Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13
By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
ROMANCE of the Three Kingdoms 13 (ROTK 13) is the latest installment in Koei’s long-running series. The series has certainly come a long way, establishing a dedicated fanbase not only in Japan but also in China and America since its inception in the 1980s. ROTK 13 uses Luo Guanzhong’s novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms as the baseline of its plot, and has players experiencing key events in the book, allowing them to either relive it faithfully or to change it as they see fit. The game lets players take part in the Three Kingdoms era of China as one of many officers during the time period or even as their own self-inserted avatar. Whether starting small or starting big, the players’ ultimate objective is to unite factions together under one banner by instigating conflict or engaging in diplomacy.
All things considered, it’s a credit to ROTK 13 that it manages to convey this premise well and goes on to show how important choices are. ROTK 13 allows players the freedom to pick their characters as they want. Starting off as an unaffiliated wanderer and roaming the land lends a different playstyle as opposed to beginning as a general or a ruler. A free officer can travel from city to city, engaging in quests and forging relationships with governors and other warriors. A hired officer does as his lord bids, taking care of various cities, safeguarding the countryside, and even going to war with other factions to stay in his lord’s favor. A ruler manages his subjects and has to balance their loyalty with his own ambition, forging alliances with other rulers while slowly expanding his borders. All this, in combination with the game’s almost RPG-like system, helps immerse players and lends weight to their choices, as player stats, created or pre-made, are not only boosted by items and equipment in-game, but also by events and by their performance in their chosen profession.
The game also features a relationship web and encourages interacting with AI-controlled characters. Talking to other officers boosts relationships between characters, and friendly officers will teach your character important skills, or mentor them in warfare and in strategy. Becoming close friends with them can have them boost your stats during battle, and the game even allows you to marry other officers and have children with them, letting you raise a family as you see fit. All told, it gives the player plenty of choices in terms of role-playing. It makes the world feel diverse and alive as you forge friendships and rivalries. Likewise, it provides character depth, as people who scorn you will actively seek to hinder you while those who like you will support your actions.
That said, player freedom isn’t absolute; while ROTK 13 has advanced in terms of role-playing, it’s also taken a lot away. Traversing the world map is now done via roads, limiting pathways and avenues of attack. Battles are done on a map separate from the world map, a clear step back as it was a feature present in ROTK 12. While battles are fun, a lot of them devolve into “whose battle stats mean more” as armies slam into each other. There is very little decision-making on where battles are placed, and most battle maps feel repetitive, with preplaced forts dictating objectives and what to fight over instead of allowing a player to decide what is important and what isn’t. Tactics do matter, though, and these serve to add a layer of depth to combat. Functioning as activatable skills, proper use can swing conflicts to a player’s favor even when outnumbered, adding a layer of strategy to an otherwise straightforward battle system.
The game’s biggest failing comes in the form of its duelling and debate system. While a touch better than ROTK 12’s systems, duels and debates in ROTK 13 are measures of luck, working off a modified version of “rock, paper, scissors.” Even as it tries to limit random elements, it doesn’t lend the impression that skill or choice is important in the mini-games, which thus feel so out of place.
Another weak part of ROTK 13 is its inability to properly mesh both RPG and strategy elements; while the relationship system feels alive and fresh due to each action taking in-game time, it makes balancing this with work commitments close to impossible. As a ruler, you spend so much time trying to run your country that interacting with other officers becomes difficult. As a free officer or as an officer of another faction, however, it’s all you can reliably do. For a game with myriad options on how to play, the differences give a confused and polarized experience. Either play as a ruler and spend all your time micromanaging cities, or take your pick as an officer and do nothing but spend time with your friends as you meander for a few odd months while waiting for your AI-controlled lord to make a decision.
In a nutshell, ROTK fans will be disheartened to find that Koei cut so many good things from the previous game. What they’ve added to and in ROTK 13 works exceedingly well, and there’s a real sense of connection as you make allies and enemies and your fame travels all across China. But as a strategy game? It fails where it should entice and feels like a step back. It’s still a good addition to the series, but it could have been much, much better.
• Presence of a relationship web
• Multiple options on how to play the game
• Lots of customizable features (from officer choices to custom event creations)
• Plenty of content and replay value
• Lacks the depth of ROTK 12’s battle systems
• Clunky UI
• Pacing issues