All images were taken by Dan Maximus. Both they and further examples of the game's artwork can be found here.
You know, this is one which I’m surprised more people don’t know about. Okay, there’s an obvious reason why, I’ll get to that later on, but for a game which tried to blend two entirely different genres and is two console generations old, this one is surprisingly good.
Made by Sega back in 2001, Hundred Swords was made as an RTS for consoles. The idea behind it seemed to be trimming down on a lot of the grinding, leveling and resource harvesting to make a much simpler and more streamlined game. The sort of thing Halo Wars was talked about doing and to avoid botched attempts at porting PC RTSs like the PS2’s mangled and unwieldy Age of Empires 2. The creative team went about this in a unique way, by trying to blend it with JRPG elements, focusing heavily upon the heroes of each faction.
You buy heroes from your HQ during missions, outfit them with weapons and armour (called Shells, don’t ask) and have them enter barracks to build up squads. These squads will follow the hero in a group but you can only have a limited number of them, meaning the more troops you want the more heroes you’ll need. You also have to order heroes to build things such as resource mines so you’ll want to keep them alive.
This might be simple but it really does help speed up gameplay, it removes a lot of micromanaging and while it lacks the depth of some other RTS series it makes for a very good fast paced skirmish game.
There’s not much which needs to be said about the class system, it’s a rock-paper-scissors affair. Slow armoured soldiers beat cavalry, lightly armoured ranged mages beat soldiers, fast moving cavalry kill mages. There are also archers but they’re just mages with a longer range weaker attack and you’ll always end up using them in the same way. The same goes for the war machines, golems = close combat, artillery = bomb from long range, airships = deploy a hero behind enemy lines. The factions of Nalavale, Gran, Mascar, and Ruplustorie each specialise in one class and get more heroes of one type than all others.
The really big drawback to the game isn’t actually a flaw in its making, but it’s instead something the port left out. In the original Japanese version there was an RPG element where you could choose how to respond to certain situations in the campaign with your main character, King Larf of Nalavale or Queen Fals of Gran. Your responses didn’t change the story, no, they changed your leader. For example if you made a decision of a king who served his country your hero could end up having greater loyalty and commanding more men. Make a decision which puts yourself first and your hero could end up with a sudden permanent stats boost. I’ve not seen this done in other games and I can’t figure out for the life of me why it was removed for the European port.
The game’s story itself? Eh, not bad. It lacks some originality and while it has predictable moments there’s also a few good ideas.
The idea of the game is that it’s set during a time of peace after hundreds of years of war. The protagonist nation of Nalavale has a long and bloody history but its current king is trying to make amends and has been in contact with Gran. The nation of Mascar, who suffered badly in past engagements with Nalavale, intercepts a message between them and fearing they’re planning to pincer them from the north and east launches an invasion of Nalavale. This makes them stand out from the average JRPG villain, they’re not seeking world destruction or domination, they’re acting out of fear and hatred for an old enemy. Things go badly for the world from there.
Often the story feels heavy handed but there are some quite tragic and horrifying moments in the game which are beautifully told through the game’s art panels. The biggest example of this is when the Nalavale win a major victory against Mascar and retake a city, only to find its populace have been put to the stake atop a hill. It’s told through images and few words and has much better emotional impact than any tragedy we’ve seen in a SquareEnix title over the last few years. Both the artwork and story are easily the game’s best selling points.
One big problem though – they cut some stuff for the PC release. Only the Dreamcast release, the platform it was released in the largest numbers on, contained the full story outside of Japan. Now you know why it’s not better known.
In all honesty there’s not much else to say about the game. It looks, feels and sounds like a game from about ten years ago but it’s definitely one which has aged well. There are certainly ones which exceed it in many areas, but I had fun replaying it for this review.
Buy it for the good single player campaign and the artwork, but only if you can get it for £10 or less.
If you can’t find a copy or want something with a good multiplayer experience and proper base building elements, try Heroes of Might and Magic V.
Hundred Swords and all related characters and media are owned by Sega.