Not as scary as I thought it would be.
I had always heard of Romance of the Three Kingdoms but have never played them. In all honesty, I was kind of afraid of them. Strategy games are hit and miss with me and those have always been on PC. Playing one on a console using a controller sounds like a mess and a half, but after checking out the newest in the series on PS4, I can say it’s not all that bad. Granted, there are most certainly some issues with the game in both controls and performance, but after sitting down and actually trying to learn the mechanics, I can see how this can be a very enjoyable game set in the Han dynasty.
To begin with, the game started off by telling me that I should really play Hero Mode first if I have never played one of these games before, so I started there. Hero Mode is a type of story mode that serves as a tutorial. There are multiple scenarios featuring numerous different commanders that give the player both information needed to play the game as well as a goal to go for during the scenario. While it serves as a decent tutorial, I must iterate – there is a lot here. Even after doing a scenario I still had to constantly remind myself of what I had just learned when playing the game. There are so many mechanics revolving around politics, raising up commerce and influence in cities, and of course, the large scale battles.
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d pay: $40
After taking on the lengthy tutorial, players can begin their main game. Here, they can choose to play as some of the famous commanders and generals from the series, or create their own hero to add to the game. It’s a nice touch which allows players to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work their way up through combat glory while gaining influence by charming rulers and officers. While there is a lot going on, for the most part, the beginning parts of a game are relatively simple – gain influence to get followers, build up a starting city, and begin taking over China through either force, or by allying with other factions. Getting there takes a lot of planning, strategy, and (most importantly) patience.
The presentation is well done albeit a bit goofy at times. For one, the game has debate battles where an officer may be trying to gain influence or recruit an ally and must debate them in order to win their favor. These battles play out in a rock, paper, scissors format where players must choose an action using gained points through a five round debate. It looks and sounds a bit funny because it is. Think of a Phoenix Wright scene with Chinese warlords.
The entire game runs in real time but can be paused at anytime for a more hands-on approach when giving out orders for both the city building as well as the war combat. The combat is taken via an overhead map where players can control their army via the officers assigned to the company. Officers offer stat bonuses to their company as well as a type of “super move” that can be activated at moments of need. On top of this, sometimes officers will be challenged to a duel where the game plays out much like the debate battles. Defeating officers in this manner, decimating enemy companies, and taking bases on the map will reduce the enemy morale making the player’s army stronger and weakening the enemy’s. While the combat feels complex, I really never had too much difficulty when it came to winning, and coming from an inexperienced Romance player, I’m starting to believe the wars and battles in this game are overly easy.
There are two major problems I had with Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, the first one being the frame rate issues. They crop up a lot during the battles. I’m talking sometimes the game slows down to a 10 frames per second crawl making real time commands nearly impossible to do. It didn’t happen every battle but it did happen a good amount. The second issue is the controls. While for the most part navigating the menus and even looking around the selections works well with the DualShock 4, during battles and when moving troops and commanders can become bothersome mainly due to the zooming in and out mechanic. It seems to be a bit too sensitive in this sense. I want to zoom in slightly to select a commander during a battle only to fully zoom into a horse unit.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is most certainly not for everyone. I was thinking it wasn’t going to be for me either, but after making a conscience decision to actually learn how to play the game, I found myself having a rather enjoyable time. Granted, there are a fair share of issues with the controls and frame rate, but all in all, I think strategy fans can get a lot of enjoyment out of this newest entry in the long running franchise, but keep in mind, you’re going to need a lot of patience to play this one.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.