By Mastertronic
Commodore 64

Published in Zzap #16


In the great tradition of software titles having their origins based in film and literature, Virgin now have on offer their version of James Clavell's Shogun.

The scene is set in Japan in the year 1600. The central character is Captain John Blackthorne who has been shipwrecked off the coast of Japan and flung straight into the midst of a terrible and alien feudal system. He is irrevocably caught up in the race to become Shogun, master of the warlords and second only in power to the emperor.

It's possible to play the game as one of forty characters, each with varying amounts of ambition, intelligence, strength and attitude. At the beginning of the game, the figure of Captain Blackthorne appears in a window to the bottom right of the screen. Moving the joystick causes his image to be replaced by that of another character. In this fashion, all of the playable characters in the game can be cycled through.

James Clavell's Shogun

The characters have names, but can also be identified by their 'class', such as Nobles, Samurai, Peasants and Servants, Bandits and Priests. The instruction booklet lists their advantages and disadvantages as usable characters.

Once a character has been selected, there is a choice of whether or not a demo game is to be chosen. Once the game is selected, the screen display changes to the start location for the chosen character. Play then proceeds as a mixture of direct character control with the joystick and a series of icons in the lower half of the screen.

To become Shogun the player must collect twenty followers before he can be considered important enough to be given the final quest to assure his position. A player may fight another character until that person yields to his authority, or perhaps bribery or a sign of affection will suffice. Once a character is under your control, he or she may be ordered to take some form of action (up to two orders may be given at any time to an individual character). Money is often a useful incentive to actually carry out the deeds required. Attitudes and abilities affect any outcome.

James Clavell's Shogun

Moving from screen to screen is handled by joystick control. The screens flick, changing as new locations are reached. Pressing the fire button has one of several results. If your character is standing over some food or money, it is instantly picked up to increase your strength and yen respectively. Otherwise, the key press changes control over to the icon line. Moving the joystick left or right highlights a different icon for use. Pressing the button invokes the function of the highlighted icon. The icons are: Take, Give, Examine, Order, Pause, Befriend, Attack, Yield and Save/Load.

Most of these are self explanatory, but where an action could apply to more than one other character on the screen, the character window is used in conjunction with the icons to specify the recipient of the desired action. When a person is examined, a message appears in the section separating the top and bottom parts of the screen. Further uses of the icon brings about more detail. However, this can be over-used to bad effect.

The screens themselves consist of detailed and slightly surreal Japanese backdrops. They usually have foreground and background features such as trees, pagodas, clouds and sky. The characters are animated and do not simply glide around the play area. One of the surreal aspects of the game is that characters can mysteriously float or fly without any difficulty. There are normally some sound effects or music to accompany a screen.

James Clavell's Shogun

Whilst playing, the message area keeps you informed as to who has become an ally to whom. If somebody should become Shogun before you, one of two things can happen: you may offer your loyalty to that character, in which case the game will end. Or, alternatively, you may continue the struggle. This presents many immediate problems as you are likely to have far more enemies than friends. However, given time it is possible to reverse the situation and steal power for yourself.


Although it didn't get a great deal of enjoyment out of playing Shogun, I kept going back to it. Maybe it was morbid fascination, or just me being perverse, I'm not sure. Ian Mathias has created some very nice backgrounds and sprites, but I'm not overly keen on the way that the characters 'float' from screen to screen. The title screen music is OK, but the spot FX are great - quite atmospheric. By no means a bad game, certainly above average, but I do like a little more action and excitement for my money.


The graphics are superb, if a little crowded-looking at first, and go a long way to adding atmosphere to the whole affair. The sound effects are delicate and pleasing, despite their simplicity. The game itself is a different matter. It appears to be well programmed and is undeniably attractive on screen. But where it seems to fall flat on its face is in the all-important area of playability - there isn't any. The way in which control transfers from icons to the main character is not always as well handled as it could be, thus making life difficult for the budding megalomaniac. Doubtless this will appeal to some. It can be the kind of game that grows on you after a while. I still found it monotonous.


James Clavell's Shogun

Presentation 82%
Lovely packaging and interesting screen layout.

Graphics 83%
Surreal imagery, clean animation and atmospheric scenery.

Sound 78%
Oriental octaves abound - average music, but good, atmospheric FX.

James Clavell's Shogun

Hookability 62%
Quite tricky to get into...

Lastability 72%
... but worth it.

Value For Money 67%
A good game but overpriced.

Overall 71%
The only way to Samurai bashing - slightly flawed and 'quiet' at times, but interesting all the same.