Skulls of Shogun Review For Xbox 360
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Is it possible to make skulls dangerous, cool, and cute, all at the same time? Until Skulls of the Shogun, it probably wasn’t. 17-BIT decided to take an Earthworm Jim feel, add in some dead samurais, a dash of Japanese culture, a pinch of modern humour, and inject the entire mixture into a turn-based strategy game that’s sure to keep you entertained!
The storyline itself is enough to keep you interested, but not too intense that you’ll be turned off to it. You are General Akamoto, a fierce and talented warrior (with an incredibly sweet ‘stache), who was stabbed in the back during a great battle. However, death is just the beginning of a new adventure! You start your in-game journey on a giant boat, sailing until you find yourself on a mysterious island full of skeletons dressed up like warriors. There’s a snarky warrior there that tells you, the great and glorious Akamoto, to wait in some sort of line to be judged. You never waited for anyone or anything while you were alive, so why start now? And how dare he speak to you with such insolence! After quickly and efficiently chopping off his head, people start to take notice of you. Apparently there was a mix-up, and nobody believes you are who you claim to be. Regardless, your skill as a warrior has made believers out of those watching you, and all of a sudden you find yourself with some loyal followers that are also tired of being treated like garbage. With sword in hand, you must uphold your honour and fight to claim what is rightfully yours in the afterlife, and let the adventure begin!
The mechanics are easy to follow, and stack new options up on a piece at a time as you advance in the game, so you don’t get overwhelmed with everything all at once. You can control every warrior on the battlefield, and even Akamoto – though keep in mind that if he dies, you lose the battle automatically. Each warrior type has specific advantages and disadvantages. The Archers have a wide range and hit hard, but are physically weak; the Infantry don’t deal a lot of damage and can’t move very far, but they are strong and have a high defence; and the Monks are great healers who cannot attack unless it is in self-defence. Any character can eat the skulls of fallen foes to boost HP and also add to overall HP. This comes in very handy when you don’t have a Monk around, and if a specific character has eaten three skulls, he enters a demon-samurai state that allows two actions per turn instead of one.
New forms of tactics and abilities are introduced only as needed, so by the time you really get into the game where you are monitoring multiple things on the battlefield, you are so used to the fighting style you can adapt quickly to changes. The introductions of new elements to the gameplay are obvious in nature (such as adding new ranks like the Monk, or the ability to form a wall with your troops that will protect any Archers behind them from counter attacks), but these additions are simple enough that you will master them quickly and efficiently. The only issue for people who love turn-based strategy games is that Skulls of the Shogun may be too easy for hardcore tactics lovers. There is only Easy or Normal difficulty, and Normal is not a huge challenge for those familiar with tactics games. Average gamers should still find themselves empowered by the level of awesome they can achieve in such a short time, but the enemy AI will leave much to be desired for those already familiar with the genre.
There is also a clear progression through the game – you get to see your starting point as you move from level to level (think Super Mario 3), but the entire area is mapped out for you, covering each main section you have not yet reached with these yellow clouds. It’s almost as if they are there taunting you, begging you to uncover what is hidden underneath. The worst part about it is that you can literally see the end, as if it were some golden egg atop a mountain that had been taken from you, mere moments before you began the game.
As you progress through the lands, you will enter into each battle with new troops. While most turn-based strategy games rely on the characters in your party to provide consumers with an emotional attachment, this game negates the need for one. The only developing storylines are that of Akamoto and his enemies, including Lieutenant Kurokawa, the evil antagonist who betrayed our fearless General by stabbing him in the back during battle, sending him to the afterlife in the first place. The warriors under your command will come and go, and for once in a game of its genre it really does not detract from the game or the story whatsoever. It’s almost a blessing not to get so attached to your part members only to watch them fall to their death.
In case you feel like you didn’t do the best job you could (or you’re just a leaderboard fanatic), the levels are also repeatable at each stage so you can go back and best your opponents after you’ve already figured out their tactics. At the end of each stage you will also see an overview of your progress, your friends’ progress, and any objective you need to meet to get a higher score. These objectives are not apparent at the beginning of each match, they change each time, and you only see them revealed after your first play-through. What this does is encourage you to go back and play each stage to really get the most out of your score, or even just see if you can do it, adding to the replay value of every level. An example of the objectives would be ensuring you had at least two surviving part members at the end. If it’s an especially tough match, you may just want to go back and see if you can do it!
Visually, Skulls of the Shogun really hits it out of the park. The artwork has a completely cartoony feel – but every movement, every animation, is smooth and deliberate, right down to the disjointed movements of the skeletons, or the anime-style puffs of smoke that waft up in symbolic fashion. The artists even injected some subtle forms of humour that is bound to get at least a smirk out of its audiences – like watching Akamotofacepalm in the background at the sheer stupidity of his ghost-samurai warriors, or the Road-Runner imagery you get when pushing someone off a cliff. As stated before, the game is reminiscent of the early 90s’ Earthworm Jim games, with its thick outlines around objects, colourful environment with a dark overtone, and its bizarre animation-style. Unless you were hoping for some AAA title graphics, you won’t find yourself disappointed with the overall experience in this game.
It was hard to pin down the game’s best feature, but the music is an absolute win. It begins with a baseline of what feels like a Gorillaz tune, and as you go along adds in some flute and shamisen in all the right places, to really give it that Japanese feel. When you complete a level, the audio moves in a completely opposite direction and provide your ears with that glorious, arcade-style victory music. Even the diegetic sounds such as the “sha-sha-sha” of the skeletons when you die, or the grunts heard when your arrows collide with the enemy will leave you satisfied. Though the dialog is text-based and the people mutter instead of speak their words, the way it is done is comical in nature and add an endearing quality to the gameplay you don’t always get with strategy-heavy genres. The whole atmosphere the music creates really helps you enjoy the game to its fullest.
In this skull-eat-skull world, you never know what will be just around the corner – be it fast-paced tactical battles, interesting developments in the story, or just a few good chuckles. This game is satisfying on so many levels it is almost a crime that it’s only $9.99.
Skulls of the Shogun receives a 4.75/5.0
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