Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a strategy game by Koei. This is the thirtieth anniversary of the series and the last game released in the western market was RoTK 11, back in 2007, so it’s been a long while since the last RoTK game was out. Good to see it’s back. Hopefully we’ll see more of them in the years to come. This iteration of the game focuses more on the RPG elements, where you build rapport with your officers and gain their loyalty to build a stronger kingdom.
As you’ll have no doubt guess from the name, the game is set in the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, just like Koei’s other famous game Dynasty Warriors. However, the earliest start date of the game is 184 AD, about 40 years before the actual start of the era, during the last years of the Eastern Han Dynasty.
There’s two modes in the game. The Hero mode and the Main mode. The Hero mode are events in the Three Kingdom story that serves as the tutorial for the game. The Main mode is where the bulk of the game is with a few different start dates to get your game rolling. Here, you can select to play as most of the named characters during the era, from the rulers to the lowly officers, and can also create your own custom officer and faction. You can make your own history or follow the paths the rulers of that time took. It’s fun to create a faction and recruit Liu Bei, Cao Cao and Sun Ce all on the same side.
The RPG elements of the game were nice, if at times shallow. You meet up with officers and build up your rapport with them by giving them gifts or helping them with issues. At 80 rapport, you can do a quest for them and gain a bond with them. A bond has four levels, from friends to sworn brothers/spouse. You can also entice free or foreign officers to recruit them to your cause. The more officers you have, the better you can manage your cities, though most of the management is done by the AI through governors and ministers.
One of the other aspect I enjoyed in the game was the Anti-X-faction Coalition that springs up once in a while, usually against the strongest faction in the game and members are its neighbors. In my play through as Liu Bei, I was faced with this twice. I crushed the first coalition but lost out against the second one as my forces were spread too thin to form proper numbers to take the enemy down. However, the coalition only lasts about a year, which is easily survivable. I like the way Koei did this, instead of what Creative Assembly did in Shogun 2, where the entire country basically turned against you for the rest of the game.
The game can feel really repetitive after a while. I mean most games like this do, but this got old really, really quick. The game lets you give out two orders at a time and lets you have up to 7 other orders suggested by your ministers and one officer. Most of the time, I was just clicking to accept the new tasks and complete old ones. When I’m not doing that, I’m clicking to visit officers, buy gifts for them or be mentored by them, or I’m doing quests for the townspeople. It’s a lot of clicking, and while most strategy games are like that, this just made me feel more like I’m playing a mobile game ala HayDay. Not what I want from a strategy game.
The game also has a lack of depth. Maybe it’s because of the split in focus on the RPG elements and the strategy elements, but neither aspect of the game excelled. The battle system of the game was a numbers game. While strategy can be used, like maneuvering your troops to outflank the enemy or take them down on small part at a time, they are very limited. The officers are basically clones of one another with altered stats and abilities. They have no personality and won’t object to what you do, regardless of their ties and believes. For example, you could be sworn brother to Sun Quan and execute Sun Ce with no repercussions. Koei went for a quantity over quality approach.
The Hero mode is a nice addition to the game though I would have preferred a tutorial that’s more easy to absorb so that I can dive straight into the game rather than the story mode like feature that the current Hero mode is. But I can’t deny that it’s a good feature for new players and a great way to tell the story too. One thing I find weird about it is that it features a timeline for the three separate kingdoms, however events like Lu Bu’s defense of Hulao Gate and Wang Yun’s scheme with Diao Chan are somehow slammed into the Wei and Wu timeline… It would have been better if they had just left it as a single timeline.
It would been interesting what another strategy game company like Paradox or Creative Assembly could do with the Three Kingdoms era. I’m still puzzled as to why none of them have attempted it. I mean, Paradox has made everything from Rome to World War 2, from Sengoku to the Napoleanic wars. Does Koei have rights to that era or something? Something like Crusader Kings 2, with their focus on characters instead of countries, would be a great platform to build a Three Kingdoms game on.
It’s ultimately a shallow game that can still provide hundreds of hours of fun if you want it too but there are much better strategy games out there that you should spend both your money and time on. And even if you’re a RotK fan, it’s better to play RotK 11 and sacrifice the better aesthetics for better gameplay.