Published by Kemco
Developed by SystemSoft
In the world of console gaming, there are genres that have just never been that well-represented. Perhaps chief among these conspicuously absent categories is turn-based strategy wargaming. In days gone by, I was a sucker for these sorts of games, from the earliest instance of Harpoon to SSI’s fantastic “General” series (of which I think I played every single installment). And other than a port of Panzer General, the field for console strategy games has remained fallow. At least in the U.S.
Now, one of the most venerable strategy franchises in Japan makes its debut on a current-gen console. Dai Senryaku VII (“Great Strategy,” as near as I can figure) puts you in control of a wide array of contemporary military hardware in a series of scenarios designed to test one’s generalship. In previous installments in the franchise, the focus was squarely on WWII, and involved serious historical re-enactment in the scenarios. This version, however, divorces the strategy from geopolitics by casting the two sides simply as the Red and Blue armies. I see why the makers might want to take this approach, as it allows them to fictionalize modern military conflict, rather than deal with uncomfortable politics. It also means that the game is free to assign your available units from any of the eight countries whose hardware is represented in the game. This provides for a ton of variety in the available forces at your disposal, though getting familiar with all the different units’ capabilities steepens the learning curve a bit, as there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 different unit types, covering land, sea, and air.
[ad#longpost]As with most such games, combat is an abstract affair, with engagements taking place on hex maps. The mechanics of the game do a good job of modeling effects like terrain, fuel consumption, and ammunition loads, so that players really have to be cognizant of lots of different factors when planning their attacks. Some of the units are also capable of being loaded out with different ordinance packages, adding an additional layer of strategic planning to the mix. Making the decision on whether or not to load aircraft for intercept or ground attack can have serious ramifications, especially if you choose poorly. All of these options mean that first-time strategy gamers are going to have a lot to keep up with, but those familiar with the general idea of turn-based wargaming should be able to pick up the basics pretty rapidly, and should be fairly comfortable by three or four missions in.
Gameplay is split into two broad categories: Mission and Free Play. In Mission mode, you deal with the forces provided at scenario start to complete objectives ranging from “capture this city” to “keep all recon units alive to twelve turns” to “destroy all the enemy’s air power.” Mission objectives are nicely varied, and force you to really think in order to meet your objectives. Simply blasting away at every enemy unit you see is a recipe for disaster in most missions, as the player is frequently outnumbered or outgunned. Some missions will allow you control of production facilities, in order to supplement your initial forces, but this is the exception rather than the rule. For most assignments, you’ll have to complete your objective with whatever force you are assigned at the beginning. Upon completing a mission, the game assigns you a grade based on performance, and typically unlocks a map and a couple of unit types for use in Free Play.
Free Play is a much more open-ended affair, wherein you simply attempt to wipe out the enemy forces, usually by capturing your opponent’s capital. In addition to the unlocked Mission maps available in Free Play, the game includes a map editor to allow you to design your own maps or import maps that other players have designed. The only real downer here is that the game will only allow you to save eight custom maps, which seems an arbitrary limit given the Xbox’s hard drive capacity.
Graphically, the game is pretty abstract. Units are represented by low-detail 3D “silhouettes,” and the map itself is fairly low resolution. While this might be a drawback to some gamers, the core audience for this sort of game could, for the most part, care less. Sound effects are generally good, but the music sounds like it was ported from an 8-bit console: cheezy MIDI stuff that sounds like it was cut from the soundtrack of the NES Top Gun game or something. Overall, the beauty of this game is in the gameplay, not in the presentation.
Best of all, Kemco dropped this with little fanfare as a budget title, which strikes me as a self-fulfilling prophecy, but whatever. The game retails new for $19.99, making it a no-brainer for anybody that enjoys this kind of thing and wishes more of it would crop up in the console world. If you enjoy strategy games, you should definitely seek out a copy for your collection before it vanishes unnoticed into the ether.