Sunday, 5 June 2011

Part 12, in which there is ranting

So after promising to have the post ready in a week's time, I stumbled into a time paradox which flung me all the way up to now. In other words, the delay had nothing to do with laziness, procrastination or reluctance to play Shogun, although insane workloads (in the time paradox, you see) were involved. Did anybody even notice? No? Good. Alright now, where were we...

Ah yes.

Last time we took the hard way to find out that, contrary to what had been advertised, shogun is not the honorable and prized title of Japanese military leader, but rather one of a public effigy to help with anger management issues in the population. Even though I'm clearly not here to make friends, I don't think I like the game's assistance in making everybody hate me automatically without me having to do anything. Without further ado, here is the story of stuff going wrong.

At the time I was playing the bits that ended up in Part 11, the situation did not look quite as bad - there were still some vaguely friendly territories to the east, the ones to the west were not hostile yet, and I was blissfully unaware of the true effects of realm divide. In that naivete, I had set the brightest minds of the clan to study the art of Tea Ceremony, which promised to improve relations to all other clans by 10 points. However, it takes no more than two turns for the bonus to be completely canceled out by realm divide, so aside from a few spectacularly good cups of tea, all time invested in this piece of research appears to have been wasted. I make a note from now on to ignore fleeting distractions like living in harmony with our neighbors and only to focus on things that enrich my grasp on eternal, universal values - like money.

Tax reform: more taxes.

Then there was the issue of Kiso, our not-vassals-any-more who made a bad choice to live right between two of the most powerful and ambitious factions in the realm. Unlike the last time we had to save the poor clan from the horrible fate of being taken under control of our most trusty allies, we now came better prepared for the task, with a lot of armed and angry dudes and a few more subtle agents thrown in just in case. Hojo brought the same army that had spent years sitting around Kyoto a little while back, evidently not enlightened by that particular incident. Surprising both allies/contenders, Kiso was prepared best of all, marshaling an army that equaled the other two put together.

Provided with foreknowledge that siege AI is even worse that regular battle AI, I decided not to count on Hojo support. Going straight into a siege battle with barely matching numbers is a risky move in itself, and lending control over half of the friendly force to idiotic AI has a distinct bullet-in-foot feeling to it. Instead, we laid siege and set up cooking tents upwind from the town, hoping to lure the garrison out into an open field. This took rather long and I was starting to expect Kiso would actually surrender, but in the end they decided to go out with a bang.

We still have allies? Awesome.

Having grown a bit tired of the whole "get on top of a hill and wait" strategy I adopt a more aggressive stance for this battle by positioning my troops right in the middle of the battlefield, aligned so that the arriving Hojo army would be able to flank the enemies. The battle starts out well enough - our infantry, although outnumbered and otherwise weaker, manages to give some serious trouble for Kiso.  However, as the battle goes on I discover our allies decided to come fashionably late into the battle, first not showing up until the actual combat started and then casually strolling from the edge of the field, masterfully disguising(?) any sense of urgency while doing it.

When they do finally come, they order the thousand or so archers to fire flaming arrows... on the enemy units that I'm currently engaging in melee instead of, say, the bunch of archers, general's bodyguard and reserve units standing farther out. Needless to say, our troops got their unfair share of the arrows as well, thinning out the numbers and harming morale. Quickly ordering a retreat to get away from the next volley hits morale even more, momentarily pushing balance of the battle to enemies' favor. Some of our spear units rout while others, as well as the more disciplined katana samurai, are surrounded and, by the end of the battle, slaughtered.

It's probably at this point that Hojo remember they were supposed to fight Kiso and not us in this battle.  That does not prove really difficult as we already made Kiso army more manageable and they have a clear path to their flank, so despite the utter disaster brought by friendly(?) fire, battle ends in a victory for the allies(?). A very bloody victory.

Those bastards.

Nevertheless, I still got the main prize - South Shinano province, and all six provinces listed in my victory conditions were once again secure. But this comfort didn't last long: during that exact same AI turn, every single clan declared war on us - excepting Hojo and Hattori, who remained bound by diplomatic treaties. Suddenly, I went from not even having explored the whole map to everybody coming out to get me.

What followed is a bit of a blur. Before we could get prepared, Hatakeyama launched an attack in the east, taking the big coastal Echigo province without much fuss. Hojo (dragged in to this war as well) got attacked by Satomi - their previous allies. Yamana tried retaking some of the towns we conquered earlier, but failed. A quickly gathered army drove Hatakeyama from Echigo, only to be met by another contender, Satake. Against all odds, Hattori survived attacks of an assortment of other clans, most probably due to the miracle of mutual incompetence. Our attempts to expand by finishing off Yamana got slowed down by having to fight an army from a different clan at each step. During all this, Hojo and Hattori had to be repeatedly bribed so that they wouldn't join the other side.

It didn't take long before I stopped taking screenshots or writing down notes; this was all simply tedious and I was just trying to fast forward until I hit some interesting hook to help rebuild narrative, but it never happened. The game lost all depth and was reduced to fighting battles and keeping a steady stream of reinforcements to all armies. To make it worse, combat itself lost depth: most interesting units I had recruited earlier got too small to make a difference after a string of battles, so my armies were made up of basic units that could be recruited almost anywhere. As such, every battle became a "been there, done that" and I switched to autoresolving most of them.

