If you knew sushi like I knew sushi...

James Clavell's Shogun logo

FACE it, reader-san, ever since you read the book, saw the TV series (again) and decapitated next door's cat with the sword, you've been wondering what it was really like to be an Englishman abroad in the newly-discovered Japans. Did they really bath that often? Were they really that fanatical? And what about the women?

Wonder no more, for now Infocom has provided you with a ticket back to the 12th century as a pilot aboard a Dutch trader, the Erasmus. Times are hard - there is a religious war brewing in Europe and on the sea no one can hear you sink.

Spanish and Portuguese and English and Dutch men have been blowing each other out of the water for years now, each protecting the valuable trade routes. Until now the Portuguese have had the Japanese sewn up by controlling the seas to the west of them, the way east being miles of uncharted ocean which only a madman would cross. Enter one madman.

Pilot of the last ship from a fleet of five, you struggle across wide seas with a pitiful crew, most of them dead, the rest dying. As you brave a fierce storm you suddenly sight land. This is where your adventure begins.
Unless you are a complete landlubber you should find it pretty easy to salvage most of your ship plus a few of your crew if you are lucky. Capture by the Japanese is a certainty.

As a stranger in a strange land you must learn quickly or die. Your future depends on how quickly you grasp the Japanese way of things, their brutality, their strange code of honour, their odd bathing habits, and their funny curvy swords.

Progress is hampered by your total inability to speak anything even slightly approaching Japanese. A translator is on hand, but he is a Portuguese priest - your sworn enemy on both counts.
Trying to get your point of view across can be a bit difficult when your interpreter thinks you're a heretic pirate. Your overall objective may be fame and riches, but just staying alive would be all right for now.

The text of the game is surrounded by a pretty Japanese-style border, which changes as you progress through each part of the adventure.
Pictures occupy the same part of the screen as the text, and scroll away as the text wraps around them and fill the screen. This gives the impression that you are reading a book or parchment and adds considerably to the atmosphere.

The adventure is split up into different sections or events, like scenes in a play, which must be completed before going on to the next.
At the end of each section you will be told how many points you got out of the number available for that section and your running total before being given various options - whether to continue, whether to get a hint, and so on. You've heard of modular programming? Well this is modular adventuring.

Shogun is an adventure unlike most others in that it is orientated towards solving situations rather than puzzles. That is, it is more important to think and to do than to collect lots of objects and manipulate them in some way. In this respect Shogun is, dare I say, more intellectually challenging than many of the popular adventures.

As one of the last efforts from the team that showed the world what adventures are all about, this is one to be proud of.

James Clavell's Shogun logo

Come to terms with the strange ways of a new culture, making your way to the very top in Infocom/Activision's feudal Japan.

Ayyyeee!! Toranaga sama! Yes, time to put on your favourite silk kimono, warm up the saki, and boot up Infocom's Shogun. First the novel, then the TV 'mini series', now the computer game. Hardened hack 'n' slashers may be disappointed to learn that the game isn't a run-o'-the-mill karate game and doesn't even offer the chance to slaughter hundreds of Ninja (well, maybe one or two). It is the adventure game of the best-selling novel and it sticks pretty much to the original format.

In the year 1600, European rivalry is ferocious and based upon religious differences. The Catholic nations of Portugal and Spain have spread their spheres of political and religious influence to the Far East. Their bitter rivals, the 'heretic' English and Dutch traders, are trying to get in on the act.

The arrival of the Dutch ship 'Erasmus' piloted by Englishman John Blackthorne brings an interesting situation to the tense balance in Japan where the ruling samurai lords are vying for individual power. Quite intriguing.

The basic aim of the game is simply to survive this strange culture, earn respect and become a high-ranking Samurai. Etiquette is king: forget to bow and it's as good as 'bye-bye head!' Shogun hardly classes as a real adventure game in the traditional sense, but more like living parts of the life of John Blackthorne via the individual scenarios which make up the game.

Producing Shogun as many mini scenarios does cut down the enjoyment somewhat because you're stifled in choice of action and movement. For a few scenarios, movement is limited to one and only one area in which you have to make the right decisions to get the full points. Very restrictive.

