Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 11/07/01 | Genre: RTS
A good real-time strategy game can be sure to find an audience among gamers. That probably helps explain why companies have failed to evolve the genre much over the years. A handful of franchises have made a killing by churning out fast-paced battle games that challenge us to build a better war machine and perhaps rewrite history along the way. So along comes Battle Realms, with its Japanese-themed campaign setting, to try and carve a little slice of the RTS pie for itself.
I have to admit that I feel the whole RTS genre has gotten stale. So saying, an RTS is going to have to do something special for me to offer up a heap of praise.
Battle Realms is a traditional RTS that takes place somewhere in Japan's days of yore. In the campaign mode you'll assume the role of Kenji, the son of a great and respected leader. Your clan has been destroyed by something called the Horde. What remains of the Clan has been divided up between two "loyal" servants of your father. They battle one another constantly. That is until a certain young leader reappears on the scene determined to unite the Clan and return it to glory.
Gameplay is exactly what you expect from an RTS. You start with a peasant and a couple of warriors. You use the peasant to build a hut that continuously produces more peasants until you reach your maximum population. The peasants are then used to build the main buildings of your village as well as gather resources (can't operate without food and water, you know). The buildings have different names, but are pretty much standard RTS fare. A dojo to train basic fighters, archery range to train archers, stable to domesticate horses, etc, etc (note: different clans have different names for buildings and units). Once you have buildings you can train peasants to become warriors to help you in battle. Training a warrior in multiple buildings will produce a more versatile combatant.
Control is standard as well. You left click on a person or building to select it and right click to tell them where to go, who to attack, or what action to perform. Warriors can be commanded to stay put, defend an object or area, or attack only when attacked. Peasants can be ordered to repair buildings, domesticate horses, harvest rice or water, and water the rice fields (which is realistic, I guess, but I found it odd to waste a peasant on watering the fields).
The graphics are above average for the genre. The units have a decidedly Japanese feel, which helps to reinforce the overall theme. Some of the clans have some really messed-up looking units, some of which are larger than life. The battle animations are detailed and fun to watch. The fog of war is an actual fog (which is a nice touch). This allows you to see the topography of the entire map from the beginning of a battle. That helps you decide where to build your base as well as develop some idea of where the enemy base might be located. No more sending scouts to find the lay of the land. Definitely a feature that other games should latch onto in the future. The only graphical complaint I had was village buildings. They don't look at all like buildings but instead are shadows. Check out the screenshot of the village and you'll see what I mean.
Battle Realms includes a proper tutorial mode that will get you started and teach you everything you need to know about running your clan. The only thing is there is no voice over for the tutorial. You'll have to read what the Geisha has to say about each lesson. Obviously I can read, but a voice over would have been a nice touch. Also included is a skirmish mode. It works like every other skirmish mode you've ever played. You can choose your map, your clan, your enemies, etc.
As is the case with most new RTS games, Battle Realms doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. The game sticks to the basics and adds some graphical flair to give it an edge, which helps it stand out in the crowd. If you are of the belief that "if you've played one RTS, you've played them all," you'll probably pass this by anyway. But if you like a good RTS, Battle Realms won't disappoint you. The storyline is more personalized than most other games of this kind. Since your leader is actually on the battlefield, you'll feel more of a sense of accomplishment when victory is attained.
I liked most of what this game had to offer. The variety in the Clans lends itself to a moderate replay value. The storyline and setting are largely untapped in this genre. I suspect that alone will help the game earn a devoted following. Sequels are likely to follow. Until then Battle Realms, like most good RTS games, is fun while it lasts. This game gets a hard-earned B.