Romance of The Three Kingdoms XI Review

Romance of The Three Kingdoms XI by Koei is one of those games that players either love, or have absolutely no interest in. Gameplay is of the same variety that longtime fans of the series have come to expect — deep, strategic, detailed and slow — but adds a few key updates and a fresh visual style in an attempt to breathe new life into the series. Unfortunately, the game is hard on newcomers, overwhelming players with menus and statistics while neglecting to present them in an easily accessible manner. As a result, this entry, like it’s predecessors, is likely to remain more a niche title than anything else.

Based on the 120-chapter novel of the same name, RTK XI recounts the story of feudal China during the second and third centuries at the end of the Han Dynasty. The main game is divided up into 10 historical scenarios, from the dawn of the Yellow Turban Rebellion in the year 184, up through the Nanman Rebellion of 225. Also included are fictional campaigns, such as the "Rise of Heroes" scenario which pits ALL of the historical figures of the time period against one another the ultimate power struggle. Furthermore, the game includes 8 preset scenarios, where one must take control of a specific ruler at a critical point during their reign, and 8 challenge scenarios which are timed ordeals with a number of requisite victory conditions.

At the outset of each scenario, the player chooses a faction to command, and has the opportunity to adjust various campaign options. After an explanatory intro movie, it’s on to the the game’s 3-D world map, rendered in a style reminiscent of classical Chinese inkings. Players are charged with the basic task of building a military force with which to conquer adversaries and expand territory. The game boasts a cast of 780 officers and supporting characters, but I found it is easy to lose track of them, as all of the unfamiliar Chinese names tended to run together in my mind. So while it may be a legitimate figure, the individuality of these characters is questionable.

In order to be successful in RTK XI, players must govern cities, maintain order, boost financial and agricultural productivity, build facilities, raise and outfit an army and attend to diplomatic affairs, among other things. There are over 40 different base commands in this game, so time and resource management is of the utmost importance. Gamers who are accustomed to action and instant gratification simply will not enjoy the type of gameplay found here. Building farms, markets, barracks and the like, as well as recruiting, outfitting and training soldiers takes a good amount of time, with not-so-clear indication of current task progress nor easy tracking of what exactly your officers are busy doing. Plus, the screen can quickly be overtaken by the various lists and menus that document your faction’s development. The sort of gameplay in RTK XI seems much more suited to the PC audience, and even then would be deficient in organization and navigability.

Luckily, the game offers a lengthy tutorial mode which runs through the basics of city development, military construction and the art of warfare. Playing through these instructional phases is essential for beginners, as they provide one with the general understanding of how to progress through the game’s early goings. What it doesn’t do, though, is explain the best way to follow the vast amount of data hurled at you, or understand why button functions change from menu to menu.

The game runs on action points, which are consumed with each building erected, soldier recruited, weapon developed, etc. Also essential for doing ANYTHING is a stable of available officers, because no action can be carried out without one to three officers heading the project. Then, of course, each action takes a certain amount of time, which translates into turns for the user. One turn equals ten days, and actions generally fall within the 20-60 day range. It’s not uncommon to find oneself repeatedly ending turns in order to complete actions or free up officers. Over time, more officers can be hired/appointed, and inter-faction dealings such as alliances, marriages and sworn brotherhoods can yield more opportunities for the expansion of personnel, which will be important when the time for war arrives.

Warfare is obviously a key element in conquering feudal China, so it stands to reason that this turn-based strategy focuses on military confrontation. As a city/district is built, technique points are earned for performing actions. These can later be used to improve upon troops’ abilities, and unlock greater versatility in battle. Also involved in combat are special "advanced tactics" which produce various effects in battle, including on opposing forces and on the world map itself. Otherwise, the combat in RTK XI is standard strategy fare. Units are moved along the gridded battlefield within a set range before receiving their commands to wait, attack, use tactics, etc. The main difference here is that there is no separation of "overworld" (city-building and government) and "battlefield" (combat) maps — everything happens on the same classically inked canvas.

The art in RTK XI is generally well-done, the environments possessing a visual flair the series has never before offered. The trade-off for this panache is decreased detail and clarity in most unit and structure icons on the playing field, however. Considering the already-daunting complexity of the title, this may have been a step in the wrong direction. The narrative portions of the game, on the other hand, are full of very well-done still images which are crisp, vibrant and generally awesome. It would be interesting to see the entire game tackled with a similar art style, but it would probably be difficult to transmute those flat images into a 3D world.

Like the game’s graphics, it’s evident that there was clear and purposeful thought that went into the composition of RTK XI’s score. Orchestrated melodies and befitting instrumentation surround the gamer, enveloping one in sounds that are characteristic of the time period. Sound effects are somewhat generic, but the voice acting is surprisingly not terrible, and even comes in both English and Chinese forms. Chinese voice acting is a first for the series, and although useless to some gamers, it will be appreciated by purists.

Purists will enjoy it all, in fact. Fans of the series have in RTK XI everything they are looking for, with a fresh look and a few new options and upgrades. Newcomers, however, will be met by a slow, tedious experience with inexplicit detailing of progress, and oftentimes overwhelming information and menus. The Romance of The Three Kingdoms series seems to be both blessed and cursed by its eternal niche status.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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