Imagine living in China but instead of Mandarin everyone spoke Japanese and all the writing was in English. What you have just imagined is what it’s like to play Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII: Fame and Strategy Expansion Pack (hereafter referred to as RotTK13:FaSEP), (which will hereafter be referred to as RoTK), (also known as Sangokushi 13 in Japan). RoTK is a turn-based tactical role-playing simulation grand strategy wargame set in second-century China that gives players the chance to experience life as an officer in the Three Kingdoms. The expansion marks the western release of the 13th instalment in the series, previously only available in Japan, and thankfully so as it’s the first time I have delved into the world of the Three Kingdoms.
In RoTK players will take control of an officer in the Three Kingdoms of China through an epic strategy adventure lasting centuries. With the ability to choose from over 700 officers, from the lowest rent-boy to the ruler of the kingdom, the choice is completely in your hands. There are two main modes within the game, Hero mode and Main mode. Hero mode lets you follow the story of individual characters in the game while teaching you about the mechanics and aims. It’s a really easy, yet enjoyable way to learn about some of the main characters whilst also getting a feel for how it all works. Main mode allows you to take control of an officer and actually play the game as it was designed, in all of its complexity and turn-based goodness. Depending on whom you pick and the challenge you are after you will have access to a number of the game’s mechanics. In the main mode players will have a choice of scenario ranging in years from 184 to 227 AD, with the ultimate goal to unify all of China. Players may take whatever path they wish to get there but if your character dies or the game clock reaches 350 AD, it will be game over.
In the main mode the number of customisation options before you even get started in-game is immense. Not only can you select how the game scenario will play out but you will also be able to choose an officer based either on the recommended character for the period, or a historical character. Players will be able to set difficulty, troop recovery time, whether yours and other AI-controlled officers in the game will grow or not, the lifespan of characters (whether that be historical, long-lived or unable to die at all), and you can even control the role that female officers will have in the game. A feature that really shines for me in the game setup is how history can be controlled. Not only can you ensure historical events take place but you can choose whether or not forces will act as they did in history or act as AI would act in any given situation. It’s quite easy to grasp the basics of this game and for anyone who has played the Civilisation series, learning the more advanced tactics will come far more easily than for amateur strategists.
Be a hero!
Wait. You want to put what where?
Silly Youth! Can’t you see I’m superior in every way?
One of many cities.
Gameplay is simply click and play through a number of menu options and all actions bar combat are turn based. In the combat phase the action moves from turn-based to real-time but the ability to pause the game to make moves remains intact. The combat system is where RoTK really comes to life with the Fame and Strategy Expansion adding in-depth strategic options for battle including which officers you will take into battle. The sheer amount of strategy options available to the player are too many and varied to mention but two things that really break up the monotonous wait of research or training are the duel and debate functions. Seemingly at random you will be challenged to either a duel (where you will pit your might against the opponent over five rounds, choosing from attack, defend, unbalance or knockout in each round), or in a debate where you will be able to provoke, assert or retort your opponent.
On the expansion pack, a few additions to the base game that really stood out to me were the prestige system and the bond system. For each and every action your officer takes, prestige will be awarded depending on the success of that action. Each month the ruler will hold court to determine the best officer in the kingdom, based on actions taken throughout the month. Doing more and being successful will have you climbing through the ranks and having sweet new titles bestowed upon you. The higher you go the more responsibility you will get and the more actions you can have a direct influence over. The bond system relates directly to the relationships you have with other officers within your dynasty and how likely they are to assist you. Bonds can be created by either assisting or having that officer assist you in tasks, visiting for a chat or learning from that officer amongst others things. As an officer under another ruler, there is only so far you can take your legacy; eventually one must venture out on their own (OK, so this is not a requirement to win the game but I personally feel like there’s an emptiness in my soul in winning under another ruler) and create history under one’s name. To do this the player can make their way to an unowned city and raise their flag. The stronger the bonds with other officers, the more likely they are to be enticed by your leadership and join under your rule. A word of warning however, don’t try to venture out on your own the minute you start a new game like I did. You’ll find yourself conquered in about 10 minutes flat.
The combat system is where RoTK really comes to life with the Fame and Strategy Expansion adding in-depth strategic options for battle including which officers you will take into battle
Visually, there is nothing overly striking about RoTK and the menu options and display are pretty basic. Of course, there are many menu options to discover and master but there’s nothing overly ground-breaking in what Koei have delivered up. The music fits the game rather well but it’s certainly not a stand-out addition to the game. If there’s one criticism I have with RoTK it’s that it can get pretty monotonous, doing the same things over and over while waiting for the turns to pass. You can speed the game up but I feel it would have benefited from an instant skip capability. It’s not a major criticism, I quite like kicking back and watching a task to completion, but in about 5 hours of gameplay I was able to advance 10 or so years in-game. When you have a possible 170 years to get through you can start to see how this game can suck the time from your busy life.
Yay, best friends!
Koei Tecmo have done a fine job with Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII: Fame and Strategy Expansion Pack, expertly combining turn-based strategy with real-time combat and customisation. Leading the way in the strategy series, RoTK is easy to pick up and play in Hero mode but extremely challenging to master in the Main mode. Turn-based strategy purists will love the options available to them and they will be sure to find a challenge in at least one facet of the game. RoTK will draw passionate strategy gamers into its grip and hold them for dear life but the difficulty in learning the ropes will likely intimidate others.
Reviewed on PS4