River City Saga: Three Kingdoms Review

River City Saga

One game series that I have always wanted to try but never had the opportunity to was the River City series. The 8-bit graphics, chaotic action, along with smooth gameplay and a genuine fun atmosphere really captivated me.  It always felt like it would be a series that was right up my alley as someone who loves side scrolling beat-em-up’s. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I never had the opportunity to play one until now with the release of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms.

River City Saga: Three Kingdoms
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Arc System Works
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (reviewed), Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 20, 2022
Players: 1-4 (online)
Price: $29.99 USD 

Now, it’s obvious why I was chosen to review this game among everyone on staff. I am a Three Kingdoms historian on top of my love for video games. I know how lucrative this setting is for adaptation, and this game certainly was a unique take on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story.

This combination was a fun, interesting take on history, with many characters who appear in the game being series regulars who have been retooled to be the historical figures with sometimes hilarious results.

The story of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms follows the Three Brothers – Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, and the main character, Guan Yu. In this story, they are three men who met together to rid the world (China) of chaos and restore the stability of the Han Empire.

The game starts off with the brothers meeting and fighting their way through the Yellow Turban Rebellion and you follow their journey across the story.  The game’s approach to the Three Kingdoms is fun, it transforms these actual historical entities like the Yellow Turbans and the armies of Dong Zhuo into Japanese Yankees, complete with pompadours and aggravated squatting.

As the story progresses, you will run into other River City characters from previous games, but this time they are now characters like Cao Cao or Lü Bu. For example, Cao Cao is actually just Yamada Taiki, the main antagonist of River City Ransom, and Lü Bu is actually Misuzu, the third boss from Renegade, the first game in the River City series.

As a played through the game, it was fun to see how new characters would be depicted in this setting, and I was almost never disappointed.  In fact, the only character I never liked was Zhang Fei, who was actually just Godai from the River City Ransom. But then again, I don’t like Zhang Fei in the actual story either, so I suppose it all works out.

The story moves pretty slowly, especially in the beginning, but that is okay. It helps to reinforce the journey that Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei went on, starting out as homeless nobodies who eventually rise to become three of the most well-known heroes in Chinese history.  So while each chapter takes a while to complete, I never felt like I was bored.

River City Saga: Three Kingdoms plays like your traditional side scrolling beat-em-up except it has elements of an open world to it. You can travel around to different commandries and villages to seek out optional quests or items to help improve your skills. You take on waves of enemies, beating them down with your fists, kicks, and throws.

You also unlock special abilities and powers as the story progresses, quests are completed, and your strength grows. As you level up, you can upgrade your stats and abilities and even learn new combos which can really tip the scales of a tough fight in your favor.

It can be played in single player or in co-op, but I unfortunately didn’t have a co-op partner for my time with the game, so I flew solo as I beat down my foes.

The presentation of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is an overall nice mix of old and new. the graphics carry over that classic artstyle that has existed since the 80s, but at the same time, it has been upgraded with a new, flashier coat of paint.

It feels like the developers looked at a game like Octopath Traveler and thought that they were onto something. But what is important is that they kept that same look that makes River City Ransom so iconic in the first place.

While the graphics may not make you say “Wow!”, I found them to be incredibly appealing, it was something that did push me to want to play more as I moved along with my playtime.  In my opinion, River City should never move away from this style, as it makes the series one of the most recognizable series in the beat-em-up genre.

River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is a really fun game to play beat-em-ups or like the Three Kingdoms era. It’s take on the history and the novel were funny, with almost all the jokes being on point. It was just a good time from beginning to the moment I set my controller down. I think anyone who tries this game out will enjoy it.

River City Saga: Three Kingdoms was reviewed on Windows PC using a code provided by Arc System Works. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy hereRiver City Saga: Three Kingdoms is now available across Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.

The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Classic graphics hit with just enough polish to make them really shine
  • Combat is fun, rewarding, and addicting
  • The reimagined Three Kingdoms characters are hilarious

The Bad

  • The music is okay at best, nothing that really stands out
  • Some depth issues affected me during fights, but it may have been my own personal problem


Tyler was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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