Dan Gril returns to continue his inevitably doomed attempts to restore traditionalism to an increasingly modernised Japan in Total War: Shogun 2: Fall of The Samurai. Here’s part 1 in case you missed it.
It’s misty out there. A thick old pea souper soaking into the old Japanese wood. Did you know that a Japanese wood called Aokigahara is the world’s second worst suicide hotspot (after the Golden Gate Bridge)? Apparently, the police have a yearly trawl of the forest for any bodies they’ve missed. It’s got so bad that they’ve stopped publishing the numbers, for fear of encouraging people.
Anyway, knowing that makes me feel much worse. Somewhere in the fug of this digital wood is a huge rebel army, comprising about 1500 gunners and 200 sabre-toting horsemen, all after my blood.
Sadly, I’ve no idea where. My thousand-man army is crouched in deep in the woods and, save for another fucking stupid general who refuses to crouch in the scrub and is definitely going to get his wotsit shot off (a perennial annoyance of Total War games, I suppose to give the thick-as-pigshit AI something to aim at) , we’re hidden. We are on low ground though, so I cast around for a better spot to make a stand – and right in front of us is the biggest hill on the map, with what looks like an natural fort next to it. It’s got three sides of cliffs and one narrow elbow leading up to it. Stick the White Tiger line infantry on top, spearman on the elbow, battle’s won, simple.
I tell my entire army to run for it.
The horse-mounted general gets there first and is amazed to see the entire enemy army coming up the other side of the hill. He survives the first volley they fire and bravely runs away. The terrifying enemy cavalry force lollop up to occupy the fort-rock, where they’re no use to man nor beast.
Given how close our forces are, there’s no time to worry about tactics now. I just set all my gunners to skirmish mode, push them into lines and forward. I wait until the first volley’s gone off and charge all my spearmen through my lines and into the enemy. In the mist and confusion, there’s a lot of bodies in the wood – and the enemy horsemen, faced with five hundred spearmen, try and flank my White Tiger Force, giving me ample time to just run through their infantry with spears before taking them down in the wood. Note to self; never fight a spear-heavy army in a wood.
The limping remains of the rebels are easy to finish off in the next month, giving me time to occupy castle Togichi and heal up a touch before the Jotai arrive. Except the Numata arrive first. The Shogun gave me an explicit mission to destroy a Numata force, and luckily here’s a mammoth one throwing itself at me.
Cue the montage. Brave spearmen hurling their opponents from the battlements, my cynical general endlessly using the infinite free levy troops as frontline fodder before my elites pile in. Horses running uselessly around forts. Brave charges by suicidal gunners at massed infantry pushing through a gatehouse. Overwhelming armies again and again and again.
I win a series of victories against the odds. Playing Total War since the original Shogun really does equip you with the strategic knowledge of how to defend effectively, against the still-shoddy battle AI at least; you really learn the importance of high ground, focused archers and spearmen quickly. The next few months of 1864 just consist of my army squatting in an increasingly battered wooden fort. I have no money to repair it, as my trade routes are all blockaded, and it looks worse with every battle.
Despite that, the Jotai and Numata’s crappy levy armies bounce off my White Tiger Force gunners month after month. I really can’t believe that troops seemingly named after a J-Pop band can be so effective and cheap, but they are. Even more effective are the single units of katana samurai and the irreplaceable super-veteran blue-clad Samurai Policemen I started with, who use both guns and swords and are my literal troubleshooters in every battle.
Gradually, with the Jotai having unwisely exhausted themselves, my armies push out of Tochigi castle and towards the Jotai’s next province, Hitachi. I find that I have two ships and send them into battle against the Jotai fleet. It’s my first proper experience controlling Shogun 2’s ships (following the dreadful fleet combat of earlier games, when I’ve played Shogun 2 before I’ve just auto-resolved the sea fights) and it reminds me very much of Pirates or Man O’ War; it’s not clever, but it’s not totally crap and impossible either; lots of long-ranged guns and big ships definitely win the battles though. I come out of the encounter with three broken ships rather than two whole ones. I think that’s a victory?
We finally crush the Jotai and take Hitachi province. I immediately spend the remains of my money fixing up the forts, so the main town is defensible, and settle in for a long winter defence. Knowing about the winter attrition rules and the amount of men I’ve already killed, I think I’m safe.
I’m not. Sendai, Numata and Jotai have depth. Great armies spring up and push through the winter, trailing corpses in the snow. The fresh Sendai army breaks against my capital and their boats drive my ruined fleet into the dock for repairs we can’t afford, before bombarding my undefended coastline. The Numata bleed Togichi white, so I can’t spare men or money for Hitachi. And the Jotai take back Hitachi, with my Samurai policeman fighting to the last man in the town’s gatehouse, shot down by their own arrow tower. I imagine them checking their bicycle clips one last time as they die.
And then Jotai come for Togichi. Losing my ships means I’ve lost my sea trade to blockades and anything near the coast is aflame, which is the vast majority of your income. I have to push my taxes up to very high. This, and the general devastation, puts all my provinces on the verge of rebellion. Reginald Samurai is honestly thinking of seppuku when the Edo, my last neighbouring allies, switch to the Emperor’s Cause and declare war, sending their fresh armies against my capital…