Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII and its new expansion takes you into a relatively unexplored setting in Western gaming. It is set in the almost mythologised period of the Three Kingdoms in Ancient China following the fall of the Han dynasty. This gives it a fresh feel over other strategy games and the setting lends a real sense of scale. Through a range of cities, characters and an ever changing world, it was easy to feel at home in the world.
Publisher: Koie Tecmo
Avg Game Length: Easily several hundred hours
Shiny New Features Abound
The Fame and Strategy expansion adds a range of new features. The eponymous Fame System improves your character via completing missions for friends and allies across the map. I found this added an RPG element to play, which helped me care about my characters progress. Before battles, the War Council helps select commanders to lead your forces and use unique strategies. These are introduced and explained, along with existing features, through the character focused Hero mode.
Hero mode features 3 playable factions for each of the main kingdoms. This operates as a detailed tutorial for the Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII as a whole. It gradually introduces new and existing features to ease you in gently. This mode focuses mainly on character development. I met with friends and performed quests and missions for them. Once I’d become sufficiently friendly, I could request introductions to other characters and form bonds. Your character carries this ever growing network of friends and allies forward into the game world.
So Many Relationships, So Little Time
This was a nice feature that made the Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII feel densely populated. Every character has various needs or wants you can help fulfil. Other characters may plot against you and can be calmed or brought on side through interaction. I found this realistic character behaviour a real plus, as it becomes apparent that all characters have individual links and relationships.
This intricate web of connections is tracked through a massive character tree. This allows you to access any character you have met, but the minuscule portraits can make finding the right person difficult.
Story Mode & Character Management Filters Into Everything You Do
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII’s main story mode focuses on leading your character and by extension their kingdom to dominance of China over a fixed time period. Players achieve this by navigating military and diplomatic challenges and completing missions.
As mentioned, there is a surprisingly deep RPG element to the game, your character is involved across many levels of management and relations. Your cities have set goals for a season, such as developing a particular military aspect or enhancing commerce or agriculture. These are delegated to your ministers or governors. You can offer a helping hand where needed to speed matters along.
Your kingdom is managed through central hub cities, which are nicely detailed. These cities feature missions, projects and a chance to visit characters in the town. You can expand the city or improve your military prowess (or get to some child rearing) and this will affect how well you can perform in the campaign as a whole.
The many friends, allies and underlings you meet are tracked through a rapport system. You gain or lose rapport depending on how you treat allies and subjects. Helping an ally with a quest or task boosts rapport, while passing a character over or disagreeing can lead to a drop. This led to a delicate balancing act to keep everyone on side, which added another layer of intrigue
Packed To The Gills With Stuff To Do!
The game boasts masses of content, featuring a main story mode that gives the player a range of scenarios to choose from. The Hero mode also helps players get to grips with the game’s wide range of features.
However this is a blessing and a curse – the game features a complex and detailed menu system. This adds a lot of depth to management and development, but is daunting at first. As a newcomer to the series, I found it difficult to get to grips with the functions quickly. Playing on console adds another level of frustration, as the sprawling menus do not mesh well with a controller. This leaves you scrambling to act quickly enough to follow processes even with the pause function.
The game does its best to immerse you into new features through a steady stream of informative menus and tutorials. These are useful but the sheer amount of features seems to swallow these up and left me feeling overwhelmed at times.
Battles And Combat In Romance of The Three Kingdoms XIII Come In Many Forms
The military aspect of the game focuses on large scale battles. You can zoom right into the heart of the action or take a more broad strategic view, giving two different aspects to commanding. Armies are formed and trained in cities and dispatched to seize and defend lands. Supplies dictate how long your armies can stay in the field. AI controlled armies act automatically, or you can take control of the action yourself.
Combat has you leading the troops in real time, in open field or besieging a city. The series has taken a move away from its previously turn based battle system, which I feel it does the game a disservice. A turn based system would allow for more nuanced and carefully planned combat. Though you can pause the action to react to enemy movements, you’re forced to send your troops into inevitable meat grinders.
Despite the new War Council feature, battles offer relatively little in the way of tactical ingenuity. There are a range of preset commands and ‘General Commands’ which can buff troops in various ways. Outside this there is little to do except order each commander and his men to stroll into the enemy to engage into the aforementioned stodgy struggle.
Battles also feature a Duel mode, which pits a champion from your forces against his enemy counterpart, not unlike Dynasty Warriors. Sadly, the characters can’t be controlled, which makes a nice cinematic spectacle just that. This function relies on your guy making the right choice, which he never quite seemed to do, always getting edged out despite a higher WAR score.
Romance XIII Remains Artistically Beautiful To Look At
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII does do an excellent job establishing the setting and sense of scale. It has an immersive sound design and sweeping score. The art design is bold and colourful outside the main campaign map. Each character, no matter how minor, is given an eye catching and beautifully detailed portrait.
This detail makes the characters themselves, which are the focus of the game, a pleasure to look at. Their dialogue, which you will spend most of the game – especially in Hero mode – reading, is sadly a bit stilted and formulaic. Characters are prone to making grandiose and cringeworthy exclamations in battle or when enjoying success.
Even the generic dialogue left me feeling a bit flat, which is a shame because the huge cast of characters and scope of interactions was very promising. But no matter how interested I became in the characters relationships, I couldn’t look past the somewhat empty dialogue.
But the visual attention to detail doesn’t carry across into the game as a whole. This leaves the vast map feeling a bit like a barren and featureless desert. It has a huge amount of cities and forts that dot the campaign map. But these lack in the intimate touches and details that add depth. Forests, small towns, or scenery features are missing outside mountains and rivers. The huge scale is a plus but lacks the character and immersion to really make it feel alive.
3, 2, 1 DEBATE
Debate mode is a 1v1 Mortal Kombat style debate brawl. Your character has a health bar and engages in heated debate with a foe. You can choose from various responses – such as Assert and Retort, to weaken your enemies resolve and win the debate. These take place over 5 rounds, and have a nice cinematic setting that looks fantastic.
Either through my own idiocy or my character’s, I was frequently trounced in these debates. My character turned out to have an intelligence of 6, while a peasant I debated had a score of 60. Aside from making me question how my character ran the kingdom at all, it also left me on the backfoot when completing missions or requests.
The End Result Is A Game Packed With Content That Delivers For Gamers With A Very Niche Taste
Overall, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII holds a lot of promise, with a hell of a lot content and a great character system. Watching your character grow in rank and office, their abilities improving constantly, is satisfying and well executed.
These benefits feel held back, partly under the oppressive weight of the menu system and clunky dialogue. Rather like a safety blanket afraid to let you have too much fun. The art design isn’t applied broadly enough, leaving a gulf between the lovely character portraits and dull world map.
Battles, which form somewhat of a centrepiece for the game, aren’t up to the standard of most other strategy games I’ve played. The aim for a balance between a broad and close up view of affairs leads to a somewhat lacklustre production of both.
Overall, I think this is a great entry for fans of the series and will make a lot of existing players very pleased. But for a newcomer it is a daunting experience and left me feeling a bit shut out by the complexity of accessing the content on offer.