Editor’s Note: This is a review coupled with a video review. You can watch the video review above, or read a transcript of the video below.
Hello everybody, my name is Tyler Valle and this is Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, developed by Koei and published by Koei Tecmo for the PlayStation 4 and PC in the west. I’m going to state up front that this review may be biased due to the fact that if you knew me at all from before my time at Niche Gamer, you’ll know that I’m a massive Three Kingdoms history buff and even do Three Kingdoms history videos on my personal YouTube channel. Therefore I’m going to try my hardest to avoid talking about the setting too much, instead choosing to focus on the mechanics of the game.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a strategy game with depth and difficulty that sits somewhere between Civilization and a Paradox Grand Strategy. The game can be broken down into two major parts, the first being a massive world map that expands over all the territory that the Three Kingdoms era encompassed. On this map you will be tasked with completing tasks that are given to you by your leader or ruler in order to build merit and to further improve the conditions of the city you live in.
These can range from simply waiting for a timer to tick away as your character goes and helps improve the farm land of a city, or going out and patrolling the city and hunting down bandits in order to improve the fealty of your city (thus raising its population). There are two styles to this feature that are determined by what your characters social rank is. If you character works under a lord, you can propose ideas or will be given tasks by your leader to complete.
If completed, you will earn merit, as your merit reaches certain milestones, you will be promoted and will been given pleasant bonuses such as increased pay and a higher troop count to control. If your character is the governor of a city or the ruler of the land, they will be able to give people orders and accept proposes from their advisers.
I enjoyed this system quite a bit while I was making my way through the game. Admittedly, Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the first game in the franchise that I’ve played so the only game I can compare it to is Koei’s other long running strategy franchise: Nobunaga’s Ambition. In the most recent entry in that franchise, Sphere of Influence, the way that you increased the wealth and prosperity of a city was to make a simple button press every turn – that’s it. In this game, there is more depth to the process and while it may seem like busy work, there are other reasons that make it fun, which I will get into later.
The second piece to the gameplay puzzle is combat, which can automatically be fought on the world map by AI or fought personally by the player. There are two major differences between Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms when it comes to combat. There are no longer massive battles in which up to a dozen divisions battle for control of an entire region, instead these fights take place with all troops that are actually at the combat site. All the while, any troops that were moving towards the warzone on the overworld map will make their way to the fight and show up as reinforcements.
While I believe this system is an improvement, it’s far from perfect and sometimes battles can last too long as more and more troops show up to fight which can make battles last so long that your troops run out of supplies and begin to fall to attrition. The second and more important reason combat difference is that the only way the player can take control of the fighting is if his character is at the battle. You are not allowed to control your allies if your character isn’t personally in the battle, and if your character’s personal army are decimated in the fighting, you will be removed from control of the fight, leaving you only with the ability to pray that things go in your favor.
Combat is fought on the ground and within boats, and while it can be a ton of fun to watch your armies tear apart their enemies, it doesn’t exactly have that much depth, though again it’s still an improvement over Nobunaga’s Ambition. This is in comparison to just having two armies duking it out in an open field until one side’s leader is defeated. Combat in Romance of the Three Kingdoms can be fought in simple open areas or in castles in which one side has the task of defending their walls from invaders, while the other has to break their way in and either decimate all the enemy troops or take their main camp.
Typically on the map there will be several camps that, once destroyed, will do damage the enemies moral. Once an enemy unit’s moral hits zero, they will do significantly less damage if any damage at all and will have their defenses lowered by a massive amount, allowing for their opponents to deal a potentially lethal blow and wipe them out. This system is extremely important for when you are going up against an opponent with a larger fighting force their yourself.
For example, there was a point where I fought off 78,000 enemy troops with a force of only 28,000 and by the time I won, I lost less then 10,000 men total. The combat in boats is interesting, but very linear in comparison and feels more like Nobunaga’s Ambition combat, where two forces just charge at one another and fight until all enemies are decimated, there’s not much to say in this regard.
As I mentioned earlier there was a reason why the city building was a significant improvement over Nobunaga’s Ambition, and that’s due to the fact that Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a strategy game with RPG elements. Instead of choosing a faction to place yourself as the ruler of, you instead choose an individual person and live their life, choosing to either play a ruler who’s already at the top or as someone new and work to raise yourself through the ranks.
Within the RPG features of the game comes the ability to meet other characters from the game and become their allies and friends. You have the ability to befriend nearly every character in the game and as your friendship with them deepens, you can unlock special abilities that will aid you in other parts of the game, such as stat bonuses or special combat abilities.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms‘ RPG elements are sort of sandbox-y, allowing the player to meet and befriend whomever they want. Think of it as the “Empires” version of the game. Two other features that make a return to the game are duels and debates, which allow the player to play a fun game of rock paper scissors with their enemies. While these systems may not have much depth, I’d be lying if I didn’t love it every time they happened.
Duels can be used to increase the fealty of a city if your character is out on patrol, or can be used to completely obliterate the moral of an enemy army. Debates can be used in multiple different ways, whether you’re attempting to convince an enemy general to betray their lord or you’re trying to convince another ruler to create an alliance, most of these situations will come down to a duel, based on the players intelligence.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII ships with two game modes: Hero Mode and Main Mode. Hero mode is a mode where the player plays through 9 small missions, learning about the three men who would go on to rule the three kingdoms. This mode is basically a more interactive tutorial mode to teach the player the mechanics and style of the game and I’d highly recommend you start here before jumping into the other mode.
The second mode is main mode, where you can select from at the time of the recording of this 6 different time periods to play. Within this mode, the player can simply live to conquer and rule of their own accord with no interest in quests, or they can play as one of the major forces at the time and complete historical objectives to complete the scenario properly.
Once again Koei has created a fantastic strategy game that plays surprisingly well on a console. While it’s not as immediately comfortable to play with a control as Nobunaga’s Ambition, which I own on both PC and PS4, however I prefer the PS4 controls more. Despite this, once you play the game for a few hours, you shouldn’t have much an issue. Also, the player is able to pause time with the triangle button meaning you’ll never be overwhelmed.
The only other issue I’ve run into was a performance issue when there are just too many troops on the screen at once, the framerate can stutter for a few moments, but will settle itself out. So neither of these issues are problems that I feel will be in the PC release, if that’s your platform of choice.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 using a digital copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9.5
- The Three Kingdoms was an awesome era, filled with some of the most incredible warriors in history. Making a strategy game about these men and women feels as epic as it should.
- The artwork done by Hiroyuki Suwahara is incredible. Suwahara-san has easily become my favorite character artist in the industry and I highly recommend checking his non-video game artwork out.
- The role-playing elements in the game may not be incredibly deep, but they are a perfect garnish for a strategy game that helps make it feel most unique.
- Whether it’s city management or city besieging, the gameplay of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is top notch and has cemented this game as one of my favorites in the strategy genre.
- The music is also incredible without being overpower or distracting, which has been a problem in some of the other titles to come out of Koei Tecmo.
- Hero mode is a fantastic in depth tutorial mode masked as a journey to learn about the world of the Three Kingdoms.
- Comes with Dual Audio for Chinese and Japanese voices. Playing in Chinese is highly recommended.
- Koei has once again proven that strategy games can work on the console and shows that more studios shouldn’t fear the idea of ports.
- The PlayStation 4 controls feel wonky at first and not a clean as the Nobunaga’s Ambition console port.
- There are slowdowns and framerate stutters at the beginning of combat, but tend to go away after 10 or so seconds. Still noticeable, still annoying.