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Review: Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI

10 Sep 2008  by   Paul Younger
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If you like spending over three hours a night developing cities, building armies and ramming spears up arses then Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI is a ten star game.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI (RTKXI) is a turn based strategy game for PC and PS2 that revolves around the glorified history of China. This history was recorded in a book called the Three Kingdoms which describes the time eras of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the PC version of Koei’s latest edition and was looking forward to seeing the changes. Good news; this will run well on even the oldest PCs. Bad news; the interface isn’t going to be mouse happy.

The first thing you will notice is that graphically the game isn’t impressive, and I doubt it’s meant to be. It is 3D and has all the useful camera angles but the character animations are something less than desirable.  However that can be excused due to how well the game plays. I have yet to find a bug!

RTKXI is a command game. You take charge of a force (or create your own) and spend your time developing your city. You have a number of officers who you assign to jobs. Like keeping order in your streets, recruiting men for your army or even building the weapons that these new recruits will be using. For people in the know, it’s a cross between Civilisation with the combat from Dynasty Tactics.

You spend your time looking at the map of China and its provinces. Giving orders and trying to either save the current Dynasty or create a new one… The battles also take place on this world map so there is no loading times what so ever between battles and developing your cities, which is nice.

Knowing how hard RTK can be to understand I thought I would give the tutorial a miss and got the wife to it instead!

Another big difference to note is that she’s never read the books or played the old games, so she has no reference points.  The names and places aren’t English in convention, they are Chinese (Zhou Yu and Chi Bi for example). Luckily they colour code all the names and places, but unfortunately they didn’t tell us what these colours were. This means she couldn’t understand the system, or what the colours meant. That wasn’t the worst thing.  The tutorial will tell you to do something but continue talking and clicking ANYWHERE causes the text to skip.  Let’s just say that my wife, being my wife, missed a lot of text.

The next frustration we found was the layout. The tutorial was good enough to show how to use the status sheet for the city but errrm… how do you get it up? We wasted so much time trying to find view vital information about our own officers. After we’d spent an hour clicking around we started to understand how to find out what we needed to know. The rest of the tutorial is actually very good. It explains all the basics and gives you a chance to test out what you’ve just read so it really sticks.

Once we got through learning the interface and the tutorial three and a half hours had passed. We had been giggling away at the characters and making a mockery of the story the game is based on. Although laughing, I was concerned the whole game was going to be in this tone.  I also worried that potential players may lose interest after three and half hours on a tutorial.  Having said that, the tutorial is really important, so perservernce is required.
 
Starting a new game is quite confusing, but you can just keep everything on the default and keep hitting next until you have selected a force to play. The one thing that really disappointed me was the lack of RPG elements RTK used to have. In RTKVIII you controlled a single person that was either just a loyal servant under a lord, the lord himself or anyone in between. I liked that approach as it allowed you to get into the game without having to know everything while still enjoying quests assigned to you. RTKXI handles this by allowing you to assign an officer to take charge of each city, it’s a nice touch but I haven’t used it yet.

Although RTKXI seems overwhelming at first, once you sit down for a session you are quickly devolping city after city, army after army and sending them to battle. Battles are fought on the global map just like Dynasty Tactics where you select a “unit”(army), click on where you want them to go and select what type of attack you want to make; Strategy, Tactic or just plain old Attacking. This is where it gets juicy. Each of the units’ tactics can be utilised to help the other units for a more strategic victory.  By arranging your armies in different ways you can cause greater damage.  And the sense of achievement is great when the bigger picture comes together.  For example, I managed to set 8000 people alight with fire arrows using an oil trap before running them through with 6000 spearmen!

There are also two types of “mini games”. One is a sort of card game where two diplomats or strategists are debating. The other is a duel for the warriors. Both are OK, slightly cheesy and hardly make the game any better, although I admit the change in game type is welcome every now and then.

The only problem, or good point, is that there is just too much to go into, but if you like spending your nights locked away having “just one more turn”, this is the game for you.

Koei have done well with this title. It is built well, most of its ideas are implemented correctly and I still have found no bugs. This is one game that I’ll be playing late into the night for months to come.

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