Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII PS4 Review
It is clear after 13 Romance, 2 Kessen, and 8 Dynasty Warriors releases (not including all of the re-releases) that Koei really loves the story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Every title in each of these series always dives into the Three Kingdoms period to retell the story with slightly different focuses, but fitting into mostly the same overarching plot. It has been clear for a while that they love Romance, but after playing their strategy game with the same name as the book it almost seems as though the story is hindering what they would like to do with their games, rather than fueling the player with the desire to play more. I have played the game for around 45 hours and being a game of simulated strategy means that the war never ends, but it still feels like something is missing.
One of the first strategy games I ever played was Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire. I didn’t understand much that was going on when my province was experiencing famine, I barely knew how to handle battles and a lot of the time I would lose. However, over time it began to feel like I was really getting the hang of what it meant to rule multiple provinces with people who could become outraged at any moment and disasters that could ruin my reign. I loved that game and have gone back to it multiple times because it is still so enjoyable. Yet, somehow over the last 12 years I have been completely oblivious to the rest of the Romance series because it has advanced by 9 titles since the time of my youth. I have watched some videos to catch up on where the series has gone and I have to ask, why does this series need to be in the double digits?
When a game gets a sequel, or it becomes a franchise with multiple titles the iterations tend to introduce new content to the later releases. New mechanics, story, rosters, or other content is added depending on what game is being discussed. With many strategy games, sequels attempt to add new mechanics that change how the player may have chosen to approach a scenario in a prior release. For instance, in Civilization V a player could dominate the world by conquering it all, whereas the expansion Brave New World made cultural and diplomatic victory much more viable as victory conditions. In Romance XIII the new focus is on character relationships and one-on-one duels. Both of these ideas in theory should be really cool, but the way that they are integrated into the game just don’t feel right.
For those who have never played an entry in the series, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is considered a grand strategy game. Instead of commanding small armies or specific actions within villages, everything takes place on a map of China and the player has control over their nation. It could also be said that Romance is a 4x game without the first x, there is no exploring but there is a heavy focus on expanding, exploiting others, and extinguishing enemies. All of this is set during the time of the yellow turban rebellion and follows the stories of the three rulers who attempted to unite China as one. The player decides which character in the historical transformation of the nation they would like to control and then they begin making decisions.
Majority of Romance XIII focuses on the big actions that the player takes as the country and it makes the game fairly dry. You send people to go do jobs, your character goes to do a job, it all involves sitting and watching meters go up without much excitement at all. The good news is that there are moments where the player gets to participate in these jobs, the bad news is that only the character you are playing will allow player involvement, most of the time these duels are of not great importance, and they are essentially a slightly more complex version of rock-paper-scissors. Unlike past games where you could raise the resources which you would give in order to get what you want, this game has the player go head to head against those they would like to make an agreement with. This ends up becoming fairly frustrating and what I originally found to be an interesting way to handle debates I began to allow the computer characters to handle as they succeeded almost 100% of the time.
There are three ways to play, with the main modes being fictional and historical, then a “hero mode” added for those who would prefer a more story focused game. Of course, the historical mode, which seems to be the way that the game would like players to play, as it is set to this by default, is still story focused and rarely allows the player to deviate from the historical story. Throughout a game of Romance, there are events that take place through cutscenes such as the fall of a great leader, or a great war across provinces. Whether or not you are a character participating, these events occur with great changes. Sometimes I would begin a game with one province in order to grasp the mechanics of the game little by little, only for a cutscene to grant me 8 provinces and completely overwhelm me. It isn’t fun to play a game with a goal only to have things change multiple times throughout without any feeling of accomplishment. However, even if these events did not occur, the game does not allow much wiggling room for the player to change history.
After playing multiple historical campaigns and fictional campaigns it was clear that in historical it is 10 times more difficult to gain officers, capture provinces, or make peace without being the largest nations in the game. I did too well playing as Dong Zhuo and Sun Jian, but when I tried to play a small nation I spent hours and did not progress at all. In contrast, playing a small nation in fictional mode meant that officers were much more likely to join my rule and I could make changes without problems. One could say that it doesn’t matter since the player can decide to play either fictional or historical, but the problem here is that the main mode suggested has the player believe that they are going into something of a challenge which they can change, and they spend hours of time with rarely any satisfactory result. The other problem is that players who want to experience the historical story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms are limited to this mode, which doesn’t allow much deviation from recorded history, and that is really unfortunate! The story of Romance of the Three Kingdoms is actually told fine in this game. From the hero mode and the historical mode I have been gripped by some of the characters and I am interested to know more. Granted, that is all I am because characters have a limited time on screen, but I probably will pick up the next release of Dynasty Warriors due to playing this.
For anyone who is interested in playing Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, it is hard to recommend. Whether you are a fan of the series and want to play the new entry, or you are looking for a new grand strategy game to play, there are many other games that are much more satisfying to play, even past entries of the series. The new mechanics that the developer tried to add to the mix end up making everything much less fun than they might have seemed conceptually. Adding this with the historical parts of the game makes it feel like a lot of the player’s agency has been taken away. I hope whatever the next Romance game that comes out improves on the formula, but this entry makes me question whether any more entries in the series would be necessary without big changes.