“Fans of strategy games will find this exceptionally detailed title to be a challenging and rewarding blend of deep strategy and historically accurate warfare, regardless of their familiarity with the rich story of the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. Cities can be built and developed; alliances can be fostered or broken; armies can be mustered and deployed. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII prides itself on offering a wide selection of options for conflict resolution, the most impressive of which are the armies. A wide variety of army units can be recruited and trained, including foot soldiers, cavalry, artillery, and navy, while special care has been taken to incorporate diplomacy and personal relationships, giving the player an extra incentive to build a stable and loyal network of friends and allies.”
Despite the fact that I’ve actually played quite a few entries in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, I’d never really made any progress in any of them. That’s not to say I don’t have an appreciation for the games; whilst I’ve never been any good at them myself, I spent a lot of time watching one of my cousins play through each of the games when I was younger. Seeing someone who actually knew what they were doing showed the game in a different light – there’s so much depth and freedom to the series that allows you to try and take over China by whatever means you desire.
Alas, strategy was never my thing and I instead had my experience of the ‘Three Kingdoms’ with Dynasty Warriors. Still, I’d always wished that I’d given the series more time; especially when I saw the kind of experience you could have if you invested yourself into learning each gameplay mechanic. The release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII on the Playstation 4 has given me that opportunity. I’m older, wiser, and certainly more accepting of the strategy genre – there’s never been a better time to try my luck at taking over China.
I feel that I should mention that I don’t know a whole lot about the history and heritage that Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is based upon. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that my knowledge is pretty much limited to knowing that Lu Bu is a beastly badass who is not to be messed with. Embarrassingly, I only recently discovered that the lore is a work of fiction…
Thankfully, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII features ‘Hero Mode’, a campaign that not only acts as a tutorial for each of the game’s gameplay mechanics but also explores the history of the game, as well as introducing each individual character and their relationship with each other.
It’s interesting to see how the ‘Three Kingdoms’ were forged with tales of grand battles, audacious rebellions and mighty leaders. Sure, a lot of it went over my head, but I appreciated that despite being the 13th entry in the series newcomers would never feel too out of place with what exactly has been going on.
Whilst there’s a lot to take in, you can easily break it down into a tale that spans many years full of wars, rebellions, betrayals and corruption as China finds itself under the role of a myriad of leaders. The titular ‘Three Kingdoms’ play a starring role, though there’s a lot of depth with each leader who holds power over each kingdom. I’d like to go into more detail about them, but honestly, it’s better for you to discover the story yourself – and no, that isn’t an excuse to make up for the fact that I forgot everyone’s names already…
Whilst having a history with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series and some knowledge of the lore would make the experience better, it’s certainly not a necessity. Koei Tecmo have been sure to make Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII feel much more newbie-friendly, so everything from the narrative to the introduction of gameplay mechanics are introduced in great detail. Still, those who aren’t acclimatised with the series will have a lot to take in initially.
I’d certainly recommend players take on the aforementioned ‘Hero Mode’ before tackling any other area of the game. It not only eases you into the story, but introduces each gameplay mechanic in a way that makes you perform each task rather than simply read about them. There are plenty of different menus and charts to take care of within Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, so being eased into them with somewhat menial tasks certainly makes the experience a whole lot less daunting. It’s not long until you’re working through a plethora of menus as you forge relationships, build armies and carefully manage every aspect of your kingdom though.
Sharing a likeness with the real world, a lot blood is shed in the political side of things in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII – metaphorically, of course. You’ll head into debates with other officers where you have to show off your political prowess in order to win the battle of the brains. It’s fun and adds a little extra to what goes on behind the scenes in each kingdom.
Actual physical conflict is great too, with full scale battles requiring intricate tactical thinking. If you’ve played any strategy war game before you can imagine how they play out – you need to assess each situation as it comes and work out a battle plan that’ll give you the upper hand. Sometimes you’re able to overwhelm your opponents based purely upon army size, whereas other occasions require you to use devious strategies to defy the odds. It’s incredibly satisfying to come out on top in combat, especially when the odds are stacked against you.
As well as large conflicts between armies, you’ll also head into one on one duels which give you the opportunity to show China why you’re one of the most feared generals in the Three Kingdoms. Or you could lose and make a fool of yourself. Either way, they’re a fun addition and offer a more personal side to battling.
No matter what you do in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, you’ve got to be ready to commit a ton of hours into the game. Whilst time flies in-game (each action will slowly eat up the months), you’ll spend a long time taking care of your kingdom and planning each move. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII certainly isn’t the kind of game you can pick up and play for ten minutes here and there, but rather something you’ll easily spend a full evening playing before achieving any form of success.
What’s really impressive though is how each playthrough can feel significantly different. There are plenty of different scenarios to tackle that can change up your role within the kingdom. One time you may be a measly officer who has next to no influence on the kingdom, whilst another time you may be the leader itself. It’s not just that though – each scenario can take a completely different approach. Who do you attack? What province do you take over? Who do you ally with? Do you cause a rebellion against your leader? Each decision you make can be different every time, providing a whole new way to conquer China. It keeps everything feeling fresh and (perhaps surprisingly given the menu based nature of the game) exciting.
Calling Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII ‘exciting’ is a fairly bold statement, especially given that most of the game is spent navigating menus. It’s certainly designed for the kind of gamer who enjoys slow paced and strategic thinking – you’ve got to have a lot of patience too. You’re never thrown straight into the action, and even when there is a huge conflict it feels more like a game of chess as opposed to an action packed war. It’s not a bad thing by any means, but Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII won’t be for everyone.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a well presented game with menus that are easy to navigate. Whilst everything is somewhat static, the high quality illustrations that make up the bulk of the aesthetic design are a treat to look at. Actual battles do take a more animated approach, though I did notice that the frame rate could often stutter. It wasn’t exactly distracting nor did it take anything away from my overall experience with the game though.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII offers a strategy experience that’ll appeal to both newcomers and series veterans. I’ve never been a massive fan of strategy titles, but I had a lot of fun ‘attempting’ to conquer China.
The menu based nature of the game isn’t for everyone, but those who try the game will get to enjoy the best strategy experience that the Playstation 4 has to offer. Plus, Lu Bu is STILL a badass.