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All of you who were born in a wrong time and country, here's your chance to still rise and shine. Sword of the Samurai lets you crawl into the body of a Samurai with one goal only - to become Shogun of Japan. Starting out, you can choose the province you're living in, what you are best at, leadership, the amount of land you have, honor and a few other things. You start out and need to train yourself and your troops, go out on missions, seek honor for yourself, or dishonor your rivals.
The feeling of the game, the atmosphere, is perfect. No anachronisms, no wrong information. Everything was researched and presented thorough and correct. It creates a general feeling of feudal Japan. At the sides of menus are drawings that could've been taken from paintings, matching the event or place you are at. While a part of the game is being loaded, it goes Zen and gives you a random piece of wisdom to ponder about. When fighting a battle with your troops, even the formation and tactics have their specific Japanese name.
The game itself is made out of several parts. There's the main map, which's shows your province. This view changes to the map of Japan when you are Daimyo and are going for Shogun. Besides that, there's the menu screen for making decisions. Then there's an RPG-type melee combat, one-on-one kenjutsu combat and a part where you have to do field tactics which I'd call the strategic part.
The main map is where you roam around, seeking honor or doing missions. You can also use it to go to your superior's fief to pay him your tribute, get a mission or ask for a bride. These missions are things like killing a band of bandits or defending the honor of your superior by taking on a challenge the swordmaster gave you. When you succeeded in it, you're one step closer to being his favorite and taking his place once he leaves. You can also get some extra land now and then too. Besides that, you can go visit a rival or sneak into his house to dishonor him or reclaim something he stole (your son for example). Get caught and you're the one who's dishonored. Finally, you can just roam around the main map, waiting for random events to occur so you can gain honor if you succesfully finish them.
The RPG melee combat puts you in an isometric view and arms you with a bow and a sword. Switching between them is slightly annoying as it takes a few seconds. Realistic, but annoying if you don't calculate them in your actions. What you need to do, is either kill everybody that hasn't fled, go and grab whatever you came for and leave or prevent others from getting what they came for. Sounds easy, but it isn't. You ought to keep your wits about and lure enemies just enough so you can still handle them as two hits will take you down. All goes well and there's nothing to worry about when you start, but after a while, the difficulty increases noticably. All of a sudden, there're alot more pikemen, which are treacherously dangerous, and before you know it, there are gunmen around. All in all, it stays fun, as the difficulty increases at such a pace to ensure it won't get boring.
The one-on-one kenjutsu combat is a swordfighting system. I could explain it in length and depth, but only one decent description is needed. It's the work of Sid Meier. Nothing more needs to be said as it's proof enough of its quality.
The field tactics used to stump me, quitting the game, as its controls are a bit awkward to master. That is, until I read the file that explains the controls. When you have done that, you can properly guide your troops. The thing to do here is simple: kill all, or flee. Its usually a mix of the two though. You start out by selecting the formation you see fit for this case, then the attack strategy. After these are chosen, the battle starts and you can give commands to each individual legion, unless they flee. It's hard to control them then, but the better you get in generalship, the less likely your troops are to flee, the more effective they are and the easier it is to calm down a legion that is fleeing.
Sword of the Samurai, although widely unknown, is a game like every game should be. Fun, with a wide variety of options and the possibility to play over and over again without becoming any less fun. Not having this game in the collection of a self-respecting gamer is like a self-respecting baker not having flour in his bakery.