Top 100 Retro Games: North & South

North and South
Nintendo Entertainment System

North and South is a fascinating game that was fairly unique to me growing up. It was likely the first turn-based game that I played, although I am truly uncertain. I honestly did not even think of it as a turn-based game until a few years ago. It was also a game about the Civil War, which seemed to be pretty unique at the time, even in edutainment circles.

We rented North & South from a local store a few times and found it interesting enough. I do remember getting it once because the game I wanted was out, so it was good fall back game to spend a weekend playing through. I ended up buying that copy when the store went out of business right before we moved to The Shore.

We moved when I was about to start eighth grade. Three big things were noticeable in the first few days we were there before school started up. First, and I would find out quick, what the hell is a WAWA? Second, uh oh, I just moved to Philadelphia sports team country (and inexplicably Cowboys too), so that Yankees shirts and Rangers hat did not really get me over on the first day of school.

The third thing was very alarming. There was a significant amount of confederate flag shirts and bumper stickers around town. This was right after the LA Riots and the disgusting Rodney King beating. Racial issues were in the news. My homeroom teacher in seventh grade had some scorching hot takes while Channel One played that would have gotten him fired these days. Hip Hop artists like Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Boogie Down Productions, and other white liberal artists like Pearl Jam, L7, and Nirvana really guided me here that racism was bad, but “the south will rise again” rhetoric was asinine.

I will ask this again later, but I do not understand why anyone would want to be The South in this game.

The plot of North & South goes something like this: It is the Civil War. You get to play out each year in the war whether 1861, 1862, 1863, or 1864. I wish you could do all four years together, but oh well. Each year goes until either the North or South wins by eliminating all opposing characters on the board.

According to the Nintendo Power Index, North and South was never covered in the magazine. Huh. I do not think that has ever happened to us before.

The cover for North and South on the NES is a disappointing cartoon photo of two soldiers forehead to forehead like an episode of Family Feud or whatever. That is great that the company who made this game thinks a war over human beings being property is cute and funny. The Amiga version is also a cartoon, but a bit more somber and serious looking thankfully.

There is not a ton of music in this game unfortunately, although it looks like from what I have seen online, there is a lot of unused music. The soundtrack, what there is, is very tinny and harsh for the most part. The only somewhat cool track is the one that plays when you go over the plot for each year at the beginning of that year.

I replayed this game for Extra Life 2018. While this game is certainly still fun to do a quick play through, there are a number of glaring issues with it that are most likely going to be issues for someone who does not have 30 years of experiences with the game to rely on.

Again, I don’t understand why anyone would want to play as the confederacy. That flag stands for racism and hate. Yes, I know the north had slaves too. Yes I know, “Republicans freed the slaves.” Except they didn’t. Go do some research about Juneteenth. I do not care about political parties. They are all cults.

The idea of a turn based Civil War game is certainly an interesting idea. I have enjoyed, in more recent times, the turn-based alternate World War II stories in the Valkyira Chronicles series. This is not quite that of course, but it is nor too far off, in its rawest form, from the early days of something like Fire Emblem. You do somewhat, in the vein of VC, move from grid directly to battle. Sort of.

When I first saw turn-based games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre later in the nineties, one of the first games I thought of was North and South.

The inclusion of different variables makes for different playthroughs. You can add or subtract Native Americans joining in to the war, although they seem to just randomly attack a character on the map. Whichever side has secured North Carolina receives additional troops via a ship that comes from…you know what, I do not know where…which can be game saving if your losing troops or game affirming if you are heading towards victory. Every five train stops for your train adds another soldier as well, but you have to be careful it is not intercepted by the enemy.

The addition of weather is neat too. When the rain clouds are over a character, they cannot move for that turn. This seems to be just random and in my playthroughs of the game over the years I have found the weather seems to veer towards the user controlled side primarily.

The basic goal is to get all the bases of the Confederacy. Even on the easier modes, the AI is pretty decent and it is very easy to suddenly find yourself outgunned and over matched.

Inside the bases, one of your soldiers must fight their way through a side scrolling environment against both an enemy soldier and a clock. It is mostly straightforward as long as you stay ahead of the time limit.

In battle, movements are definitely a bit buggy. Characters often move too far and will get stuck by a tree or walk right into a hole or water. Even if you turn your own battalion, it is hard to avoid having at least a few of them fall into holes. The bad thing is that you HAVE to move…I wish you just could sit and wait.

Generally, as an edutainment game, North and South is pretty fun. It does have some unfortunate stereotyping of both Native Americans and Mexicans that would absolutely not be acceptable today. It is too bad the remakes of this game do not look too hot. I would love to see a properly done, turn based, remake that really does a good job of accentuating what is already here.

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