You like the concept, but medieval England is getting a bit tiring? Then head over to medieval Japan! This is how Lords of the Rising Sun is best described. Oh, you don't have a clue what I'm talking about? Then you probably haven't played Defender of the Crown by the same company! Stop reading here and sit in the corner!
For all of you who are still here reading, I can now admit LOTRS isn't that similar to DOTC. Seeing how difficult to catch the essence of Cinemaware's games is, it is a nice way to start though. Medieval setting, conquering a country which is naturally limited by being an island, many arcade scenes to lighten up the strategic part. Similar enough?
Describing the differences should be more interesting. LOTRS works in real time on the beautiful strategic map of Japan. Whenever there is an event like an army arriving at a city, two armies meeting or a special event like a Ninja attacking you personally, you get a message and you can choose whether to intervene or not (if you're alter ego is personally involved, you don't have that choice of course).
Since pure strategic mode is rather dull, you will of course play most of these events yourself. This is where the genre mix which made Cinemaware so famous starts! On encounters with cities or armies, you can first choose what to do - try to convince them to join your side, fight, etc. Each type of fight results in a different arcade scene, e.g. storming a fortress or galopping after a fleeing general.
Instead of describing every small detail, I'd like to talk about the setting a bit. How does 'medieval Japan' influence the gameplay? More than I thought at first! There are all these strange things no European will ever be able to understand in LOTRS, like for example the weird 'code of honour' which always forces you to commit suicide. The game texts are written in a really strange style and - to me - are quite funny. Not that archaic European talk would be any better of course, but 'we' here are too used to it I guess...
As usual with Cinemaware, the graphics are simply great! Strategy on such a map is the double amount of fun. And the girl to be rescued in one of the special quests (A Cinemaware game without Adventure elements? Unthinkable!) will certainly make every young teenager drool
For a seasoned strategist like me, Lords of the Rising Sun leaves a bit too much to the action of course. A trained action-gamer can always easily get the upper hand because his sieges will always take less long and so on. What does that matter against the computer players however? The goal of a game should after all not be to finish it as quickly as possible, but to enjoy it while it lasts!