Impression: Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun

As a casual gamer, most turn-based strategy games that I've played are essentially JRPG at heart: Strong storyline, large cast of memorable characters, and awesome ultimate moves that let a single man (usually main character) to turn the tide of battle...or rearrange entire landscape. This kind of turn-based strategy games naturally revolve around pitting a few but very strong units (your main character and his sidekicks) against large number of inferior units (enemy mooks). More hardcore-ish games such as Fire Emblem series (permanent character death!) or even harder ones like Battle of Wesnoth already give me headache.

Enter Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun.

Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun
Having so used to games that give you complete control on every unit, level advantages and plot armours, a heavily rule-based game that tries to simulate historical battles as realistic as possible and let you and your opponent fight on (more or less) equal terms can feel extremely hard. I play mostly skirmish and, aside from a couple lucky victories, mostly end up with me on the losing side.

But great fun I've had.

And I especially loved the almost perfect blend of very awesome music, Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) art style, ink brush calligraphic characters and East Asian seal button interface.

Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun is definitely a must-have for wargame enthusiasts and lovers of East Asian history. Anyone interested can grab it here or from Steam.

Opinion on various factions in game
As befitting the nature of this blog, I will not delve too deep into the gameplay and mechanical aspects of the game, but rather spell out my impression on different factions, especially the Chinese ones in the game. I will still discuss a little bit about the game itself later on though.

I was drawn into this video game because I get to play as Ming (just look at the title of this blog), although I end up playing as Jurchen most of the time. In general, the developers really have done a good job keeping all sides balanced while maintaining high degree of historical accuracy.

Ming Chinese
I am overall impressed with the developer's decision to make a shooty Ming army, because that's how I imagine Ming Chinese fought historically (modus operandi of Ming armies: Shoot'em, then shoot some more. Blast with cannons and rockets when enemy get closer. Engage close combat and mopping-up. Avoid pursuing.) Then again, I do think there's still room for improvements:
  • Ming can do better in close combat. Getting slaughtered by samurai in close combat is understandable (though debatable), but they should be able to fight ashigaru on more or less equal footing. Seeing Ming troops losing to non-warrior monk Joseon in melee combat simply defile belief.
  • Remove foot archer, armoured infantry, Mandarin Duck Formation, handgonne cavalry and rocket cart from Ming army list as I feel these are not very historical (okay, maybe not foot archer and handgonne cavalry, but still).
  • Give some ranged weapon to regular close combat infantry (during Imjin War about 40% of the Southern troops were given rockets. Note that this does not mean that Ming troops have Hwacha-level of firepower).
  • No heavy European cannons in pre-1620 list. Come to think of it, I am fine with them having only one type of artillery unit (medium artillery). Ming have more than enough light artillery in the form of attached "regimental" guns.
  • As mentioned in my rambling post, Ming troops were usually pikemen...okay, in the context of this video game, spearmen (even though I think they fought in dense formation).
  • All Ming cavalry should be armoured and of average or superior quality, but there shouldn't be that many of them. Their lower quality "cavalry" are actually mounted infantry.
  • Heavy armour (well armoured) for superior cavalry.
  • Northern-style army with foot handgonners (already in game) and mounted infantry.
  • Ming crossbowmen should be, umm,"tribal". Speaking of tribals, at least some of them should be armoured.
  • War cart. Ming rocket carts also belong here. As far as I can tell, Ming Chinese generally utilised their rocket carts defensively.
  • Ming Remnant/Southern Ming, with all its interesting stuffs, such as WAR ELEPHANT!

"...for such is the quickness and nimbleness of the Tartars (in which they excel all Nations, and idn which also they place their chief art) that in a trice, they either prevail in their Designs, or retire: and the little skill the Chineses had in the use of Musquets, was no small hinderance to this War."
Martino Martini, in his book Bellum Tartaricum.

Jurchen is my favourite faction in the game (cavalry are tons of fun!), yet it is also the least fleshed out one. Current Jurchen just feels like a recolored Mongol to me, but this is understandable though, as very few researches had been done on early Jurchen/Manchu history. Since I don't usually discuss about Qing military history in my blog, I will take this chance to write something about them.

The biggest difference between Jurchens and Mongols was that they were NOT nomad. Jurchen people were sedentary or semi-agricultural people living in hilly and forested area, and their lifestyle naturally lend to very different military composition and tactics than the Mongols. Despite horseback archery being their best known trait, Jurchens were equally deadly in close combat and on foot (as mounted infantry). Their expertise in foot combat was one of the reasons they were able to tear down Ming wagon forts and defeat them whilst the Mongols were hard-pressed to do so.

