Hundred Swords

    Despite their immense popularity on both sides of the Pacific, real time strategy games have never taken off on consoles. Beyond the design problem of mapping dozens of hotkeys and commands to a single controller, the games have always been missing the one thing that makes the genre an obsession for so many PC gamers: online play. Sega and Smilebit are looking to change all that with Hundred Swords, a medieval, multi-player, online RTS that owes as much to the character-driven strategy games usually seen on consoles as it does to games like Command and Conquer or WarCraft.

  Hundreds and hundreds
Hundreds and hundreds of swords.

    The world of Hundred Swords is divided into four warring factions, each united under a different leader. Each group has their own unique look, but the differences between them are more than cosmetic - each faction has their own special units and military advantages. King Naravale commands strong cavalry troops, while Queen Gran's followers have the advantage of greater magical ability. Prince Mascar, who leads a skilled infantry force, and General Ruplustorie, who specializes in ranged combat, round out the main cast.

    The four factions also represent the four main types of units used in the game, each of which have their own tactical advantage. Cavalry are faster and better at building structures, while infantry are heartier and better at tearing them down. Mages and archers use their traditional magic and ranged attacks. To compliment the strategies offered by these basic types, Hundred Swords will also offer a variety of upgrades to each unit, troop transports, and even large, lumbering weapons platforms.

    The actual gameplay of Hundred Swords should be immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time with a RTS. Players begin with a small force, which must be used to gather resources to build a base to recruit more units to gather more resources to build a larger base to recruit even more powerful units to eventually crush their opponents.

Yes, we know this isn't funny anymore.
All your base.

    The formula may be familiar, but Smilebit seems to be making every effort to ensure it's adapted well to a console environment. All units of the same type are automatically grouped together into one large company, and selecting any one of them selects the entire troop. This may do away with more advanced mixed-unit strategies, but it also makes continual regrouping of scattered units unnecessary. To further simplify the interface, a single commander is in charge of each troop. Players are limited to eight commanders at any time, but considering that each one can command up to twenty soldiers it shouldn't limit the scale of the battles.

    Building, recruiting, and resource management have also been streamlined from the genre norm. Building and repairing can be accomplished by any unit (though some are better at it than others) and players need only worry about a few basic structures. All barracks can produce any of the units currently in play so long as the appropriate leader is in residence.

  Story scene

   All these innovations aren't much, however, without the fundamentals to back them up, and Hundred Swords looks to offer enough multi- and single-player modes to keep players coming back. In the single player adventure mode, players will take on the roles of each of the faction leaders as they piece together the narrative of Hundred Swords. Little has been revealed of the game's story so far, but it looks to offer all the plot twists and betrayals that gamers have come to expect from console strategy games. Because players will employ only a few troop leaders throughout game, each of these characters will receive strong development - a welcome change in a genre where units are too often interchangeable. The story itself is told during and between missions in cutscenes between the various characters. The scenes are technologically simple, using non-animated character portraits, but the stylish designs from character illustrator Yoshio Sugiura keep them visually interesting.

    In another change of pace for strategy games, players will also have limited control over the dialogue during conversations, and their choices will help determine both the story and the growth of the characters. Depending on which response they choose, characters are rewarded with "King Points," which increase the number of units they may lead, or "Person Points," which add to their maximum health in battle. Lead characters can be further customized with magical equipment called "shells" earned from successful forays into battle.

    The battles themselves will offer a variety of mission objectives, from all out assault and survival, to escort duty or base building. Beyond the dozens of sorties in the adventure mode, Hundred Swords will also feature a single mission mode for instant gratification.

Here comes a new challenger!

    The real meat of the game, however, is likely to come in the form of its multiplayer modes. Hundred Swords supports online play for up to four players, with options for team play or free-for-alls. Though the game was first revealed in the arcades on Sega's ill-fated net@ hardware last year, its recent home release has spawned the generation of a thriving online community. Sega is already supporting the game with full internet rankings and even sponsored tournaments, complete with prizes.

    Whether American gamers will get to play along, however, is currently unknown. Considering Sega has been quick to bring over everything from talking fish to maraca shaking monkeys, Hundreds Swords' absence from the release schedule seems odd. Sega has already proven with Phantasy Star Online that there is a ready market for online console games in the U.S.; Hundred Swords will hopefully be tying up phone lines in America sometime later this year.

Preview by Zak McClendon, GIA.
Hundred Swords
Developer Smile Bit
Publisher Sega
Genre Real-time Strategy
Medium GD-ROM
Platform Dreamcast
Release Date  02.15.01
Hundred Swords not broadband compatible
77 screenshots
15 character designs / 2 concept illustrations / 16 character portraits
Japanese box art