Ritual suicide may be the only way for Real Time Conflict: Shogun Empires to make up for its great dishonor. This strategy game for the Nintendo DS has a strong premise that pits two sibling warlords against each other in an effort to take control of feudal Japan by any means necessary. But so many aspects of gameplay are simplistic, buggy, or clearly unfinished that the end result is really disappointing.
Seppuku is too good for you, Shogun Empires.
The setup for the nationwide samurai warfare is that the Shogun is dying and challenges his two brothers to fight for succession. Whoever is the one to unite Japan under his banner will learn the Shogun's dying secret: the location of a mystical, all-powerful sword. One of the brothers is Takashi, a noble leader and capable diplomat. The other is Kenshin, a seasoned and temperamental warrior. You can play as either character in the game, and the other automatically becomes your rival. In addition, you'll find provinces occupied by either bandits or ronin, and these neutral provinces typically won't turn over to your side without a fight. You start off with several provinces flying your colors, and then take turns moving your armies across Japan, claiming land as you go. When you run into an occupied province, you generally must fight for it, at which time Shogun Empires puts you into a real-time strategy battle or one of several minigames. This all sounds good in theory--in fact, it sounds kind of like the strategy classic Shogun: Total War.
Unfortunately, things quickly start to come apart at the seams as you play. The real-time strategy battles that are supposedly at the heart of this game are practically a joke. You've got just three types of units on the battlefield: archers, swordsmen, and spearmen, though once per battle you can also summon your warlord, who will magically show up on his horse and cut down several enemies before going away. That's all right, but the problem is you can't do anything with your units except throw them at their enemies. Even if you did have more tactical options, you wouldn't need them to overcome the game's completely brain-dead artificial intelligence. Enemy units will just kind of mosey around, sometimes rushing to certain death, other times just standing there under a rain of your archers' arrows. What's more, the battles are completely unmanageable unless you play them while zoomed out to where you can see the area around your units--but at that point, you can't even distinguish your units from each other. So you just throw your blob of guys into the enemy blob of guys, and then you win. Over and over again. For some reason, you also always seem to start out with the same exact number of soldiers, so there's no concept of having to replenish your armies or wear down the enemy or anything like that. There's really nothing strategic about this game.
But wait, what about the diplomacy portion? There's nothing to that, either. When you get to a neutral province, you have a "diplomacy" menu option, which you might as well try before you attack. There you have two choices: "negotiate" or "strong arm." Pick either option and you'll get some text telling you whether you were successful or not. Succeed and the province is yours; fail and your only option is battle. It comes across like a random roll of the dice. Ridiculously enough, we had much more success with diplomacy as the warrior-brother Kenshin than as the supposedly diplomatic Takashi. In case you were wondering, both brothers are completely identical to play as in practice, despite the supposed differences in their skills and dispositions. By the way, the artificial intelligence during the turn-based map portion of the game isn't any better than in battle. When playing against the cunning warlord Kenshin, we were amazed when early on in our campaign, he got all of his armies killed by bandits and ronin (the computer's battles are automatically resolved, but the results seem completely random). We proceeded to claim the remaining provinces one after another, while Kenshin could do nothing. Things only got easier as we earned "honor points," with which we quickly upgraded our soldiers' speed, making the battles blissfully shorter.