As the first true Real Time Strategy (RTS) game for PlayStation 2, Kessen
has a lot to live up to. As a fan of RTS games on PC, I really had my hopes up for Kessen
and although it stands as an excellent first effort, the complete package is still lacking compared to most RTS on PC.
Kessen is set at the beginning of a period in Japan comparable to the Renaissance that produced most of Western culture. Many aspects of 'classical' Japanese life we know in the West came from over 200 years of peace following the great battle of Sekegehara. Kessen begins with the events leading up to and following Sekegehara, putting you in charge of the armies of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Tokugawa, or Edo Period, was one that saw the samurai class replace war and violence with spirituality and philosophy, and saw arts and culture flourish in a Japan sheltered from the outside world. When the West finally crept in, over 200 years had passed since Sekegehara, but the average Japanese person could still tell you all the details of how Tokugawa won out over Toyotomi that day in 1600.
Kessen paints a vivid historical picture both during the battles and in the preparation or aftermath. As Tokugawa Ieyasu, you're surrounded by actual generals and military leaders of the time, and opposed by the forces of Western Japan loyal to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Kessen is very much a game built on commanding troops in battle, and doesn't involve any building of troops or resources. You're given the chance to choose the makeup of your forces before going into battle, and can select initial strategy depending on the army you're facing off against. After you decide the force you'll be commanding, it's into the heat of battle. Each army is made up of a combination of foot soldiers and cavalry. The soldiers carry a mix of spears, lances, arrows and guns. There are cannons on the ground, and it's possible to mount riflemen on horseback for - you guessed it - the Mounted Barrage. Special attacks like the Mounted Barrage depend on many elements and make the largest difference between winning and losing in Kessen. Sure, there's the idea that soldiers on foot don't always make the best attack force for the front lines or against heavy firepower, and it's important to learn how to strategically deploy your troops. But, without mastery of the special maneuvers, you're not going very far. Army units must keep good morale, and sending them into a one-sided battle, giving poor orders or ignoring requests for retreat or rest during battle causes dissent. As long as morale is high, formation of a single unit determines in part what maneuvers they'll have available. Distance from the enemy plays a part in this, since cannons and rifles can reach further than bows and spears. Learning the enemy units will help keep you from falling prey to special maneuvers, and the rest is like a game of chess. Landscape is important in these battles, and you also get reinforcements or subvert enemy generals over to your side.