And of course, there is no prospect of change. Diplomacy is completely useless because even at the moment all those clans declared war on us, their attitude was at around -200 points: about -100 for realm divide, -70 or so for war (yeah, it works like this - they declare war, and then hate us for it) and then some for territorial expansion etc, getting worse each turn. There simply is no means built in the game to improve their attitude from such low level. Resolutions of the situation that you might come up using common sense don't work either. You can't win by defeating the leaders of the opposing alliance (there is no such alliance as everybody hates us for their own precious and unique reasons, and the model of diplomacy probably couldn't simulate that), or simply asserting dominance by defeating some clans and thus intimidating the rest (it would come under "territorial expansion" and only worsen your chances of getting peace).

The only way to win, therefore, is by defeating enemy clans one by one. The quickest way to do it (as far as I'm aware) would be to capture clan capitals and to make sure they're afraid of you enough to become vassals, but even that is a lot of work.

At this point I'm questioning even the stated goals of the game. It's starting to smell like some kind of ethical commentary: "You're making things worse for everybody. Nobody really minded the previous shogunate, but they hate you. The clan is now in worse condition than it was when you started. This is not worth it." Given that I'm supposed to hold 25 provinces (out of 64) to win the campaign , it seems like the game will just throw a "you win" screen midway through an uphill climb - not really something worth anticipating.

It's true that Total War games don't rely much on artificial end game rewards aside from what you prepare for yourself. It is also true that I made bad moves (aside from the main losing move, of course) that have made the present situation in game worse than it absolutely had to be. But to me it seems that the realm divide mechanic is engineered to break immersion and ruin all prospects of having fun for players who care about it.

Now, I think I may finish this playthrough out of sheer principle sometime, but it's definitely not writeup material. On the other hand, I don't want to just abandon this series either. I'm rather at a loss as to what to do next, and so I'm throwing this one open: given the situation presented in the map above, with all clans having just declared war on us, what condition(s) could constitute victory (or at least end) of the campaign? Post suggestions in the comments and I'll use them to try and wrap this up as satisfyingly as possible.


  1. I like how the AI is so stupid it actually does the smart thing and tries to covertly mess with your fighting force instead of sacrificing it's own troops to grant you an easily won province.

    Tired of hill battles? Gee, I can't imagine why.

    Can't you do a technological victory or something? If not, I suppose you could take out your strongest opponent and call it a day.

  2. "Strongest opponent" is not a very clear distinction. Yamana is the clan that would hold most grudges against us, but they're hardly strong, whereas something like Shimazu who occupy large territories in the western end of the archipelago hadn't even contacted us before declaring war. Like I said, it would be easier if our new enemies had any kind of hierarchy, chain of influence, or whatever.

    I'm open to suggestion as to what technological victory would be. So far I've thought about maxing out the "Poet" skill for all generals and, I dunno, winning through idealism? Or perhaps building a sake den in every town and winning through oblivion.

  3. "Strongest" means "whoever has the biggest standing military and the baddest fortification bonuses". Isn't there a measurement roster you can look up, like in Civ?

    You could just invent Pokemon instead.

  4. I'll have to check, but I suspect it wouldn't be any of my direct neighbors, making that an even larger (and more tedious) undertaking than the "proper" victory condition.

  5. Ah, the "Everybody hates you cause you're most strong and big" mechanic from Empire seems to be alive and well. Except, there it was only the controllable territorial expansion part I think, and here it has a wacky countdown feel to end of diplomacy and those lovable end boss battles.

    Perhaps you can beat the dudes with the best technology. Or if that's too long and violent and stuff, just become the absolute technological leader by having any technology someone else has. Nothing known by them that you don't know.

  6. It was present in Medieval too, a special negative factor in foreign relations for the strongest faction. Although I think it might have been static there. In any case, it wasn't that problematic until the very endgame and, for whatever reason, did not feel as artificial as realm divide here.

    The small complication in that plan is that technologies are not tradeable and, as far as know, there's no way to check which technologies other clans have researched. Nevertheless, research will definitely have to play a part in the rest of the playthrough.

  7. Hey bucaneer-man, some of the EU3 stuff is on sale on Gamersgate. I counted that if you buy all 5 items separately, the total price is less than the Chronicles package at about 24,5 euros (don't know about your crazy currencies). Maybe you even have enough of the bonuses for one of the cheapest addons, or will have after buying the rest.

    I certainly had the blue coins for Divine Wind, and thus my EU3 is (soon) complete again (not to be confused with EU3: Complete). Apparently it adds a sort of mini-Shogun mechanic to Japan, except any possible unification wars should be less tedious, and all Japan conquered, you're still but a backwards island nation in the middle of nowhere. Hilarious!

  8. Wait, if you buy EU3: Complete, Heir to the Throne and Divine Wind, you get the whole game for 22,5 euros. Damn it Paradox, don't make a compilation and release two addons afterwards.

  9. In my only win campaign as Hojo, I had to secure the entirety of the north of Japan (Minus Sado, because fuck that I'm not loading my men onto those rickety ships) before I even considered moving men against Kyoto. The amount of resources necessary to support the five armies you'll need to hold the shogunate and the territories necessary for a win after Realm divide is astounding. I ended up winning that one without a single Ally, and being constantly invaded by ships and over land.

    But I showed them bastards whats what. Shogun Hojo Ujimasa was a badass.