Lords Of The Rising Sun
Part strategic war game, part arcade action game, Lords of the Rising Sun is all Cine-maware — a perfect example of the new style of computer game popularized by that company.
Early Cinemaware titles such as Defender of the Crown emphasized outstandinganimated graphics. The games looked almost like movies, but game play suffered. Cinemaware's more recent titles — like Rocket Ranger — have achieved a better balance between game strategy, arcade skills, graphics, and sound. In Lords of the Rising Sun, this balance shifts even more toward engrossing game play.
Most of the action takes place on a scrolling game map. Although the map is beautifully drawn, it doesn't feature the kind of large, photo-realistic artwork that is Cinemaware's trademark. And while there are action sequences similar to the ones in Defender of the Crown and Rocket Ranger, you're not forced to participate in them if you prefer a strictly strategic game.
In Lords of the Rising Sun, you play one of two brothers, Yori-tomo or Yoshitsune, fighting to overthrow the ruling Taira clan. The former brother has better leadership skills, while the latter has better fighting skills. In either case, your forces are greatly outnumbered. You command three generals, and the Taira clan has seven. To further complicate the picture, your brother commands three "friendly" armies that may not seem so friendly once the enemy is on the run. There are also six independent armies which can at various times be considered enemies, allies, or neutrals.
You maneuver your armies around a scrolling map of 51 cities, castles, and monasteries. Stop at friendly bases for food and replacements, fight enemy armies you meet on the way, and besiege hostile castles to acquire new bases for your men. As your armies gain strength, you can force friendly or nonaligned armies into alliances, giving you more generals to control. The object of the game is to capture and hold all 19 castles.
There are several action sequences in the game, all optional. The most common is the battle sequence, in which you direct your swordsmen and archers by moving the mouse. If you are victorious, you can pursue the opposing general on horseback as he flees — very much like the jousting in Defender of the Crown. In another action sequence, you can lay siege to a castle (this is essentially a maze game in which you try to reach the castle keep and kill the main guard). When you're defending a castle that is under siege, you use a bow and arrows to shoot the invaders. Finally, another action sequence is a ninja attack. When an enemy ninja tries to assassinate you — and this can happen at any time — you must defend yourself by using your sword to deflect the shiriken (throwing stars).
The graphics and sound effects in these sequences are good, but the mouse control is not as tight as in other games that emphasize arcade-style action. (A trackball mouse replacement can be a big help.) Again, though, the action sequences are usually optional. You can intervene in any battle to personally lead the troops, or simply let your generals carry on the fight by themselves.
Learning the basic moves and game controls is fairly easy, but mastering the complex strategies (and learning to distinguish between generals with names like Shigehira and Shigemori) will take many hours. They should be hours enjoyably spent, however. The game play is reminiscent of the board game Risk, with the computer assuming some of the burden of determining the outcome of battles and sieges. Once you get past the basics, there are many subtleties to explore — such as using ninjas to assassinate your enemies, and finding the four sacred objects of the Imperial Regalia.
About the only thing that really bothered me were the screens that print explanatory messages before and after certain sequences. While these messages may be helpful the first time you read them, they get old very quickly and slow down the pace of the game unnecessarily.
On the other hand, Cine-maware deserves compliments for allowing the game to be loaded from a hard disk (though it's still copy protected), and for using spare memory to preload the game sequences (so that no disk accesses are needed if you have enough memory).
Although Lords of the Rising Sun may be short onCinemaware's traditional cinematic effects, it is long on quality of game play. Once you start playing, you'll have a hard time stopping—and nobody can ask more of a game than that.