One particular feature of early Jurchen army is that they were very well-armoured. Almost entire Jurchen army was armored, and a significant portion used barding and wore two armours at the same time. They also had access to firearms even before 1631. Jurchens utilised their war carts offensively, not just in siege but also in field battle, to counter Ming wagon forts and field fortifications.

In game term, Jurchen should be a hybrid of Japanese and Ming Chinese, featuring heavy emphasis on armour, shock tactic and close combat like the Japanese, but with mixed unit like the Chinese. In a sense, Jurchen/Manchu is the OP faction of the Far East. After all, they managed to roll over a militarily improved Joseon Dynasty, TWICE, with only half the troops mobilised by the Japanese during Imjin War, in a much shorter time span (not to mention they also gave Ming one hell of a beating).
  • I really, really want my White Bayara elite guard. Seeing my Manchu general getting slaughtered by mounted hatamoto certainly feels surreal, given that, well, Japan had the worst cavalry out of all factions historically (Osprey be damned).
  • Jurchen cavalry should be well armoured cavalry armed with light lance and sword, mixed with armoured cavalry armed with bow and sword. They should no longer evade charge.
  • Likewise with mounted infantry, but replace light lance with spear and heavy weapon.
  • Offensive war cart that acts as damage sponge. It has some firearms, but mostly meant for close combat. War cart is extremely resilient and oliberates everything it touches in close combat, but moves slowly and vulnerable to heavy artillery.
  • Remove everything unarmoured, as well as skirmisher cavalry, or change them to Khorchin Mongol auxiliaries (post 1624 only).

The portrayal of Qing army is generally good, although the lack of pike.....spearmen troubles me. Qing army gradually became lighter armoured as time went on. By eighteenth century, they already ditched most of the heavy armours of their Jurchen predecessors, although some bannermen still wore lighter mail or two-piece brigandines in battle. They also switched to Western-style cannons and had their own names for different cannons.
  • Depending on the period, a Manchu army can be consisted of armoured cavalry and mounted close combat infantry supported by surrendered Han Chinese artillerymen, or masses of unarmored horse archers and matchlockmen (and a few spearmen) with even more cannons.
  • Remove all Chinese cannons.
  • Bring me the Tiger of War!
A small trivia: Manchu warriors also wore a banner (occasionally multiple banners) on their back, just like Japanese sashimono.

The game divides the Mongol into Western Mongol and Eastern Mongol, although I don't see many differences between their army lists. Their depiction is mostly fine, although Mongols during late Ming period (i.e. when they fought with the Jurchens) were influenced by the Chinese, using many Ming-style armours and equipment such as San Yan Chong (三眼銃) and cannons.
  • Mongol is fine as it is now, but a late Mongol list with additional handgonne cavalry and some mounted infantry (with light cannons) would be cool.
  • Maybe a Dzungar Khanate list?

I will only touch a little on Wokou, as more detailed information about them can be found here. Wokou list is generally fine, and I am especially pleased to see light cannon in Wokou army list.
  • Need some Chinese warriors and rabbles to represent either Chinese pirates or captives impressed to fight for them.
  • Also need a few Portuguese arquebusiers. They were in the minority though.
  • Like regular Japanese armies of the time, Wokou employed a lot of spearmen, so yari unit is needed.
  • Wokou archers should outnumber Wokou arquebusiers.
  • If anyone wished to see more exotic Japanese swords on the battlefield, Wokou list is definitely the place to look. Bring on the ōdachi!

As Sengoku Jidai: Shadow of the Shogun is a Japan-focused game, Japanese army lists in the game are very detailed and highly accurate. There are no unhistorical unit such as katana-wielding samurai or female samurai in this game (unlike certain other Total War game, heh).

I do, however, have issue with Japanese cavalry. Japan is the only faction in game with access to all-superior and elite cavalry, which put them above not only Chinese and Koreans, but Mongols and Jurchens in cavalry warfare!

Historically mounted samurai (yes, Red Devils included) actually fought as mounted infantry most of the time, and only rarely attempted cavalry charge, as massed cavalry found little use in mountainous Japan. Not only they had inferior horsemanship compared to the Mongols (as well as all other cultures neighbouring them, including Chinese and Koreans), their had inferior equipment (no metal horseshoe was a big setback), less developed tactic, inferior horse, and less horses.
  • Nerf samurai cavalry.
  • Add powerful mounted yari samurai that fought on foot to compensate for the cavalry nerf.

Joseon Korean
Despite Ming and Joseon being close ally during this time period, my knowledge regarding Joseon military is very limited, since I can't read Korean at all. Generally speaking, Joseon army during the onset of Imjin War was extremely weak, and they simply crumbled before the might of Japanese warriors without putting up much of a fight, losing seven out of eight provinces in mere months. Joseon's only combat-capable force — their border cavalry, was also destroyed early in the war due to unfamiliarity with Japanese tactics.

