I’m going to assume that this is the first time you’ve heard of Romance of the Three Kingdoms (ROTK). I’m also going to assume that you have SOME familiarity with the Dynasty Warriors series though, which is the action oriented spin-off of ROTK. So I’ll briefly break it down for you:
Based off the story of the same name, ROTK is an obscure but grand tactical-strategy game set during the Han dynasty in China. Taking control of one of hundreds of characters, ROTK asks you unite China through conflict and diplomacy.
Now I’ve only every played one other ROTK game way back on the SNES so I’m a complete newb when it comes to its modern iterations; ROTK veterans, please keep that in mind.
“So, where do I go from here?” Not only the phrase to start this paragraph but also the question I asked myself constantly while playing this game. ROTK is… complex, to say the least. The two game modes available are Hero and Conquest: Hero is the scenario driven tutorial and Conquest the “throw you in the deep end” selection. Being a newb, Hero mode would be the recommended choice. So far, so good.
Essentially, Hero mode is made up of a dozen or so specific scenarios focusing on one small section of the ROTK story and as you progress, introduces new mechanics. Now this sounds well and good, but dang! Longest. Tutorial. Ever.
Even after the tutorial was completed I was only slightly less confused then when I first started. If it wasn’t for the game blatantly telling me what I should be doing next, I would of never progressed (and that was with a huge amount of faffing about until I stumbled across the correct menu needed for the task the game was asking).
Let me try to explain without you falling asleep:
Okay. So as I stated in the beginning, you need to succeed by taking over cities by force or diplomacy until everything the light touches is your kingdom (except the dark shadowy places). Now, your character can’t just up and raise an army; they’ll have very little influence and will probably start working for some lord, so you’ll need to do odd jobs to make your lord happy which slowly increases your bond with them until you’re given more power.
Now while you’re doing that, you need to make sure the cities you control have a growing economy by helping the local farms, patrolling the border to stop bandits or performing some other menial tasks.
“I shall convince you!” :/ rousing speech bro.
Farming and being a helping hand will only get you so far though. You need to make sure you’re visiting officers in both your current city as well as your neighbour’s, trying to befriend them and have them join your cause (which often involves more small side quests). Bonds with these officers need to be maintained and strengthened lest they defect.
When the opportunity strikes you’ll need to form an army, train troops but also ensure you have supplies to keep it going. When you have enough support on your side you can go and take cities by force. Continue doing this until you win or time runs out.
Round One … Debate!
That is as simple as I can describe ROTK without going into to the myriad of mechanics and systems which operate all the different aspects of the game. What I found though, was that the vast majority of that game flipped between text conversations, menus, and waiting for things to happen.
Never have I played a game where having a debate was the most exciting thing to look forward to.
I think the biggest issue this game has (and there are quite a few gripes to be had) is that the interface is terrible. Each screen is cluttered with icons and menu items.
Here’s a snippet of gameplay in text form:
* Enter a city.
* Menu displays locations to visit within said city and a menu shows the cities current stats.
* Select house icon to speak to a lord and start a “mission”.
* New screen with menu.
* Select sub menu to choose a mission.
* Different screen with menu to choose who you’d like to take on the task. Accept and return to previous menu.
* Repeat with other officers otherwise return again and wait.
* Back to city menu and wait until a small dial fills signifying the mission is complete.
* Return to house icon and the menu that accompanies it.
* Select “complete mission” sub menu.
* Watch the results tally and various stat numbers increase.
* Continue with game/menu hopping/repeat.
Nothing is ever explained properly. The tutorials give you a couple of screens depicting menu arrangements and where you should be going but if your concentration lapses (which is very easy to do here), there isn’t any way of going back for more info. With all the menus in the game you’d think there would be one with which allowed you to review each lesson. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh, as the game isn’t all menus…
There are some real-time battles that take place amongst all the menu jumping. Are they any good? Well for this type of game I could say they’re barely passable – the system technically works and it certainly depicts a battle taking place, but it’s all too simple… and ugly. Rock, paper, scissors (RPS) and numbers is what it boils down to (as long as your army numbers are higher than your opponents); spearmen beat cavalry, cavalry beat archers, archers beat spearmen etc.
Now that I’m down this path: rock, paper, scissors seem to be a theme.
As hinted at above, there are times when you need to debate against an officer to persuade them in joining your side or similar request. When first introduced I thought “Cool! Mortal Kombat with words!”. A health bar appears for each combatant and you attack your foe with strong arguments, retorts, and provocations. Then you realise that this is another RPS system. Pick an item from the menu, hope the enemy chooses something that doesn’t counter your argument, continue until victory.
I’ll quickly mention there there are also actual fighty duels… that play exactly like debates but with a re-skin. Each dual also seems to take place only on horseback and in the exact same geographical location (a brown wasteland). Bleh.
Adding insult to injury, the battles don’t even look that good; the real-time battles are tiny and smudged, debates are made of lower poly figures and duels are also choppy and bland.
In fact, while we’re on the subject of visuals, all the 3D modeled sections look very last generation. Washed out textures and basic models along with the inconsistent frame rate. I didn’t think the image of a dude riding a horse between small representations of cities, on a fairly plain map, would be that taxing on a PS4. But nope, the game fluctuates between a smooth ride and a stop motion animation.
Then there are the larger army fights. Awful.
Units have visual representation, which as far as I can make out, are 2D sprites the size of ants, but are mostly obscured but the portrait of the character in charge. Pop on a health bar and yet more numbers and you end up with what looks like a battle of floating heads bumping into each other until all the heads on the evil side have counted down to zero.
Have a look at this mess:
What is going on? Who’s the Thousand Slayer? Am I winning? I have higher numbers so… yes?
It isn’t all bad though.
When not sitting through stuttering 3D visuals, we’re treated with some actually decent 2D art. Conversations and and cut-scenes are presented via static 2D images of whomever is speaking at the time on a pleasant 2D backdrop which sets the location of said conversation. It’s a shame there isn’t more of it – more images of the same character in different poses or emotional states. As nice as the 2D work is, looking at the same thing over and over again gets old quick.
So what do we end up with?
A visually average game that involves lots of waiting for bars to fill up and looking at numbers increase. Every menu or action is usually followed by some number going up or down: city supply numbers, character stat numbers, troop numbers, relationship numbers.
It’s all so dry. Salada-cracker-with-no-toppings dry.
Such siege. Much effects. Wow.
Look, I’m sure it’ll appeal to some. I mean, it must do – this is the thirteenth in the series! I reckon if you:
* have an interest in the story but don’t really know what it’s about,
* have no other games to play and want something that will last you months,
* enjoy watching numbers ascend,
* prefer walking over driving to get around,
* spend ages looking at menus in restaurants,
* are a stop-motion enthusiast,
* like to chow down on toast without spreads,
… then this game could be for you (just make sure you change the language settings from Japanese to Chinese – cut-scenes look and sound weird if you don’t).
Otherwise, if you’re after something with a little more real-time strategy action but still in the ROTK setting, dig up a copy of Kessen 2 on the PS2.
ROTK 13 isn’t a bad game, it’s just a boring one; which is arguably worse.