The land of the rising sun holds a strange sort of fascination for westerners, more so than other far eastern countries. China has an arguably richer and more extensive history, yet there's something about that most mysterious and isolated of lands that fascinates us. And, of course, there's Creative Assembly, who has returned to Japan to create a sequel to the game that made its name, Shogun: Total War.
To Creative Assembly, there's more to Japan than bemusingly perverted erotica involving tentacles. There's a perfect setting for a historical strategy game with all the samurai you could possibly want to control, with a smattering of ninja and monks thrown in for good measure. Set in the mid-sixteenth century, feudal Japan is in turmoil, a number of powerful clans vying for ultimate control of the country.
Family organisations such as the Date, the Shimazu and the Tokugawa are among the controllable factions you can choose from when you start a single-player campaign, although there are loads of others to trade or fight with. For those who aren't familiar with the Total War series, there's a very extensive tutorial that'll give new players a comprehensive lesson in what you'll need to be doing to achieve success, while also serving as a decent refresher course for veterans, introducing as it does some of the newer concepts that are unique to Shogun 2.
Essentially it's the same as previous Total War titles, split into the Risk-style campaign map and table-top wargaming-esque battle sections. You move the army and character avatars around the map, fighting battles and performing espionage actions while also managing your burgeoning empire, fixing taxes and constructing new buildings while improving existing infrastructure. The names of the buildings may have changed, but the concepts will be very familiar.
As the game is solely focused on the Japanese islands, turns no longer represent years passing by but instead mark the changing of the seasons. The Japanese landscape is markedly different during each one, so it makes good sense to split turns in this fashion. It also makes a difference on the battlefield, with going to war in the winter months potentially means a skirmish in a blizzard. It gets quite difficult attempting to fight a pitched battle in the middle of a forest while snow obscures your view.
It's also sometimes slightly difficult to know which unit does what, especially when you're involved in naval skirmishes. Creative Assembly's art team has taken the decision to make most aspects of the game aesthetically Japanese in style, which really gives Shogun 2 a unique visual flavour. However, at times it can be confusing as those just starting out won't be able to tell at a glance just what each unit is armed with or capable of doing.