Finding the balance between Yin and Yang

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Battle Realms
Game Category: Strategy – Real Time
Developer / Distributor: Liquid Entertainment / Crave Entertainment and Ubisoft 
Release Date: 8 Nov 2001
Rating: ESRB – Teens

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Playing Battle Realms is almost like watching a work of art. This real time strategy game from Liquid Entertainment borrows elements of Asian historic culture. The game features kabuki warriors, geisha, ronin, and even samurai in a beautiful dance of swordplay and martial arts on the virtual battlefield. You build up these capable warriors by sending your lowly peasants to various buildings for weapons and martial arts training. Buildings also have an oriental look to them and really give the game that unique look.

The story of Battle Realms tells of how the Dragon Clan, a noble and honorable people, were displaced by the inhuman Horde from their lands. The useful and well-written user manual tells you the game’s background story and is worth a read.

In the single player campaign, you will assume the role of Kenji of the Serpent Clan, an exiled hero who returns to his homeland only to find a group of men attack a town. You have the choice of siding the town or helping the group of men, but once you have made your choice, you won’t be able to undo it. So choose wisely and decide to play either the side of good or evil.

The art direction in Battle Realms is great

Game Play
After a perilous journey to escape the relentless onslaught from the Horde, the survivors of the Dragon Clan are cornered with nowhere left to run. In a desperate sacrifice, their leader takes out an artifact – the Serpent Orb and faces the Horde. No one knows what exactly happened that fateful day, but the descendants have formed into a new clan – the Serpent Clan, with a desire to start life anew.

Two other clans are known to exist in the game – the Lotus and the Wolf. The Lotus clan has embraced the Forbidden Path in their bid to escape death; theirs is a path fraught with necromantic and undead secrets. While the Wolf Clan are barbaric outsiders from a foreign land who become enslaved by the Lotus Clan due to treachery. The Wolf Clan have in due time wrested their freedom from their captors, but no one knows what their future plans may be.

The sassy lady conducts you through the tutorial

Battle Realms features a single player campaign story, a tutorial comprising four missions, a skirmish mode and multiplayer play.

  • The single player campaign takes you through a total of 24 missions of fun as you help to carve out Kenji’s role in the campaign story to rebuild the Dragon Clan (good) or to lead the Serpent Clan in conquest (evil). 
  • There is a simple tutorial containing four missions that teach you about Movement and the Economy, Building your Army, Offense and Defense, and Battlegear and other Upgrades.
  • The Skirmish / Multiplayer modes allows you to choose from a total of 35 maps and play against up to seven opponents. There are four interesting game types for you to choose from – Survival, Razing, Kill the Keep, and Famine. You can even tweak the handicap level if you find the game too difficult.
I ought to give myself a Major Advantage under “Handicap”

There are three types of resources in the game. Two of them are harvested – water and rice, while the third – peasants, is automatically generated for your town. Once you have your first Peasant Hut, a bar begins to fill up. Once full, a peasant comes out from the Hut. You can then use him to gather other resources for you. The addition of more peasants slows down as you have more people in your town, and you will eventually find yourself reaching an equilibrium where you can’t get any more people into your town. At this point, someone must get killed before a new peasant joins your cause.

You must rely on both Water and Rice to construct buildings and to train your peasants into powerful units. Water is collected from rivers or lakes, while Rice is farmed from a padi field. Rice will be gradually be depleted unless you get a peasant to carry some water over to the padi field.

Peasants aplenty

To build an army, you must send your peasants to the relevant buildings. For example, sending peasants to a Dojo gives you spearmen. Sending them to the Range instead gives you archers. If you sent a single peasant to be trained in both a Dojo and a Range, then he upgrades and becomes a Dragon Warrior. This is a neat system that has not (as far as I know) been duplicated in any other real time strategy game. If there is another such game, please tell us about it by leaving a comment.

Fortunately, you can set the destination point of a building by right clicking on where you want units to go. Since you can make another building your destination, you can chain productions that gives you the units you desire in your army.

