Defender of the Crown was the Amiga's killer application. Though beneath its audiovisual presentation, it wasn't a very good game. In fact, just a few years further on, the Cinemaware formula of stringing together simplistic mini games with some adventurous setting of essentially little relevance had become easily transparent. The company's releases generated less and less buzz. This was when they re-visited and re-imagined their initial success with. Though not without having gone back to the drawing board.
Set in the times of a Japanese civil war, several clans compete for power in the country, of which two are selectable by the player. The daimyo characters supposedly have slightly different abilities, making specific game sequences a bit easier or harder, though the main difference is actually in their starting position on the map.
As expected from Cinemaware, this map (where the player spends most of her time) is quite easy on the eyes. The map isn't just pretty, but even manages to intuitively communicate some basic information. Armies are carrying their lords' banners. Cities, monastries and other settlements are clearly discernable in their nature and have their allegiance displayed as well. Army size and strength, on the other hand, needs to be checked on a separate pop-up, unfortunately. The heading of armies on the road and fleets in transit cannot be easily determined at all, even for one's own. So while not perfect, it's a good start.
The good news is that the game isn't just a re-skinned version of the fundamentally broken classic. The strategic model arising from the basic set-up is solid. While essentially simplistic (see further below), the still fairly uncommon use of real time (one of the initially planned, but scrapped features of), with things always happening left and right, put quite a challenge on the player at the time.
These days, players maybe more used to this sort of thing may be able to keep their cool much easier, butremains sufficiently strategically challenging. For instance, movement across mountains or through woods or any other kind of landscape is not possible, so the road layout dictates strategic options by opening up sneaky pathways as well as non-passable choke points. Before sending an army onto the long western route, for example, players need to think twice, as this will disable this force for other operations for a significant amount of time.
Apart from military force, diplomatic means are available to draw neutral cities on one's side. Though talking of military force, this leads to the integration of the Cinemaware trademarked action scenes. The meeting of two armies is resolved in a small real-time battle with archers, infantry etc. which doesn't allow for any real tactical moves within the tiny amount of available space and can therefore be considered fairly gimmicky.
Others play better, but essentially fall into a similar area, such as storming a city, seen in an overhead view with tiny figures, which may not look at breathtaking as the equivalent fencing scene in, but certainly plays better, or the same scene in the defending role which plays totally differently, involving nice-looking arrow shooting.
Third, there are some scenes which originate fairly organically from the premise and even add to the strategic depth. The ninja attack may not be a highlight gameplay-wise, however, it is related to a nice strategic feature to disable an opponent even if his military position is vastly superior. Similarly, chasing the escaping defeated general actually determines the survival of his army.
Needless to say, the game overall looks and sounds excellent. As usual, the designers captured the cliché essence of the Hollywood view on Japanese middle ages quite well, visually as well as in the textual parts with their flowery language. The adventure part otherwise often found in Cinemaware's games, on the other hand, is mostly missing, with no prominent named characters playing a role. Instead, what players get is one of their best designed games, as the foundation is really rock solid. Strip away the snazzy cover and most of the action and you still have a strategy game worth playing. Granted, it's not the greatest game ever which is left, but the stress test succeeds.