Much of Joseon's strength lie within its navy (unfortunately, this video game only covers land battle), and various resistance movements that operated behind enemy line. Joseon army was retrained by officers of Ming Southern army during the interbellum, and took on a more Chinese characteristic afterward.
  • Current army lists are a-okay, I guess, although I find the notion that they are able to overpower Ming army in close combat hard to believe.
  • I prefer Koreans to have the best foot archer in the game, taking full advantage of the fact that archer can shoot overhead while other missile troops can't.
  • Korean upgraded their matchlock arsenal considerably after Imjin War, to the point that they were feared by even Russians. A post-Ming Joseon list that contains the best matchlockmen in the game would be awesome.

These opinions will probably completely overturn current balance. I am certainly asking for too much, ugh.

Other Tidbits
  • While I understand the current game rule is based on Pike and Shot, which is itself based on Field of Glory tabletop wargaming system, I do wish for more control of my unit, especially during the melee phase and automated pursuing. Even a simple "rally" option from nearby general (with a percentage/leadership based success rate) can give me much more sense of control.
  • Option to toggle off reactive shooting for unit in hiding.
  • As archery still played a major role in warfare in this part of the world, I think a clearer distinction between different types of bow (just like Field of Glory Renaissance did with arquebus and musket) can make the game more interesting. Generally speaking, Ming, Mongol and Joseon bows had longer range and consistent damage (even more so if we take Pyeonjeon into consideration), while Manchu bow and Japanese yumi had shorter range, but became extremely powerful up close.
  • Both Japanese, Mongol and Jurchen horses are noted to be very adaptable to rough terrain, maybe this should be reflected in game.
  • I hope the game simulates enfilade fire with archers and crossbowmen, instead of just artillery.
  • Equivalent of Honjin or camp for factions other than the Japanese, preferably something that other unit may "park" inside. 
  • Native names for Jurchen and Mongol units. Manchu units can keep their Chinese names though.
  • Is weather effect that affect gameplay, such as heavy downpour even possible with the game engine? 
  • Just a small one, but I think the gun limbers still use Pike and Shot model?


  1. Thanks for the comments. We didn't use Pike ability because they are not the thick European style pikes. So when paired up against European units (not currently in the game but modable by users), there would be a difference. Though it is debatable as no one knows really what would happen if a European and Asian like block meet.

    1. @Jayson

      Yeah, I know why FOG:R decided to put Yari and Chinese spears as "spear" instead of "pike".

      Don't get me wrong, you do a fantastic job with this game. I just let my imagination go a little bit too wild in this blog post. It is a fun thought practice to think of how an army fought historically, and then conceptualise them "in game term".

  2. The Dzungar Khanate is represented by the Western Mongols list together with the Oirat. But they are similar to the Eastern Mongols for now. Understand the Dzungar also fought dismounted and used that famous camel wall.

  3. Interesting to see your review, especially since it is clear that this blog was a source of inspiration to the game designers.

    You mentioned a few potential historical inaccuracies in the depiction of Ming troops, and I would be interested to hear more about them, i.e.;

    1. What do you feel is inaccurate about the inclusion of foot archers? Elsewhere on this blog you describe archery as an important aspect of Ming tactics. WOuld archers be mainly mounted infantry?

    2. Likewise, what do you feel is inaccurate about the Mandarin Duck formation? These are the only Ming spear armed infantry, which you have argued should be more prevalent. Do you think the game depicts these formations inaccurately, or do you feel they are too prevalent outside of a limited time frame?

    3. How do you feel about the vast majority of Ming infantry being depicted as unarmored? You have discussed the prevalence of brigandine and textile armors in the Ming army. Would this apply mainly to cavalry, or to rank and file infantry as well?

    1. Good day Sedo, and welcome to my blog.

      1. Yes, mostly for horse and dismounted archery in the North, particularly the Nine Borders. While archery was also practiced in the South (sometimes), the bow used was weaker than North China bow, and archers did not form an important tactical element in Ming Southern army.

      Likewise, when Ming Southern army retrained Joseon army during the interbellum of Imjin war, the resulting army "samsugun (三手軍)" had three different contingents : The "posu (砲手)" or artillerymen/matchlockmen, “salsu (殺手)” or close combat troops, and "sasu (射手)" or archers. This must be Korean's own adaptation of Qi Jiguang's tactic, as Ming themselves only had the first two.

      (It also indicates Southern Chinese were not as good as Koreans in archery)

      2. Not that Mandarin Duck Formation is inaccurate (except for the rocket part), but since this game does not simulate the effect of Lang Xian, they were just another bunch of spearmen.

