Sword of the Samurai Review

Samurai were big fans of cyan training mats
  • Developer: Microprose
  • Publisher: Microprose
  • Release Date: 2 January 1989
  • Time played: 8 hours (INCOMPLETE)

One of my favourite developers of all time is Sid Meier and the two companies associated with him, Microprose and Firaxis. While I’ve mainly dabbled with the Civilization series there’s also been a few other Microprose/Firaxis games I’ve enjoyed such as Sid Meier’s Pirates!, Covert Action, Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!... actually this is going to be a long list so I’ll stop there – but you get the picture. Anyway, I really enjoyed Sid Meier’s Pirates! and Covert Action so when I saw that GOG had a sale on Sword of the Samurai, which is described as a similar game to Pirates! and Covert Action except set in Feudal Japan, I jumped at the chance to give it a go.

So what you’re probably wondering is whether or not it's as good as these other games and whether it’s still entertaining enough to play in the 21st century? Let me say first off (which is implied already by the first paragraph) that I never played the original when it first came out, so I'm playing this game for the first time. So my review is going to be pretty useless to fans of the original game and this review is more relevant to the younger cohort or gamers of a similar generation to me that just never got around to giving it a go.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let us proceed.

What I like

Set in Feudal Japan

I haven’t played many games set in Feudal Japan – in fact, this is quite possibly the first time I've done so. That’s not to say there aren't heaps of games set in Feudal Japan – there are tons, but for me, it's a bit of a novelty. I like it how they use Japanese terms for titles and that honour features very prominently as something that can make or break your fiefdom.

Role-playing and Mini-games

Just like Sid Meier’s Pirates! or Covert Action, there’s an element of role-playing involved and there are several mini-games to get your head around. In terms of role-playing, your samurai ages with time and consequently, it’s important that you get married and have boys as you’ll need an heir (daughters are unimportant, at least during this period of Japanese history). You’re also able to help out other samurai with their own problems which in turn grants you honour or even more land. You can also wander the countryside killing brigands (one of the mini-games) and duelling swordsmen (another mini-game).

The final mini-game is a combat or battle mini-game but I'll get into that later.

What I dislike

It’s starting to look pretty dated

The game has 16-colour EGA graphics (even the VGA option looks like it only has 16 colours), basic animations and a very basic in-game soundtrack, making it seem rather dated by today's standards. In fact, the game was even lambasted for poor presentation by reviewers back in 1989 (although they generally complimented the game on its gameplay)


Read the Friggin' Manual. This advice rang true for just about any game developed in the 1980s or 1990s. Back in these days, disk space was at a premium, so your game would often be bundled with a hefty physical manual. Games never tended to have tutorials either so reading the manual was crucial to your success. While learning to read manuals isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's a bit archaic in today's age of computer gaming so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (in fact, I actually prefer being able to play an interactive tutorial nowadays instead of reading a manual or watching a video).

Clumsy controls

Another problem with the game being so old is the over-reliance on the keyboard over the mouse when it came to controlling things. This makes the mini-games extra challenging, especially the sword-fighting and army/battle/combat mini-games. If they were intent on sticking with keyboard they could've at least reworked these mini-games - or maybe they just wanted you to use the joystick (since that's also an option)?

Army combat mini-game

Despite finally figuring out how to move my troops and the general gist of the army combat mini-game, I'm still often confused as to what’s going on and it’s really difficult to issue orders on the fly when using only a keyboard. Ultimately, I don’t think the mini-game really adds any value and I would've preferred a turn-based combat mini-game or something similar to Genghis Khan II.

Difficulty spike

Once you reach a particular rank where you control an entire province the game shifts its priorities from the role-playing segments about building honour into a game similar to Risk where it’s all about holding territories and generating enough troops to fend off greedy neighbours. I really wasn't ready for it at all and it was a huge difficulty spike for me; if you don’t start building up your troops early, it’s game over.

Score – 5/10 (Average)

While Sword of the Samurai probably wasn't a bad game in its day (in fact, it received many positive reviews) it hasn't aged well, meaning it’s only a merely average game nowadays. While being set in feudal Japan is a plus and role-playing as a samurai is great fun, the game is let-down by infuriating mini-games and there’s a bit of a difficulty spike once you start controlling whole provinces as the game changes its focus to strategy rather than role-playing. If Sword of the Samurai were to be remade for modern audiences, I’d probably keep the themes behind the mini-games (e.g. fighting bandits, duels and army battles) but would rework them to make them more accessible and fun (and maybe mouse-based?).

Is the game worth $7.99?: No. I think a fairer price would be $5 considering how old this game is and considering you're probably better off playing Sid Meier's Pirates! or Covert Action.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: Sword of the Samurai on GOG ]
[ LINK: Sword of the Samurai on Steam ]