmaker will report that she's been kidnapped by bandits. If you rescue her, you can marry her.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Your enemies will frequently try to kidnap family members to get a hold over you. If you see that the whereabouts of your rival are unknown, stay home to protect yourself.
    • Also, if you rebel against your master and fail, or refuse to commit seppuku, your entire family gets the chop, resulting in a Game Over.
  • "Risk"-Style Map: Once you become Daimyo, you'll spend most of your time in this view picking a province to conquer.
  • Rōnin: Mostly, these are antagonists, but you can disguise yourself as one to engage in nefarious deeds.
  • RPG Elements: You can train several stats to make the associated minigames easier.
  • Seppuku: If a samurai attempts something dishonorable against his peers and is caught alive, they may be ordered to commit seppuku. The player is free to ignore the order, but this causes instant defeat as the player's entire family is eradicated.
  • Stat Grinding: The player can raise the character's swordsmanship with little effort and no risk by continuously doing practice duels. Similarly, practicing combat will train generalship without risking one's actual troops.
  • Stealth-Based Mission: Theoretically, whenever you sneak into a rival's home (or bandit lair), you can do this. However, the stealth system isn't very sophisticated so the infiltrations usually wind up being combat missions anyway.
  • Storming the Castle: Break into a rival's home, leave a trail of corpses as you fight your way to the goal, and leave once all the witnesses are dead.
  • Video-Game Lives: Averted with you as the initial samurai. However:
    • Falling in battle does not necessarily mean dying right away - you may awake to find your wounds have been treated, although you will take an honor penalty. However, too many losses too quickly WILL kill you.
    • If you have a male heir, he acts as an extra life of sorts. However, see Continuing is Painful above: he does have lesser stats than you, since he is younger than you. Prepare to grind your stats some more. Also, having an heir won't save you if:
      • You refuse to commit seppuku when ordered or if you try to rebel and fail, since the result of either of those is that everyone in your family also dies - EVERYONE.
      • If, when you are a daimyo, you get invaded and conquered, since you will be forced to become your conqueror's vassal.
      • Finally, see My Rules Are Not Your Rules above: if you declare yourself Shogun before conquering every province (which immediately gives you the game), all of the remaining daimyo join forces against you for one final battle. If you lose this battle, you commit seppuku, and your heir cannot take over for you.