I sent a peasant each to the Tavern and Sharpshooter’s Guild

The most powerful unit for each of the Clans are:

  • Dragon Clan – A Samurai warrior equipped with a Yang Blade and Dragon Skin. Killing four samurai will recruit the Dragon.
  • Serpent Clan – A Ronin who wields the Yin Blade and has the power of the Blood Bond. Sacrificing four ronin will recruit the ghastly Necromancer.
  • Lotus Clan – You require two Warlocks who will perform the ritual to release the Master Warlock. This unit is truly Death Incarnate and loathsome to behold.
  • Wolf Clan – A berserker with the right blessings from a Druidess can invoke his power over Lycanthropy to turn into a ravaging Werewolf.
The Battlegear Tree for the Dragon Clan

In addition, Battle Realms provides these other unique features:

  • There are Horses in the game that must be tamed and brought back to a stable by a peasant. Your units can them mount these horses and fight battles from horseback.
  • Each Clan features five unique Heroes whom you can employ in your Battles. These heroes are more sturdy in a fight and can also call on special powers to help you out.
  • With every battle you win, you will accumulate Yang (good) or Yin (evil) points. These can be spent on upgrades at different buildings that will be applied to all your units.
Attack the enemy!

Battles are mad rushes that involve grouping your units together and sending them forth into the fight. You can double click on a unit to select all like units on the screen and then group them. There are unfortunately no battle formations that you can call your army to take, they will just rush wildly into battle in a confusing melee that is more spectacular than the martial art scenes from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or The House of Flying Daggers.

Graphics
During cutscenes in between levels, the graphics engine sometimes takes you in for close up views of the 3D units. In my opinion they look rather chunky due to the low polygon counts, but I would think they are decent for their time (a decade ago in 2001).

He murdered his father

The show stealer for the day however, is how these units take to the battlefield. Instead of traditional sword fights, we have unarmed combat, acrobatic jumps, elaborate martial art moves, and even fighting from horseback.

In case you didn’t notice, each of the four clans available in the game has different user interfaces. This way you get a different feel when playing a different choice. At the same time, the rare particle like effects that surround certain units as well as the interesting touches such as birds that flutter away or scorpions that crawl on the ground, makes the game look very pretty after all.

Leading the Wolf Clan

Audio
The music in Battle Realms captures the essence and spirit of Asian movies. The voice acting in the game is pretty good with reasonable accents, and the sound effects are crisp and sharp.

Pros:

  • The wonderful animations of each unit is cool to watch in Battle Realms. In this game, you won’t get the traditional bashing of swords on shields from units who only just lumber along for that inevitable fight. The fighting scenes here are lovingly animated.
  • The system of building units by using peasants – the lowest on the production food chain, and upgrading them by making them train at different buildings is a very unique implementation for its time.

Cons:

  • The tutorial is a slow and dragged out affair since they feature commentary that cannot be bypassed quickly with a click of the mouse or a press of a key. I almost fell asleep on the first tutorial, and that nearly prompted me to hit the uninstall button and chuck the game one side.
  • You may find yourself micromanaging the production queue for the types of unit you want in your army. Way too much involvement for my tastes when it happens.
Protect your Keep in multiplayer

Conclusion
Battle Realms is a very good real time strategy game that is worth playing to see the story of the Clans and to experience the exotic Asian cultures that is seldom portrayed in games.

The game even comes with an expansion – Winter of the Wolf. This expansion adds an 11 mission prequel campaign, a couple of new units, as well as a new terrain type; snowy landscapes that freeze your rice fields for short instants of time.

Ubisoft has my support if they were to release Battle Realms 2. This game definitely deserves a revival to update the game to the latest technology as well as employing the latest real time strategy gadgets and gimmicks. It is unlikely though that this will happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, you will just have to make do with the great solid real time strategy gaming fun that Battle Realms presents.

Which region shall I attack next?
Daily PC Game Review Score: 8.5 / 10

Review Date: 4 May 2011


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