In the midst of the holiday season, I look back to my first Christmas as a gamer. I was six years old and fortunate enough to receive two NES games that year. I was given the famous Excitebike, and the not so famous Genghis Khan from my aunt. One game was instant love, the other an evolution into something grander.
Before we go any further, I want you to picture yourself as a little kid opening up these two gifts. Take a look at the cover art for Excitebike, and now Genghis Khan. Which of these grabs your attention more? Is it the pixelated man popping a wheelie? Or rather the screaming warlord who beckons you to battle while he ushers in the Armageddon? So the little kid in you feverishly opens the Genghis Khan game, pops it in the NES and what the? How do you play this? Where’s all the action, the fire, and the screaming Asian man? You’ve been made a fool of, and then the anger sets in.
So a little background on Genghis Khan, it was developed by Koei as part of their now renowned Historical Simulation Series. These games combined diplomacy, economics, military tactics and yes even the odd marital relationship. All subjects which are completely foreign to the average six year old. Now in defense of my aunt, the game does market itself as a “Best Seller in Japan.” I can only imagine like me, my aunt also fell under the fearless gaze of the great Khan.
So while I was ultimately confused by the game, it did spark my initial interest in history. I was aware that besides Mike Tyson, all the characters in my video games where make believe. Genghis Khan like Iron Mike was a real person and just as ferocious. According to my father Genghis “got angry one day and started riding his horse to China and that’s all I know” did I mention history is not my father's forte? I decided I needed to know more about this angry man so off to the library I went. Much to my surprise, the children's section of the library is lacking when it comes to merciless warlords. A few years would pass and by then my love for history had fully matured. Every now and then I would still come back to Genghis Khan, only to leave frustrated with it. At this point I understood it for what it was, yet it was lacking. While grand in its scope, there is only so much you can do with the NES. Limitations apparent, it needed to be on a more advanced platform.
You can only imagine my delight when I learned that a sequel to Genghis Khan existed on the SNES! Aptly titled Genghis Khan II: Clan of the Grey Wolf, it was an instant purchase for me. The game was everything I wanted from its predecessor. All the stories I had read, enemies I had heard about, where present in all their 16 bit glory. Fluid game play, a decent soundtrack, and streamlined menus had me smiling ear to ear. My relationship with Koei was now cemented, forever a fan I made the jump and sought everything and anything by them.
Back then it was a golden age for Koei and history nerds rejoiced with the plethora of titles delivered to us. We were given games about the American Revolution, pirates, WWII, reuniting China, and samurai showdowns in Japan. No other developer at this time drew as heavily from the past as Koei did. They were responsible for introducing characters and events that were otherwise unknown to us in the west. The infamous Cao Cao, the crazy Zhang Fei, and the ambitions (pardon the pun) Nobunaga became household names.
Unfortunately with the seventh generation of counsels, the variety and availability of Koei's historical games has diminished in the west. While certainly they no longer have the market on the genre as they once did (the PC has it cornered), I'm still hopeful for their return. I want to see what they can do on the PS4 and XB1, or even the innovative ways to approach the Wii U tablet. Regardless if Koei resurrects the historical series or not, I will forever be grateful to them for igniting my love for the past. If you've never played any of these titles yourself, by all means take the plunge! Many of the games regardless of the platform remain affordable and have an endless replay value. Besides, the Khan could always use a new recruit to join the horde!
Caution: Don't make eye contact with the Khan. You will be filled with a sense of adventure and a hatred of large Chinese walls. You've been warned!