Fans of the Romance of the Three Kingdom series might notice a strange departure/fork at one point of time: In RoTK 7/8, KOEI decided to add in RPG elements, where you could choose to play an officer instead of a general and play the game in a sandbox fashion, like completing quests for villagers, petitioning for a job for another lord or building your relationships with other officers which might lead to marriage and a child to carry on your legacy.
Strangely enough, after experimenting with such mechanics for 2 games, it was eventually removed and as of RoTK11, have not made a return to the series. Well, there is a reason behind this! As it turns out, KOEI was actually attempting to transplant mechanics from one of their much more obscure series, Taiko Risshiden, a sandbox RPG/Simulation for multiple consoles.
If Nobunaga’s Ambition was based around the exploits of Sengoku Era Warlord Oda Nobunaga (duh), then Taiko Risshiden is instead an exploration on the life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the man who eventually succeeded Nobunaga.
Specifically, unlike the already noble Nobunaga (noble as in social class, not morality), Hideyoshi started as a lowly peasant who eventually manage to rise to become one of the most famous figures of Japanese history as one of the three “Great Unifiers” of Sengoku Japan.
The perfect narrative to build an RPG around, don’t you think?
But if you don’t think the life of a Samurai is fit for you, don’t worry, because there are lots of other career paths you can take in this game! For example, you can be play as Pirate, Ninjas, Doctors, Merchants and Blacksmith. The game starts you off with 5 possible characters with their own plots and events, but befriending another character in the game unlocks them for future free play.
You aren’t limited to the career you start out with either! For example, even if you’re a Samurai, you can learn gambling or trading as a side-path in order to fund and build your armies, rather than relying on your Lord to provide you with income for that.
If you’ve already played RoTK 7/8, you already have a rough sketch of what the gameplay is like, but assuming you don’t, Taiko Risshiden is a turn-based sandbox RPG. You’re free to roam the world, visit shops and characters, build up your relationships, play the commodities market and so on.
Most characters do have certain responsibilities assigned to them because they’re under the wing of a superior, because it’s hard to get anywhere in life without backers of some sort, and if you’re a Daimyo, you can’t exactly drop everything and go gambling at an inn.
Not to say you can’t do it, if you really want to. After all, it’s a simulation, just that there are consequences for that.
Victory in the game is achieved by being considered the best in your field, which means there are multiple ways to end the game, so people who dislike a game of combat and vice versa are free to explore alternative paths to victory.
A big part of the game is utilizing your characters skills to achieve what you want. Each skill in the game has an associated unique mini-game to it. For example, trading is done with a slots mini-game or mathematics style mini-game which makes thematic sense.
Of course, there’s also in-depth systems for battle, both duels and wide-scale army battle. You wouldn’t expect otherwise from KOEI, would you?
For even more replay value, there’s a fairly robust character creation system where you can create and insert into the game world to interact or choose as your main character. It’s probably even more impressive when you consider that the character customization option is done using 2D art rather than 3D models, so the game developers must have put a lot of work into drawing many possible portrait combinations to choose from.
Unfortunately, the series is rather obscure as far as KOEI goes and has never received any attempts at commercial or even fantranslation, which is a shame and quite surprising, since this is probably one of KOEI’s better series. Unfortunately, the heavy use of archaic Kanji and required knowledge of the Sengoku Era to enjoy the game has set it back in that regards, but if you are proficient in Japanese though, the game is extremely rewarding.
The series is unfortunately quite dead as the last game was released in 2004. While the series is mainly for the PC, it has been ported to other consoles such as the PSP and PS2 though, and those versions are probably much easier to acquire considering the Japanese PC market is dead outside of Doujin games. Your mileage may vary.
A Let’s Play of the game – sadly incomplete.