Shingen the Ruler (Known as Takeda Shingen 2 in Japan) was released during one hot summer in 1990. I can still smell the popcorn in the air as I perused the movie store with my father and brother. Using the old standby of “THIS COVER RULES LET’S PLAY IT!”, my brother picked up this game. No, it wasn’t a spaceman riding a dinosaur shooting lasers or anything like that, but I still think that is one hardcore badass. As my brother read the back of the box, the need to play it only intensified.
I remember feeling a huge urge to know more about this man. It wouldn’t be until many years later that I actually studied up on him and found out JUST how awesome he was. Fun trivia fact: He had a descendant named Ryu Umemoto (who passed away in 2011) who worked on a lot of the music for the popular Bullet Hell slinging company, CAVE.
My brother snatched the copy off the shelf, as my father approached. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Shingen the Ruler. A match made in heaven? We eagerly rushed home, shoved dinner down our throats, and threw in our game for the weekend. Lightning strikes, filling the darkness with light as a figure approaches, 2 armies facing down on each other. The title pops up as Shingen comes into full focus. (The title always made me laugh. The Ruler SHINGEN) After starting the game, there was only one option… sound on or off. After that, we were whisked away into the world of Feudal Japan.
Mi, Ca, Fa, Fc, Gm…?… what the fuck? Clt and Pri? Oh, the days when there was no manual if the Movie Store God’s didn’t hear your plea. How the hell were we supposed to play this game? Choosing any of the options only presented more options that more or less told you nothing. Well, the game thought of this ahead of time. Game 1, Us 0.
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. It’s everything you really need to know to at least translate the game into the realm of playable. The funny thing is that since the top loader NES was still a pipe dream, you couldn’t read the cover if you were actually playing the game. Since my brother just initially tossed it into the machine, we had no idea what was going on until we got frustrated and took it out to play something else. With a collective eureka, we wrote down the information and actually started to finally play the game.
While initially extremely confusing, I later found out this was pretty much the layout for the majority of the country owning strategy games around at the time (Genghis Khan, Romance of the 3 Kingdoms, etc etc). You have to develop your region by investing money into your farmers and gold mines, while simultaneously drafting soldiers into your army. Your major worries are random disasters (Snowstorms, epidemics, floods) and invasions. Other factors come into play such as your regions loyalty, which can be risen by donating money to the farmers. Each turn you could choose 1 action for each region, and each turn was a month, so games would easily last years and years.
As time passed, Shingen eventually has his son, and you are able to train him to take your place upon your death. A really novel factor for 1990, I don’t recall any games really dealing with that before this. You also had daughters that you could marry off to other rulers to forge alliances. How’s that for equality?
So you’ve gathered your forces, bought equipment for them, and are ready to move onto the next region.
It’s all pretty self explanatory. You are able to pick how many of each unit you want to send into battle (leave some at home to defend, dingus!) and then split those people into different groups. Each unit has their own strengths and weaknesses, and all are an integral part to any strategy. After picking groups, the game then asks you if you want to play a manual battle or automatic. NEVER pick automatic.. the computer plays your units like an infant plays chess. You will suffer massive casualties, and that’s never a good thing.
Battles are fought on a grid, with different terrain affecting your troops differently. You can’t fire guns/arrows through trees, for example. The major thing to consider is that if you lose your Headquarters unit, you lose the battle instantly. Unfortunately for the game, the AI is just… stupid. If you rush your entire army in, you’ll probably be maimed pretty damn quickly. However, if you simply wait, the enemy just can’t take it. They’ll rush towards you in waves, Cavalry first followed by Rifleman and the others, trickling towards your stalwart formation.
Larger units do more damage to smaller units, and units of higher rank (basically your experience level) do more damage in general. A group of 50 rank 1s will probably be bodied by a group of 15 rank 15s. The major problem with this is the fact that all the rulers in the game have higher ranks that for the most part don’t change. That means you’ll eventually get to the point where you have to grind to be able to beat the last area. That’s right, grinding in a strategy game where EXP is the only thing connecting it to an RPG. Since it’s all but impossible to brute force the higher ranked enemies, you’ll be playing this one for awhile.
Eventually, you’ll overcome the enemy forces and to the victor goes the spoils.
Rinse and repeat for many, many, many years. Shingen begins the game at 24 years old, and I’ve had him live until he was 65.. and I was still legitimately playing. That’s 492 turns of selecting Gm and Mi. Upon his son taking over, it didn’t take too much longer to beat it. (His son actually has different hidden stats than Shingen and therefore plays differently. You could have quite a different struggle if Shingen dies early on.)
So is it a good game? Even in 1990, this was archaic. It felt more like an old PC game than a NES game, what with it all practically being text. Playing through again, I was disappointed. My memories once more led me astray. It really just wasn’t fun! The game progresses WAAAAYYY too slowly to really get you into it. At the beginning of the game, you’re pretty much only getting 15 $$ a turn, and you really need hundreds to affect your region in any noticeable way. The battles ARE still fun, even if it’s easy to cheese your way to victory. When you first turn on the game, the amount of options seem overwhelming, and it feels like you could do anything in this world. Upon playing for an hour, you realized all you’ve done was attempt to dig for gold mines (failures equal a waste of money, joy.) and try to draft troops without lowering your loyalty rating. I’d rate it higher if it allowed you to play as other Daimyo, but the game IS Shingen the Ruler, and Takeda Clan you’ll stay.
I’ll never forget you, Shingen. Your insanely complicated layout led me down a road to enjoying Japanese history and strategy games as a whole… but this affair has got to end.