Archery Popshots | Total War: Shogun 2
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Archery Popshots | Total War: Shogun 2

August 14, 2019


The Sengoku Jidai, the Warring States period.
A time of sword and samurai. To live by the sword, and to die by the sword. That is the
setting of Creative Assembly’s strategy game, Shogun 2: Total War. If our daimyo is to become shogun – military
ruler of all Japan – you must understand the weapons of war, among which is the iconic
Japanese longbow, the yumi. In this Popshots episode, we look at the history of warfare
in feudal Japan, and evaluate the role of ubiquitous ranged units in Shogun 2. One can’t really talk about Shogun 2 without
admiring the history of warfare in Japan. The weapons of the samurai are legendary – the
yari, the katana and the yumi. Bows were used in Japan since prehistoric times, though the
exact origins of the asymmetric longbow are unknown. Some theorise that the shape was
due to the use of a single piece of wood, stronger at the base. Others believe that
the asymmetric shape allowed it to be used while kneeling or from horseback. By the time
of the samurai, the yumi was made from laminated bamboo, wood and leather, and typically measured
2 metres long. While we might recognise Japanese archery
through kyudo, the style used in warfare was kyujutsu. The bow was commonly used in large
numbers with foot soldiers, known as ashigaru, but the warrior class, the samurai, were expected
to be masters of the bow alongside their other weapons. The bow was, in fact, the primary
weapon of the samurai. Their expertise in yabusame – mounted archery – gave them
a unique advantage on the battlefield. It is for this reason – not because of honour
– that samurai were distinct in not carrying shields into battle, as all their weapons
were meant to be wielded with two hands. The yumi would see hundreds of years of use,
largely unchanged, until the arrival of Portuguese traders. From that point on, the most important
weapon became the matchlock musket, adopted more widely and aggressively than European
armies, and the bow’s presence soon waned. Shogun 2’s place in the Total War franchise
is interesting, bringing the series from the gunpowder era back to a feudal setting. Unlike
in Rome, the armies in Shogun 2 are fairly homogenous, consisting of cheaper ashigaru
units and expensive samurai units, with specialised units composing of spears, swords or bows,
with marginal advantages given to certain factions. As to be expected from a strategy
game, the strengths and weaknesses of each unit type are intended for balance rather
than realism. Initially, players will make extensive use
of ashigaru units, including the bow ashigaru. These cheap ranged units are available from
the beginning, offering high volume of arrows. Bow ashigaru have poor accuracy and have the
lowest melee stats and morale. Their main use is to whittle down enemy formations, especially
other poorly-armoured ashigaru units, but they find themselves only marginally effective
against the better-armoured samurai units. After some technology advancement, players
have access to bow samurai. Samurai archers stand out with better melee ability than their
ashigaru counterparts, though not as good as specialised melee troops. They also boast
better armour – making them more resistant to arrows – and better accuracy and rate
of fire, allowing them to be more effective against other samurai. However, they have
fewer numbers than ashigaru. By combining an archery school with a temple,
the player can train bow warrior monks. While having poor melee stats and defense, bow warrior
monks have greater range, the highest accuracy and rate of fire. Though their numbers are
even fewer than bow samurai, several units of monks can break multiple units before they
reach combat. Monks also get access to whistling arrows, which provide a morale penalty to
targeted units. There are several other specialised ranged
units. The bow hero unit is a very small group of archers with near-perfect ranged stats.
However, their tiny numbers make them largely ineffective, and are only good for weakening
strong armoured units. Bow cavalry are also present. These horse
archers provide some utility on the battlefield, though with smaller unit size than foot archers,
their effects are not felt as heavily and they require much more micromanagement.
The Chosokabe faction also has a unique unit, the Daikyu Samurai, which are slightly better
than normal bow samurai, but not as powerful as bow warrior monks. Bows also have a notable role in the naval battles of this period. Outside of the balanced unit structure, further
advantages are gained from having more experienced troops and, crucially in the campaign, control
of special buildings that can improve accuracy, potentially turning your bow warrior monks
into samurai shredders. Bows also play a prominent role in both campaign
expansions. In Rise of the Samurai, the bow is used by foot soldiers, but are prominently
used by the samurai units, both on foot and on horseback. In this campaign, the samurai
represent the pinnacle of combat units, with samurai units fulfilling both melee and ranged
roles without the specialism of weapon types in the main campaign. Warrior monks are still
available, providing the same advantages as before. If there’s any downside to these
early ranged units, it’s that the default formation for Rise of the Samurai is open,
so most arrow volleys will not have a huge impact. This forces the player to adopt more
complex small-unit tactics. Fall of the Samurai sees traditional samurai
units compressed into foot bowmen and mounted bowmen. While easily outmatched by modern
rifle infantry, bows have a role to play in the early campaign, and have unique advantages.
Since soldiers are no longer armoured, masses of bowmen can cause devastating damage to
infantry formations. In addition, bows can shoot over hills, which gunpowder infantry
cannot do. There’s a certain element of fun to recreating the stand of the last samurai,
but realistically armies with well-deployed gunpowder soldiers will wipe the floor with
bowmen. There are a lot of things that Shogun does
well with its depiction of archery. Bow units are well balanced and always have a role to
play, whether in offensive, defensive or siege battles. The variety of archers allows the
players to spam cheap but less effective archer units or invest in late-game armies with samurai
and monks. The arrow volleys look and sound great. Through trivial, Shogun 2 is actually the
first game in the series to actually model the bowstrings, which were absent due to graphical
limitations in previous games. The arrows are even on the correct side of the bow for
Japanese archery. That’s a huge leap forward! The downsides of Shogun’s archery is mostly
in the inflexibility of the battle engine. As with other Total War games, the unit formations
are fairly rigid. Bow units operate quite similarly to gunpowder units in Empire and
Napoleon, with the clearly defined firing arc and the enemy must be specifically in
that area to shoot. Shooting animations are awkwardly long for the slow-shooting ashigaru,
and individual soldiers hold onto the shot for far too long, and realistically, archers
were far more flexible in deployment and rate of fire. Perhaps the best display of the bow’s utility
is in siege defense, where soldiers on the walls are not locked into shooting by unit
and shoot arrows continually, resulting in a rain of arrows closer to what a real battlefield
might have looked like. While Shogun 2 has fairly monotonous armies
and units aren’t really unique enough to stand out, the game is often hailed as one
of the best in the series, especially after the mixed reception from Empire, before the
glitched release of Rome 2 and before the fantasy-based Warhammer instalments. Shogun 2 gives us a fairly unique way to play
out the battlefields of feudal Japan and witness the effects of Japanese archers on foot, on
horseback, in castles and even on ships. Though not the most realistic, there are few real-time
tactical games that are placed in this setting, and the units forego true historical accuracy
and err on the side of balance and fun – perhaps the honourable choice to make. Thank you for watching another episode of
Archery Popshots. This is NUSensei. As always, shoot straight, and aim for your best.

