DS fans have been waiting for a real time strategy title since the system's announcement back at E3 2003, and Namco has answered the call by releasing Real Time Conflict: Shogun Empires. While Shogun Empires may be the first of its kind on the system, there is simply no reason to support this poorly designed and crudely executed attempt at the RTS genre.
Namco's latest design takes players back to Feudal Japan during a time of war and upheaval. The land has been overrun with bandits, and the very society that demanded honor for so many generations is now collapsing on itself. As one of two brothers, a quest has begun to retake Japan and bring about a new age of honor and prosperity. Players can chose between two heroes to lead their campaign across Japan. Takeshi, the diplomat, is used mainly for negotiation and non-violent strategy, while his brother Kenshin relies on the strength of war. The set-up for Shogun Empires is relatively strong, and takes from a solid set of design inspiration from such titles as Age of Empires, Defender of the Crown, and Lords of the Realm. This combination turn based and real time strategy could have been an amazing first RTS for the DS, but instead it falls short in virtually every category.
As mentioned, Shogun Empires is both a turn-based and real-time strategy hybrid. The main menu is used for troop movement much like Risk or Defender, and the actual battle sequences play out much like Lords of the Realm. Unfortunately, the strategy on the main map is far too basic, allowing players to move from one territory to the next either attacking, defending, or attempting to use diplomacy. When using a diplomatic approach, however, only two options are given and the end result is either a "Yes you took over the territory" or "No you didn't." That side of the strategy is simply a guessing game, and is difficult to use a legitimate tactic. Attacking and defending takes the player to the battle map, and introduces them to a whole new list of issues. This portion of gameplay is what truly puts Shogun Empires in the bargain bin, as units move astonishingly slow, offer no strength in AI, and provide no actual entertainment in even the most heated of battles.
The battle portions of Shogun Empires are a complete embarrassment, offering no appeal to strategists or casual gamers alike. The three unit types that can be controlled, Archers, Swordsmen, and Spearmen are limited and have no real uniqueness of their own. There are no formation abilities, no overview of strategy or battle plans, and nothing that sets these units apart besides a few core attributes. In short, there is nothing in Real Time Conflict that will be desired by true RTS fans. When in battle, AI will stand in place as archers pick them off one by one, and when attacking the group shuffles from place to place using the quickest line possible, often resulting in either a cluster or straight line. Once close enough, they begin to fight. That is the entire depth of the RTS portion of the design. Once enough enemies have been slain, the army General can be called on, but he isn't player controlled and simply runs from one side of the screen to the other killing random units before moving on.
Battle control suffers as well, making the core gameplay virtually unplayable. There is no visual or audio feedback when troops are given commands, and all of the on-screen buttons displayed are static and offer no response when tapped. This is amazingly frustrating, since the player will never know for sure that their command has gone actually registered, and when dealing with larger battles there just isn't time to baby-sit units, especially when they may be standing still and taking a beating from enemy troops. There just isn't any fun to be had in this title.
Presentation elements for Real Time Conflict: Shogun Empires may be the only saving grace, though in the end the weak gameplay ruins any possible payoff it delivers. The button layout works relatively well, assigning troop types to the A, B, X and Y buttons. There is also an option for switching from left to right handed, so at least some thought was used when designing the controls. Screen use during battle is also somewhat impressive, allowing screen-swap at the touch of a button so that stylus control can be used on either the main or mini-map. It is simply unfortunate that any good decision is outnumbered by so many more poor ones, and the relatively strong control can't change the lacking gameplay it was designed for.
There is a relatively large amount of stat management to tweak both in the main map and battle maps, but again the weak gameplay will turn any self-respecting gamer away from this product entirely. Each territory has their own loyalty indicator, population, morale level, stamina, and total honor. In fact, should players want to skip the RTS portion altogether a simulation mode is available, though simulations are much harder to win than simply marching an army up to the dumbfounded AI when in battle mode.
While the main issues with Shogun Empires emerge because of weak gameplay, the graphical and sound production also manages to be a huge letdown. The main battle maps look amazingly bland, offering no ambient animations and no border to the map. Only darkness can be seen on the edges of the battlefield, and there is no attempt to make the player feel like they are actually in a war zone. Character animations are also stupefying, offering only jittery walk cycles and no visual appeal. There is hardly any mixture of model and sprite art, so everything ends up looking like a first generation PS1 title. The sound presentation is also painful, forcing us to actually turn our system's sound off when trying to play through the simulation modes. Recorded audio of people dying is played extremely fast over and over to give the sound of battle, and it is nothing short of agonizing.
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