As for graphics, the pictures are adequate, not great. Some do seem to convey the image as Japan as they are intended to do 'in the exquisite style of Japanese court painters...' There does seem, however, a great difference in quality of the graphics: some would hardly be adequate on a C64. The graphics are few and far between, though, which does offer a more digestible break-up of the text so that it doesn't really distract.

The amount of puzzles is negligible, yet the toughness of the game is high due to the day-to-day problems you face in this different culture. The game even seems to get easier as you progress further, which again is unusual. The main problem created by the mini scenarios is that they are linear: you must get past one to move on to the next, and can't try something else as you would do in a conventional adventure.

The game, though, has plenty of atmosphere and feel to it, and the textual descriptions are up to the usual high Infocom standard. Anyone who has seen the TV programme or read the book will enjoy this different approach, although without any prior knowledge of the storyline you could have difficulty getting the gist of what's going on. The scenarios do jump around, so it's easy to lose yourself on what's going on in the outside world. I still can't see the point in some characters who are mentioned and then seemingly forgotten about.

In my opinion, Shogun is the first real 'interactive fiction' work by Infocom. It is an enjoyable read and play, but it is more of an experience in style than a really good adventure. There aren't many games in which you get urinated upon! As it stands it is worth a go, but for myself it's a question of "Sayonara Anjin-San!"

James Clavell's Shogun logo

Infocom, Amiga £29.99

Ah so, as 'Kendo' Fish would say. Remember old Richard Chamberlain (housewives faint all over the country) in the epic TV drama where he sailed a ship to Japan and got involved with the war between two leaders to rule the country? Well this game is based on the same book (by James Clavell) as the TV series.

As John Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) you are the Pilot Major of a Dutch trading ship, the Erasmus. In the year 1600 the Pacific Ocean is dominated by Spain and Portugal. Their knowledge of the Asian seaways is top secret information, but you have a stolen Portuguese rutter which has helped make you the first Englishman to successfully sail through the Straits of Maellan into the Pacific. But the journey has cost many lives already. The surviving crew are starving and Captain Spillbergen is dying. Worse still, after sailing for weeks without sight of land, the ship is caught in a terrible storm. The first task is to steer the Erasmus safely through dangerous reefs and tidal waves to try and reach Japan.

But if you thought life on the ocean waves was hazardous, as a European in Japan your life is permanently hanging by the thinnest of threads: You see, these Japs are strange folk with an odd sense of honour. Like if a chap loses a game of ping-pong he's likely to impale himself! And their only punishment is death, usually by an extremely painful method like being boiled alive. They have weird customs as well - a samurai told me off for having barbaric manners and then urinated over me! Then he ordered me to take a bath - in public!

Still. if you win their respect (bowing to every samurai is a good idea) they let you wear a silk kimono. But even then, without warning, you can be chucked into the slammer for an indefinite period without any clothes. Somehow, you must try simply to survive as you become involved in the tussle of two great lords (Ishido and Toranaga) to rule Japan - the emperor has died, leaving a seven-year-old heir. Your one asset is your ship - much better than the Spanish and Portuguese ones - which could enable one of the lords to vanquish the other. But your main enemies are the Catholic priests - don't forget, this is the time of the Spanish Inquisition and worst luck you're a Protestant!

Occasional but beautifully drawn pictures add to the engrossing atmosphere created by the detailed text - much of it (including some strong language) taken straight from James Clavell's great novel. The story is a wonderful yarn about the clash of two totally different cultures. And the interaction between the English hero and his strange new world suits the adventure genre well. If Japanese objects and customs seem totally alien to the adventure player, this is exactly how they would seem to John Blackthorne.

The parser is very flexible, comprehending many variations of syntax. However, understanding samurai honour is impossible and progress is made mostly through trial and error. If you do get stuck the game has a useful (but far too tempting) in built hints facility. As this is 'interactive fiction', the problems are essentially linear. Various sections must be completed in order, just like the chapters of the book. Shogun is more of an adapted novel than a true adventure. But if atmosphere is what you really want, this is your game.