The Dai Senryaku
series started almost ten years ago with the release of Iron Storm
on the Sega Saturn. The game featured straight-forward military strategy based on the battles of World War II. Its been a long time since I last played the Saturn game, but I have fond memories of the approachable and stylish war sim. After five sequels that didn't make it out of Japan, Dai Senryaku VII: Modern Military Tactics
is now available in the states. While it's nice to see another entry in a near vacant category on the Xbox, only hard-core strategy buffs will be interested in this title.
Dai Senryaku has a simple presentation that masks some deep strategic elements. There are two modes in the game, a single-player mission that spans 112 levels and free mode, which allows up to four players to face off on 62 maps. There is also a map editor that allows for original battlefield creation.
The Intricacies of Combat
Basically, the gameplay consists of advancing a variety of military units across hexagonal board spaces while keeping an eye on money and supplies. It sounds simple, but once players take a gander at the unit information screen they will quickly realize that Dai Senryaku is a very deep strategy game. To kick things off there is a lengthy tutorial that breaks down the basics of movement and combat. It is highly recommended that players read through at least half of these lessons before they mobilize their troops because it'll save a massive amount of confusion later.
To start, each of the military units (there are over 400) has its own set of abilities that can be viewed from the unit's statistics menu. In the single player mode the first thing gamers will notice is that each unit has a different detection range. Enemy units outside of this zone are hidden by a fog-of-war. The detection range for every vehicle is different for each of the seven elevations. For example a Bradley can detect enemies at "ground" or "surf" level for five spaces in every direction but it can only detect enemies at low air altitude for four spaces.
Charging into a zone that has yet to be scanned can lead to surprise attacks from an unseen foe. This happens if you move either on or next to an enemy unit outside of your detection range. In this way, the game encourages reconnaissance with multiple types of vehicles to identify threats at all altitudes.
The second most important variable that affects movement is the terrain type. Depending on land variations, your units may receive a defense bonus when taking up a position. Terrain also decides how far a unit can move in a single turn. When a unit is selected, a green zone shows where it can travel at standard speed and a red perimeter represents the area it can reach at high speed. Selecting the longest possible distance is tempting but entering the red zone also burns precious fuel.
When it comes to dealing out damage there are some obvious offensive parameters related to vehicle type, weapon type, and elevation. For example a Type 90 MBT tank can hit low air vehicles with its machine gun, but not with its 120mm cannon. The cannon however, can be used to blast ships, but not submarines or aircraft. It's not just about picking a vehicle that is capable of attacking enemy units, its about picking a vehicle with the best weapon for the job. Each weapon has a hit rate and range for each elevation. If this sounds like a lot of information, that's because it is. Luckily, all of this info can be found on a vehicle information screen that arranges the wealth of statistics in an organized fashion.
Dai Senryaku also contains structures that are crucial to the tide of battle. These include cities, refuelling stations, airports, ports, and a single city capital for each force. Each unit has a limited supply of fuel, ammo, and will most likely suffer damage from the enemy. A single unit actually represents a series of sub-units that act as hit points. Enemy attacks will decrease the number of sub-units until it reaches zero and the unit icon is removed from the map. To replenish spent reserves and heal wounded units a player must stop on a city to activate a resupply. This repairs damage and replaces up to three lost sub-units. Enemy cities can be captured by occupying their space, but the capture command also uses an entire turn. There are also supply trucks that can accompany your units and offer supplies on-the-go.
When attacking an enemy, there are a few more things to take into account. There are different hit rates for individual weapons and some vehicles can attack and move in a single turn. Also, if you confront a vehicle within its attack range there is an automatic counter attack. This forces gamers to rely on vehicles that have long range weapons and keep their short range units grouped together. Sloppy battle formations will quickly be picked apart by a very capable enemy A.I.
After gamers become comfortable with the huge amount of information that contributes to how a battle will play out, Dai Senryaku offers some fun military strategy. It takes a few games to run a successful mission and keep tabs on not only defeating the enemy, but keeping your units well supplied. In my first game, I charged towards an objective only to find that enemy units had snuck around my detection zone and that the troops on my front line were dangerously low on fuel. The game is complicated, but the early missions at least try to ease players into the mix with very simple mission objectives and a limited vehicle set.
In the single player mission mode, most scenarios restrict players from building more vehicles. However, production becomes an important aspect of multiplayer mode. Cities, and the various types of ports are able to tap a player's resources to create more vehicles. Each creation point can make one unit per turn so it takes awhile to amass a large force. Multiplayer offers a number of adjustable options including funds, fuel, allies, and whether or not the four countries will be controlled by people or the CPU. Unfortunately, like any turn based strategy game featuring the fog-of-war, the multiplayer mode reveals each human player's map while they are taking a turn. Unless your friends are kind enough to avert their eyes while you plot their downfall, the detection portion of the game is a throwaway. It's a shame there is no Xbox Live support because with such a range of maps, four player online games could have given strategy fans hours upon hours of enjoyment.
War is Ugly
Overall, Dai Senryaku has a lousy visual presentation. I would use the word "retro" but that implies that there might be something cool about its dated look. One gets the impression that they are playing on a PC from the early 90s instead of the graphical powerhouse that is the Xbox. The units are animated during the battle scenes, but the three dimensional representation on the map screen does not even have textures. The game definitely deserves credit for the way it structures a large amount of information, but the graphical user interface is offensively bad.
In terms of sound, Dai Senryaku seriously pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in a budget title. There is one military themed track that plays continuously through every section of the game and it sounds like it was ripped from a Game Boy Advance title. Get ready to put on a CD because listening to over twenty minutes of this music will drive you completely insane.
Obviously, this game has a very steep learning curve that will prove too daunting for casual gamers. If the complicated gameplay doesn't deter most people, the horrendous graphics and sound are certainly not going to win any fans. For anyone willing to look past these issues, Dai Senryaku offers some deep military strategy. With such a mixed bag of qualities, gamers should give this game a test run before making a purchase.
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