A civilization of odd traits and bonuses in Age of Empires II. While not the most user-friendly civ for beginners and unexperienced players, an expert can take advantage of the many gimmicks of the Japanese.
I've never used the Japanese much during my Age of Empires gaming life, in fact, it is probably my least used civilization as far as I can remember. However, I will try to use my somewhat useful experience of playing the game and knowledge of the mechanics to try and describe this civilization the best I can to you.
Upgraded Fishing Ships - 2X hit points, +2 pierce armor, work rate +5% Dark, 10% Feudal, 15% Castle and 20% Imperial Age
The Japanese are a good civilization to take to the sea as they can reap great economic bonuses from their fishing ships. The ships' work rate increases as you advance ages, in addition to having the stats to survive the attack of an enemy navy.
Mill, Lumber Camps and Mining Camps cost -50%
Although this will not win you the game, it can help you not lose it right away. With this discount, you can more easily create resource-gathering buildings near their sources, for much-shorter drop-off trips, increase in resource income, and the ability to advance fast and set up defenses for incoming rushes.
Infantry attack 25% faster starting in Feudal Age
This is what makes Japanese infantry deadlier than most, the ability to deal more damage in the same amount of time. Naturally, this means higher survivability since the Japanese swords of your troops are cutting through your enemies faster!
"When knights were coming into dominance as lords and warriors in Europe, a similar social and military change was taking place simultaneously in Japan. A weak central government and a scramble for control of land gave rise in Japan to a local military ruling class called the samurai. These men of noble birth trained continuously in the military arts, as well as various cultural arts.
"They put great emphasis on honor and tradition, as did European knights with the code of chivalry. Samurai fought with a variety of weapons, including the bow and their unique curved swords made of the strongest steel. They sought out high-ranking enemies on the battlefield for personal duels and were trained to seek death in battle to increase their aggression and avoid hesitancy."
The unique unit of the Japanese could only be the legendary and famous elite warriors of Feudal Japan. However, the Samurai is an odd game unit, as well as the most unique of the unique units! Sure it is just one more amongst the many and varied infantry units in the game, but the thing is, its unique trait is that it receives bonus damage versus other unique units!
While this is technically true, the reality of actually playing the game shows that this trait is the less effective bonus damage of any unit of the game. The reason for this is that most unique units are just too unique for an infantry counter to actually work. They usually require special attention and different approaches from each and every civilization that ends up facing them.
The Samurai works as a faster-striking Champion- while this is a good bonus to kill faster and more efficiently, it can't expect to have a chance in a one-on-one duel with beasts like the War Elephant, the Cataphract or the Teutonic Knight. To reap the benefits of its bonus, the Samurai would also have to firstly close the distance between the ranged unique units, as well as being able to catch-up with the mounted ones. It just doesn't won't work in most situations.
I can see them faring well against huskarls, that is, if you can survive an initial rush from the Goths. Other civilizations that can suffer disadvantages facing the Japanese are the Celts and the Vikings, but there are better counters for those in the game. I'm not trying to say that the Samurai is a bad unit, by any means no- it is cheap, fast to create, sneaky and quick to attack and kill, but in the end, its true purpose is completely overshadowed by the many unique units with much more useful traits and bonuses that can actually make a difference.
"For most of the period when the samurai traditions dominated Japanese life, the conduct of the individual warrior was the focus of their culture. When more pragmatic men came to power, they put greater emphasis on the effective employment of large armies, often including men of low social rank. New technologies were embraced, most notably the firearm, but also better siege weapons to force enemies from strongholds."
Now this is actually the greatest weapon of the Japanese. Kataparuto is their unique technology that allows Japanese trebuchets to pack, unpack and fire faster! This upgrade can end up becoming devastating, as trebuchets are the most destructive force in the game. So, if given extra speed and the ability to throw more flaming rocks in a shorter amount of time, trebuchets will gift you with a vision of an enemy town being completely destroyed at an incredible speed!
A large number of Japanese trebuchets with Kataparuto researched, can burn your enemy's town to the ground before he has time to even realize what was that hit him! Use your halberdiers and samurai units to protect your trebuchets well, and you have a great late game force.
Galleys +50% line of sight
When playing water maps, the Japanese can really take off! Their superior fishing ships will give an increase of food income, while the wood discount for resource-gathering structures practically eliminate any delay times. Having a 50% extra line of sight for Galleys, allows you to see much far ahead than your enemies. Knowing your surroundings and where your enemy positions are, just by themselves, are great advantages.
As this bonus affects galleys, a naval civilization heavily relying on such units will greatly benefit from a team-up with the Japanese. The best navy civs include: the Spanish, the Saracens, the Byzantines, the Koreans and the Vikings. Saracen galleys in particular, will become deadly to any enemy navy with the extra LOS, as they receive an upgraded attack-speed to begin with! On the other hand, a team-up with the Vikings would provide the team with cheaper Docks, further improving on the already superior Japanese economy, especially on said water maps.
A civilization of many options, but no real strengths
As the infantry civilization they are, the Japanese can make use of a full Barracks, excluding the eagle warriors- esclusive to the Mayans and Aztecs. Use your halberdiers to repel enemy cavalry, and rely on your deadlier milita before the Samurai becomes available.
Perfect Archery Range
For an infantry civ, the Japanese get a complete Archery range as well, being able to produce every unit and research every upgrade! The only thing preventing the perfection of cavalry archers, though, is the Bloodlines upgrade from the stable! A missed upgrade, as cavalry archers are great units, and that upgrade gives them more survivability.
Perfect Heavy Scorpions
The ever-reliable Heavy Scorpion. This is a great unit to use in masses, as their missiles deal continuous damage to adjacent units. They provide your Japanese game great support with fire power from the back row! Use them in conjunction with Samurai and trebuchets in late game.
Hand Cannoneers and Bombard Cannons
The Japanese also have access to gunpowder. Being able to produce hand cannoneers means extra support against infantry, while bombard cannons give your army a mobile power injection! These are dismissable, though, as you have your much more effective trebuchets available, and sooner.
A balanced civilization with no real weaknesses, but with no real strengths as well. Their unique unit makes them special by being more unique than the others. However, you are left with a unit full of potential whose usability and effectiveness is still lacking compared to the others.
If you overlook past the lost potential, this civilization can still be deadly. They have economic bonuses, can grow fast on water maps, and have plenty of fully upgradable options in every corner of the tech tree, comparable with the other eastern Asiatic civilization, the Chinese.
The Japanese can be a fun civ to play with, who doesn't like Samurai and their history? It can't get any better than being able to control these legendary warriors in an actual battlefield, right?
Read more about my favorite civs from the game in 10 of the Best Civilizations from Age of Empires II: The Conquerors!