Publisher: Infocom
Machine: Amiga 500

Published in Zzap #51


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 Magellan 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 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!

James Clavell's Shogun

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.