Saikyō Habu Shōgi: Japanese Chess N64 Launch Title Romp

Saikyō Habu Shōgi on the N64
Indeed.

In Nippon there’s a board game similar to chess. It’s called shōgi. And this virtual take on it was a launch title for the Nintendo 64 on June 23rd, 1996. Subarashī!

Saikyō Habu Shōgi on the N64

Seta was a Japanese games developer and publisher, although it was dissolved in 2009. Which is a shame.

These days, it holds the historical distinction of being one of only three launch titles for the Nintendo 64 (the others were Super Mario 64 and flight sim Pilotwings 64).

The young gentleman featured with the game is Yoshiharu Habu, the shōgi genius who won all seven major shōgi championships in Japan during 1996.

Okay, so Saikyō Habu Shōgi (最強羽生将棋—Strongest Habu Shogi). As with the likes of Battle Chess from 1988 (and normal chess), the idea is to force capture your opponents pieces.

It differs to chess as the board is slightly larger and there are more pieces. It’s generally thought of as a tougher experience than chess.

Perhaps the key difference is in shōgi, where you can re-enter captured pieces onto your side of the board.

Right, so Saikyō Habu Shōgi isn’t a game we’ve ever played.

As this was a Japanese release only, and was up against the hotly anticipated Super Mario 64, it was kind of doomed to obscurity.

Despite Japan’s love for the board game, most gamers rushed out to get their hands on Nintendo’s flagship title. A landmark gaming experience… or a virtual board game? Not a tough decision.

This meant Seta’s expected sales didn’t come near to expectations. It was, in fact, something of a failure. Although it did release a sequel called Morita Shōgi 64 in 1998.

We remember the title thanks to the NMS issue #46, which ran previews of all the upcoming Nintendo 64 releases in Japan.

Including another obscure title in the form of Wonder Project J2.

But, yeah, as we like to document these long-forgotten titles, Saikyō Habu Shōgi is certainly one of the most obscure games on the console. Good, eh?

A Bit About Shōgi

Shogi (将棋—shōgi) has been around in Japan since at least 1058, which is the earliest archaeological records for the board game.

As with chess in the wider world, it’s remained a very popular pastime. But for many it’s something above a mere “game”.

It’s a battle of intellect and strategy. Outsmarting and out-strategising your opponent is all part of the experience.

In 2019, top star Toyoshima Masayuki was earning 71.57 million Japanese yen. Which is about £500,000 a year.

So, how do you play shōgi? Here’s a handy explanation video.

It continues to grow in popularity across Japan, with many tournaments throughout the year where everyone does intellectual battle for glory.

Yoshiharu Habu has said this isn’t merely a game for the Japanese. It’s on the same level of art and is an important part of Japan’s national identify.

Right up there with the likes of haiku, Nō (Japanese dance-drama), ikebana (flower arranging), and the Japanese tea ceremony (see The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō).

And that means there are still shōgi video games coming up, with the latest batch available on PC and smartphones. Although most appear to be for Japan only.

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