The very first thing I want to make clear about this title is that it is not for everyone. If you don’t have previous knowledge of the Three Kingdoms period, or if you are not a big fan of strategy games then this is sadly not going to be the game to pull you into them. That being said I personally found this to be an entertaining and interesting game that I can see being a time sink for me way into the future.
I have been a huge fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story for many, many years now and I love just about everything I can get my hands on that deals with the time period and the tales of the heroes and villains of that era. Imagine how excited I was when I discovered that Koei Tecmo was bringing a version to Playstation 4 for the franchise’s 30th anniversary and I was finally going to get the opportunity to step into the period and live a fantasy life from 700 (yes I did say 700) of characters that the game has available.
The story is immensely rich and detailed and is one that is well known in Asia but might not be as familiar to everyone else. It focuses on the Han dynasty and the struggle to overthrow the corrupt court to establish a new regime. The main instigators in the story; Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Sun Jian (later his son Sun Qian) establish three kingdoms of their own causing there to be a period of constant battles and wars. Each of the kingdoms has a huge cast of characters available to the player which can offer a great deal of enjoyment to someone who loves the history of the period.
The game has two different main modes available to play which are slightly different depending on the experience of the player. Hero Mode tells the story of the Three Kingdoms via short battles and events that occur throughout the history of the Three Kingdoms. This offers a tutorial type gameplay to ease the new player into the action gradually so they can get used to the style of game properly. The other mode is Main mode which gives a set of scenarios for the player to choose and then play to try and unify the land under one banner,
The gameplay itself is menu based and offers a good amount of options to develop culture, commerce and farming. Each of the cities under your control needs to have a steady mix of all of these things to be successful and micro-managing the three options is the key to resource management for the military aspect of the game. Once you have built up a decent set of resources you can then invest them in military by hiring new officers, training new troops or by patrolling the territories you control to increase loyalty in your military. It is through these options and sub-menus with their various actions that the game can become overwhelming very quickly. The highly experienced strategy game player will relish the sheer volume of controls they have at their disposal, however, a newcomer to the genre may find that there is too much to think about even just to make a single decision. This is why the Hero mode is a stroke of genius because it has been developed to expertly take the newbie through the gameplay step by step in a very friendly and welcoming manner. It takes the gamer by the hand and introduces all of the game mechanics in a gradual process and playing through the timeline in this way puts into context the various events that occur throughout the span of the Three Kingdoms era.
The main focus of both modes falls primarily in the relationship mechanic between the various different characters within your kingdom. You will find yourself walking a fine line between allocating missions, throwing banquets and numerous other options to garner the best relationship you can with your chosen targets. If you manage to pull it off successfully you can even cause opposition forces to defect in the middle of a battle, turning the tide for you to force a win.
This may sound boring and tedious but surprisingly the mechanics are sound and the debates between characters play out more like a one on one battle of wit and intellect.
When it comes to the battlefield the gameplay becomes very simplistic and after a while gets a little monotonous to experience. The amount of units you are allocated in battle depends on your character’s rank. Very little is left for you to control apart from which formation you wish your units to use and when to buff your army which sadly leaves me wanting just a little bit more to get the enthusiasm for the battles going.
There were some performance issues when I played it with movement between cities sometimes dropping fps and stuttering slightly. This was also evident in the battles where the number of units and number of arrows seemingly affecting performance. However, these things didn’t detract from the overall experience too much because the battles weren’t often the focus of my gameplay. My play style was more about the political skulduggery and manipulation of the other leaders.
Ultimately Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a decent console version of the game with a great level of detail into the lore and characters of the period. The political and management side of the game is incredibly detailed and allows fantastic customisation by the player. The Hero mode is where the game truly shines in my opinion with a friendly yet comprehensive explanation of the systems used in the game being introduced gradually over time allowing new players to the strategy genre to play without being too overwhelmed with the intricacies.