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  1. 1:58 They did carry shields, but not in a sense we think of today- they would tie their shields to their breastplate. This would later evolve into the ‘sode’, the iconic, flat pauldronds (if you can call them that).

  2. Maybe it’s an extreme coincidence but a posted a comment asking if you could do video on the yumi to you last video(bow review) and it had an article about the shape of the yumi, the two answers you gave there are simply wrong, why don’t you just make the top limb of the bow the same as the bottom? Not to mention as someone who has made traditional bows, you can simply tiller the bottom limb to make it weaker. The article I sent had a far greater explanation, having to do with the position of the wrist, witch was what I wanted you to a video on.

    Edit: Don’t get me wrong I did like the video, it’s just that those explanations are a bit of a pet peeve to me.

  3. Hey @NUSensei, I have a question. I recentrly bought a bow and a couple of arrows. The thing is the back of the arrow doesnt fit right on the string and if I dont hold the arrow tight between the fingers it will move. Is it something iom doing wrong? i know the equipment is cheap for begginers 30lbs + 7mm 700 spine fiberglass arrows

  4. The prevalence of bows do not explain the lack of shield – quite the contrary, it makes it even more mysterious. After all, bows were dominant on the European battlefields as well in medieval times, and they used shields precisely to protect against them.

    Also, the bulk of the armies were comprised of ashigaru, and they didn't use shields either. On the other hand, the Japanese did use large standing shields for protection against arrows – perhaps this was one reason they didn't have hand-held shields (te-date), because hand-held shields weren't enough on their own and made redundant by tate shields.

    There were still the occasional buckler-like shield used by samurai, even up until the end of the Sengoku-jidai, but they seem to have been rare.

    Another reason why hand-held shields disappeared from the Japanese battlefield could have to do with the fact that early yumi were very weak. According to Karl Friday, they could only reliably penetrate armour at point blank range. Later yumi became more powerful, but by then the te-date had disappeared – and the tate, which never went away, seemed to be sufficient.

    Of course, this is one of those questions of history which will never be resolved. It's all mostly speculation.

  5. @NUSensei Weren't the yumi used at 100 meters and less? Mostly direct fire at enemies with heavy broadtip type arrows? In the game, there is no difference between mass produced yumi made for ashigaru and those for samurai. The ranges, accuracy, and damage values do not reflect the quality of a bow procured and used by samurai and those of ashigaru.

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