Lords of the Rising Sun
for Amiga (OCS/ECS)
Also available for: CD-i

Mr Creosote:
Company: Cinemaware
Year: 1989
Genre: Strategy, Action
Theme: Historical / War
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 26581
Review by Mr Creosote (2020-12-05)

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 Lords of the Rising Sun. 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 Defender of the Crown), 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, but Lords of the Rising Sun remains 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 Defender of the Crown, 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.

Archived Review(s) ↓

Review by Mr Creosote (2002-11-14)

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, 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!

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