Twelfth Century Japan is as wild as it sounds with Samurai, Ninja and Warlords hacking seven shurikens out of one another. Civil War has split the country and the big fight is about to commence. The country is split into two factions: the constantly feuding Taira and Minamoto clans. The Taira clan are in control, the Emperor has lost his influence and the future of Japan is at stake.
The game begins with the selected Minamoto brother - either Yoritomo or Yoshitsune - having three armies under his command. Use the map of the Oriental islands to direct forces around from castle to castle, gaining alliances or storming castles wherever possible. Via the map, forces under your command can be directed along the country's pathways to distant castles, monasteries, cities and ports. Ports provide speedy sailing to other ports while monasteries can top up supplies if asked nicely (as sword at the throat would be just as easy).
Taking castles and cities is one way to success and obviously increases your force's power. A siege takes the form of a Gauntlet-style sub-game as the attacking leader fights trough guards to kill the Keep guard and claim the castle.
But, like Defender Of The Crown, it isn't all battling and slashing. There is a love interest, but she's locked up in one of the Taira's castles (the Emperor's daughter, just so you know). Rescue her and please the Emperor, gaining some honour into the bargain.
Battling is the other way to ultimate victory in which opposing archers and troops stare each other out across the battlefield, charge at one another and massacre fellow Japanese. If the enemy retreates, you can chase after the leader on horseback hacking down and trampling underfoot his cowardly men while avoiding rocks and trees. Fun indeed, providing you get through to slay the leader.
If things are going badly Ninja assassins can be hired to kill a powerful rival, but if they're caught it's the old sword in the stomach routine for you. However, you're not the only one who can play dirty and if a Ninja pops up make sure you've got your sword handy!
Lords is a change for Cinemaware in that they've sought to revamp ideas from a previous game (namely Defender Of The Crown). The presentation is, as ever, first class with suitably Oriental music and good graphics (if not quite in the Rocket Ranger league). It may be argued by miserable people (i.e. Paul Rand!) that the strategy side of things is slow moving, but the various arcade sections (many more than in Defender Of The Crown) shatter that argument.
Purists might balk at the thought of a Cinemaware strategy game but the game is much more of a wargame than an interactive movie. Thankfully the opponent is strong enough and fast enough in gaining power to provide a high level of strategic strength. The computer-controlled warlord follows a basic pattern of taking over weak fortresses and does start off on a better footing which makes your task that much harder. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to fail at the arcade sections and lose the battle (the very difficult castle siege sequence is a prime example).
Without the strong strategic element, the game could easily have fallen between all stools and appealed to no-one. Arcade adventurers will enjoy the game but it is essentially a powerful strategy/arcade combination with slightly more emphasis on the former.
Presentation 87% Comprehensive accompanying manuals, save/load options, suitable music, excellent all-round graphics and a high degree of polish throughout. Unavoidable disk access rears its head.
Challenge 81% A two-pronged challenge is offered from both the fairly difficult arcade sequences and the slow-moving but strong overall strategy game.
Authenticity 84% The elements of Japanese honour and the bloodshed of the ancient Orient are skilfully brought together and wrapped up as one very faithful package.
Overall 80% A very good successor to Defender Of The Crown in all respects but serving best as an introductory program to the often very complex world of strategy.