Guest Author - James Shea
Koei is famous for games that take liberties with historical events (see also the Dynasty Warriors and Kessen games), and now they've turned their attention to the Hundred Years War. Despite the questionable accuracy of the history involved, Bladestorm is nonetheless a fun, solid game that introduces a lot of unique game mechanics different than any of Koei's other games.
As indicated by the name, Bladestorm takes place during the Hundred Years War, and features many of the personalities present at the time: Joan of Arc, Edward the Black Prince, Henry V, and so on. The historical accuracy is not especially important, however; there are a multitude of fictional characters added in to make things more interesting. Furthermore, the unit types encountered in this game are not exactly accurate: from simple soldiers like pikemen and swordsmen to the more exotic like camels and samurai to the outright fantastic like wizards. Really, the background just provides an excuse to have one side be the "red" side (England) and the other be the "blue" side (France), as other than specific personas there is really no difference between the two.
The player takes the role of a mercenary (whose gender, face, voice, and name can be customized) who fights for both sides. In addition, there are many other mercenaries with whom you work with or against, depending on the job. If you take a job with England, for example, your fellow mercenaries may take a job with you or choose to fight for France. In this way, your enemies are constantly shifting and changing. There are ten huge regions of France unlocked during the course of the game, each with at least thirty towns and settlements. These locations may belong to either England or France, and most of your missions revolve around capturing a town and/or defending a town. Taking a lot of missions for the same side in the same region can affect the balance of power in that region, at which point you can opt to fight for the other side and conquer it all back.
The gameplay is the most unique part of the game. The mercenary does not fight alone; rather, he takes command of a unit of soldiers (between 5 and 30). These soldiers can be regulars found on the battlefield, or mercenaries hired and summoned to fight for him. Regardless of which it is, the mercenary must have the proper instruction book for the unit to know how to use it. Furthermore, using a unit will level up that unit type. For example, the mercenary must have the book Swords to use any sword infantry, which includes one-handed, two-handed, sword-and-shield, and dual-sword. The specialties are unlocked through tomes, or sub-volumes to the larger books. Defeating enemies with a unit type gives them experience, which is used to buy upgrades to the unit. Depending on the type, this can be in attack power, defense power, troop number, or movement, as well as others. The unit types also have different strengths and weaknesses, as well. For example, pikemen are one of the best infantry against horse riders of any kind, but suffer against other infantry. In contrast, swordsmen are very good against infantry, but not so good against cavalry. A mix of units and proficiencies is required to succeed.
The unit itself is handled in the following manner: there are three special attacks, and a "fight at will" option. The special attacks include temporary strength or defense increases, raising shields to guard against enemy attacks, and even more exotic techniques like shooting blasts of energy. The "fight at will" option makes all the soldiers in your unit charge at the nearest enemy. Movement is controlled with the left analog stick; the soldiers do not have a formation, per se, but tend to stand in two boxes in front of the mercenary to guard him from the front and sides.
Unlike Dynasty Warriors, your allies are often fairly important in Bladestorm. Columns of troops, consisting of several types of squads, will set out from towns to attack nearby enemy towns (marked on the map as a large arrow going from one town to another). Players can join up with these columns to strengthen their own cause; while the mercenary may not get as much experience, he or she is covered by the diversity of units present. Capturing an enemy town requires the player to either slay a certain number of guard units or for an allied unit to enter the town (another advantage to traveling with allies). However, no allies can be commanded in the game; the player is a mercenary, not a general.
The graphics in this game are fantastic. Especially considering the wide variety of units and the number present on the screen, there is a huge amount of detail and effects on each soldier. The character designs range from feasibly accurate to ridiculous, but all are decently done. There is also a wide variety of armor for the player to buy, with many of the designs seeming reminiscent of games like "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess". The one complaint I have in this field is the large amount of effects that cover the game (thankfully, the damage numbers that pop up when anyone takes damage can be turned off). The sound is sweeping and epic, but doesn't distract from the game. The voices for the mercenary (three male, three female) quickly become familiar, though the ranges that can be picked are kind of wide considering how few there are.
As a whole, I was pleasantly surprised by this game. It's fun, it's well-done, it has good AI (not once has my unit ever become stuck on a wall, though allied units have done so once), and the only thing I can really say that's bad about it is the fact that it tried to be historically accurate at all. They should've just made it a fantasy game, so nobody would have to worry about the fact that there are ninjas and wizards present.