      As a side note, if I am to model in the effect of Lang Xian, I will suggest Ming troops auto-disorient enemy infantry (as if they traverse through rough terrain) when charged from the front, as long as they maintain cohesion. This effect is immediately lost if they are disrupted/fragmented. (Probably too overpowered, heh)

      3. I am actually fine with that, for Imjin war list anyway. Most armoured Ming troops would be Northern troops, whether mounted or on foot. Southern troops rarely wore armour (except the "tribals").

      By late Ming and Southern Ming (Ming remnant) period however, even Southern troops were heavily armoured.

    2. Anyway, while I say most Ming Southern troops were unarmored, they were not completely devoid of armour either. If you enlarge the "Ming pikemen" picture in my 100th post rambling, you can actually see their armours.

  4. Actually after reading your review on the game, I read also on the book , that Kato Kiyomasa during the occupation of Hamgyong province in Korea did make an incursion into across the Yalu River. His unit did attack a small Jurchen fort across the river, and killed many of of its inhabitants. The fort at that time was not occupied by many Jurchen warriors. There was an indication that the Jurchen under Nurhaci offered "help" to Joseon court , but rejected. However it was unknown , if Nurhaci offered after or before the attack by Kato Kiyomasa unit. It would be very interesting , if that clashes were to happen between the Jurchen and Japanese invading forces because at that time, Nurhaci forces was approaching their peak power which later on after the Imjin war was over, the Jurchen defeated the much of the Ming forces in Northern China.

    1. You are right, I think Nurhaci offered help after the incursion (although the incursion is only attested in Japanese source AFAIK), but got rejected.

      Jurchens at the time was still far from the serious threat they would become later, as Nurhaci was still in the process of unifying different Jurchen tribes.

      After the Imjin war, many surrendered Japanese were redeployed to the border (by both Korean and Chinese) to defend against Jurchens/Mongols. For a time Koreans thought that Japanese was the best choice to defend against nomadic raids. Chinese attempts were less successful, while at first Japanese warriors were effective, Mongols quickly figured out that Japanese was only one-trick pony, and annihilated them with ease.

  5. Wow, this review awesome, I have to put it up here. Go read it!

  6. A lot of the Joseon/Ming forces are mixed formations. As I understand it, the game considers them to only have 50% melee weapons and 50% ranged weapons which weakens them in combat. Did the Ming have matchlock in their spear formations? Did soldiers use both matchlock and spears or only one or the other?

    What are your thoughts on the latest expansions? They added another Joseon army list for the Manchu invasion that seems more musket heavy than the Imjin War force.

    Incidentally, this game is actually quite easy to mod once you find the correct file directory. Digging around on the forums, you can find files you can open in Excel (forgot what filetype) that have the morale and weapons values for all the troops. I don't know any coding but changing the weapons used in an Excel file was quite straightforward. I was just messing around and gave troops ridiculous loadouts though. I don't know how to make the unit models though. It is possible to easily test out the "balance" changes for giving troops certain weapons/characteristics.

    1. Good day and welcome to my blog!

      Ming matchlockmen usually fought in their own unit, or together with artillerymen. Other Ming troops did use more than one weapon (spear + bow for example).

      Ming infantry weapon ratio is so varied that it is hard to pin down a "standard" version. Anyway, if I am to adjust a list, I will put it into something like this:

      20% sword, 40% spear, 40% bow* (represent both bows and crossbows) 100% javelin, protected.

      I am not sure if that ratio is even possible with the game engine, in any case, drop the javelin if it can't fit in.

      20% sword, 80% spear, 40% rocket (or whatever ranged weapon that can represent rocket),0~20% bow, protected.

      Do away with the Kuijia Bubing.

    2. I have not actually tried Mandate of Heaven or Gold, due to other priorities. Is there any significant change, especially to the Jurchen/Manchu list?

    3. Looking again, I actually think the Manchu invasion is one of the smaller DLC, so there seems to be no army list changes there that I can find... Kind of a shame.

      Mandate of Heaven and Gempei Kassen seem to be the ones with very different units, but not much changes for the Jurchen. For MOH, they did add a Zheng army, and also a Dzungar force with dismounted muskets, though I can't vouch for any accuracy.

      I've just gotten into the history of the period from the game, so thanks for keeping this blog alive. I hardly ever heard any kind of Asian history in detail around the 16/17th century so its cool to see that there was a lot going on.

    4. The Qing-Dzungar war is one of the more extraordinary war in that we can actually see a foot-slogging, almost purely musket-based Mongol army for once. Qing actually made heavier use of cavalry and horse archery than the Dzungar.

    5. @kvnrthr1

      After I learned more about Japanese sengoku warfare,it seems to me that on the scale of the game, Japan army also deployed in mixed tactical unit (sonae) not unlike the Ming as well.