Bokosuka Wars 1983 – RTS Retrospectives

Bokosuka wars

The beginnings of the action-strategy-RPG genre


The common ancestor of tactics and action-strategy games.

Bokosuka Wars was developed by Kōji Sumii, and released in 1983 for the Sharp X1 computer, and in 1985, for the NES system.  The gameplay mainly revolves on side-scrolling your forces from right to left, while keeping your king alive while you move him towards the enemy castle.  The plot of the game is that King Suren’s forces have been captured and turned into trees and rocks by King Ogereth. King Suren has to release his warriors from trees and rocks, and defeat King Ogereth’s forces. The allies coming from trees and rocks only appear in the NES console version, which is the version I played.

Game Structure

The game is really just one long level.  On the screenshot above, it tells you how much distance is left, the number of enemies left, and the number of allies left to free,  The moment your king dies, you lose and have to start over.  You win when you finally reach and defeat the enemy king inside his castle.


You initially control just your king, but you can free more units to join your cause.  Units you can recruit are either hidden in trees, which you simply bump into them with you king, or held in a prison camp.  Those units can help in creating formations to protect your king and fight enemies.

The game gives different levels of control for your forces.  You can decide to control all of them at the same time, just your king, or control a specific type of unit.  However, as you gain multiple units of the same type, you can only move them all at once, so it becomes hard to coordinate them and form formations since they bump against the environment, getting stuck.


Bokosuka wars2

The white unit with the sailor shirt is your king. The blue skeletons are your soldiers. Here you can see how important it is to have a formation setup for clearing safe passages for the king.

There are an abundance of enemies that stand in your way, and you can decide to fight them by bumping into them.  This initiates a pre-determined battle sequence.  The winner is usually determined by its power level, but there is a random element to it.  Unfortunately, it is hard to know for sure your chances of winning the battle, making the game feel frustrating and random at times. Especially with regards to your king.  Its important for him to engage in battles so that he levels up, but there is always a chance you can lose, and subsequently having to start over.  Regular units also get stronger. They can even upgrade to a golden variant, increasing their power level considerably.  There are also obstacles that only certain units can overcome, like the gates in prison camps.


Overall, for today’s standard, the gameplay feels slow and frustrating.  Slow because you constantly have to re-adjust your formations, and the controls don’t make that easy.  Frustrating because you can lose the game very easily in a random encounter, making you feel your chances of success are like a toss of a coin.  But for its day, it was an important title that helped inject more action into strategy games, paving the way for what will eventually be the RTS.

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