Lead ninjas to victory and the restoration of the Shogunate in Ninja Village, the latest game from Kairosoft

The ninjas of Ninja Village aren’t exactly what you’d expect of deadly assassins. In keeping with Kairosoft tradition, they’re tiny, pixellated and actually kind of cute, and they spend most of their time bringing in crops, cutting wood and hanging out at the local tea house. They don’t dress in black pajamas and hoods, although you can buy and equip them with hoods if you like, and they won’t be scaling castle walls or disappearing in clouds of magical smoke. Mostly, they’re just people living their lives in a small village.

Ninja Village breaks down into two parts. It’s first and foremost a city management simulator, in which you’ll arrange different kinds of buildings, plants and fields in an initially tiny village that will slowly grow and expand into a bustling town. It’s not a particularly complex simulation, and the variety of facilities starts small and grows slowly, as does your village itself, both in size and population. Decisions will need to be made but you’re not going to be overwhelmed trying to keep up, and the home front will take care of itself pretty well once the ball is rolling.

Ninja Village     Ninja Village

The balance of your time will be spent on the field of battle, and while it’s no grand strategy epic, martial success will require a little more thought and input. Shortly after the game begins, you’ll find yourself supporting the deposed Shogun, raising an army in his name and leading it against breakaway clans. There are four types of troops – infantry, archers, gunners and cavalry – each with its own strengths and weaknesses. You won’t have access to all unit types right away and the more troops you have, the more expensive it is to add to your ranks, so making the most of what you’ve got quickly becomes a priority. By researching new technologies, you can boost the abilities of your units, allowing them to attack and defend more effectively and even take the upper hand against larger numbers.

While the Shogun’s armies handle the rogue clans, your villagers will take care of more personal problems on their own. They’re ninjas, after all (Ninja Village, remember?) so when a gang of bandits starts causing trouble or a murder of talking (yes, talking) crows takes up residence in the nearby hills, it’s up to your people to clean house. Each villager is unique, with hit points, an attack and defense rating and in most cases a special skill, and they’ll improve as they gain levels through training or combat. They can also be equipped with ranged or melee weapons, head and body armor and a “special item” providing them a unique bonus or boost in combat. Your ninjas will almost always be heavily outnumbered, so giving them the best possible equipment is vital to success, and you’ll need to arrange them in front, center or rear ranks to maximize their effectiveness in battle. Victory brings with it access to new technologies, new village residents and, very rarely but also very importantly, land deeds that allow you to expand your holding beyond its original borders.

Ninja Village     Ninja Village

Like most Kairosoft games, Ninja Village feels like something you’d have to work at to lose, but even so there’s a stronger strategic element to it than you might expect. It’s more focused than previous Kairosoft games I’ve played, and while maintaining your village is reasonably straightforward, keeping your ninjas well equipped by researching and then purchasing new technologies is important for long-term success. Victory in battle isn’t always just a matter of numbers, either, and if you place the wrong mix of troops against the wrong enemy, you’re going to fail.

Fortunately, and in keeping with the Kairosoft style, this is a very family-friendly conquest and a loss isn’t the end of the world – nothing is destroyed, nobody dies and you can try again whenever you want. There’s also a very impressive attention to detail throughout: Villagers tend fields and cut wood, merchants draw carts to stores, rings of smoke emanate from occupied houses and the entire landscape changes colors with the seasons. The interface is simple, although it’s awfully easy to poke the wrong thing in the default view, and while the zoom can be adjusted with a pinch, getting in close can make the otherwise-excellent retro-style graphics a tad blurry. (It’s also not nearly as much fun as watching your villagers going about their day-to-day business from a distant, birds-eye view.)

Ninja Village

The downside to that simplicity is that managing your villagers can be a little cumbersome at times – there’s no way to assign weapons or armor to multiple people at once, for instance. Also occasionally annoying is the three round limit to battles, which are declared a draw if you fail to completely wipe out your enemy by the end of the third round. In one battle against the Chosokabe clan, the third round ended with most of my army intact and a single, lonely cavalry unit on the enemy’s side, and thus a draw was declared and I went home empty-handed. Silly, to say the least.

But also a very minor complaint, as these things go. Overall, Ninja Village represents yet another fine addition to the Kairosoft catalog: family-friendly, easy to play and yet with enough of a strategy element to give you that real Daimyo feeling.