Thursday, July 28, 2011

Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI Review

Pictures will be from both versions.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI is the most recent member of the ROTK family to be released in the United States. It is the eleventh installment in this series, and is a return to the pure turn based strategy element the series was founded on after the tenth games foray into RPG territory. Two versions of this game were released, one for the PS2 and another for the PC, each version has subtle differences but nothings major; the biggest difference is the menu layout and the ability to request reinforcements from your allies. Of the series of ROTK games this one offers the most in historical events as you can see a plethora of the more important events from the book series in this game so long as you meet certain requirements such as having certain characters in a certain city or being Cao Cao and conquering all of Huabei (hint hint).
For those who are only hearing of this game for the first time let me explain a bit about what its based off of and its particular timeline. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a novel which chronicles what transpires during the later days of the Han dynasty up to its eventual collapse and China’s reunification under the Jin Dynasty. The novel itself was written by Luo Guanzhong who was a traveling scholar collecting various regional stories and historical records to write this novel. Upon completion of the book (which at the time was just a pile of manuscripts) Luo Guanzhong disappeared. The novel became insanely popular over the course of a short time and to this day its widely read in Asian countries and has spawned numerous games, movies, television shows, stage dramas, and even animes.
I die a little every time I look at this.
You have the capacity to play as any historical warlord in this game, but unlike in the tenth and eighth games you are only able to play as the Ruler of any particular force. The game takes place on a giant cel-shaded map of China (a really pretty one at that)  where you will at any point in time control some amount of cities which will act as your bases. The map is covered in a grid of squares and it is on these squares that units move/battle and facilities are built. This allows for freedom of movement and battles and streamlines the gameplay allowing for actions to be done by simply moving to the point of the map where you want to perform said action, such as knocking boulders down a hill and onto some enemy units.
I wonder how much xp they’ll get for slaying that boulder.
Aside from battling you also build up your economy from this map; this is done by building markets and farm on special plots set aside for each city. To defend yourself you will need to build a recruitment center and build smiths and ranch's to create the equipment you need to start an army, otherwise you’ll be left with nothing to defend yourself from bandits and other warlords. Finding a balance between defense and revenue is incredibly important and can play an important role in how well you’ll succeed. There are certain cities which have very little room for economic growth and if you don’t expand early on will make it impossible to keep up with more prestigious warlords. These special squares are dirt colored and on them your empire stands, as what you build upon them will generally determine how well you will do.
Now for a brief overview of what you can build on these plots and their effects on your city:
  • Market: increases revenue (amount varies based on location)
  • Farm: Increases Harvest (amount varies based on location)
  • Barracks: Recruits Soldiers
  • Smith: Creates Weapons
  • Ranch: Rustles up some horses
  • Workshop: Builds siege weapons
  • Shipyard: Builds Warships
  • Granary: Increases productivity of all Farms in a 1 square radius by 1.5
  • Mint:Increases productivity of all Markets in a 1 square radius by 1.5
So as you can see when provided with a set number of squares to build your cities economy upon you need to really think about the placement of these considering the average amount of plots you get for building are about 10-12. Placement is very important in this game, also the order in which you prioritize the building of these is important; if for instance you are surrounded by other warlords and you choose to build up your money and food without paying heed to your defense you may wind up being attacked from all sides by warlords looking to suck up your resources and officers. So its generally important to build a barrack first.
This might happen if you don’t.
Now aside from just building domestic things like markets and barracks you have the ability to build independent facilities to aid you in the defense of your territories. These facilities are the corner stone for defending yourself when you are faced with enemies that are numerous and stronger than you (as they may often be). These facilities range from stone walls to morale boosting drum platforms. These can only be placed as close as three squares from each other so strategy is key with these as well. A very common strategy is to try to bottleneck your opponent with archer turrets and place a camp in on the end to force your opponent to fight a battle against your defense boosted unit while being shot at every turn by your turrets.
A good example of forcing your opponents to take a route where they will be either hindered or shot at.
Now lets look at these military facilities:
  • Archer Turret: Fires at opponents up to three spaces away every turn
  • Wall: A wall, it blocks paths.
  • Camp: Defense multiplied by 2 and units use less food when they are around it.
  • Embers: Sets all squares with 1 space of it on fire.
  • Fireball: Rolls a six square line of fire.
  • Drum Platform: Increases attack power of all units within 2 squares by 2x
  • Band platform: Increases will (varies)
Utilization of these is quite important.
Building things isn’t the only part of this game with a lot of depth, the battle system also has a great deal of depth to it; however before we get to that we need to explain how characters work. All characters in this game have stats, these stats determine how good a character is at a certain action, they also dictate how well they will function when performing said action. Each characters stats are broken down into; Leadership, War, Intelligence, Politics, and Charisma. Proficiency in certain stats will usually determine what the character will be doing, a high War character will fight a lot, a high politics character will perform diplomacy, and a high charisma character will recruit lots of soldiers. Along with these stats are Aptitudes which dictate how well that officer is with certain types of armaments ranging from spears to ships. The level of Aptitude is shown through a scale of S through C with S being the highest and C being the lowest. Finally a majority of characters have “Skills” there are to many of them to talk about but they provide beneficial effects to whatever area it is they specialize in.
Now for some pictorial examples: (Click to make larger)

Li YiYuan ShaoXu Yi
As you can see stats are different for different characters and this directly correlates to their overall ability.
Now for the battle system, seeing as battles all take place on the large map it allows for a great deal of strategic freedom. You can set up ambushes, build traps, and easily manage both your fights and your domestics with ease. There are quite a few different types of units there are regular units which use weapons, siege units, transport units, and naval units. Each type has its own subcategories, but the most important is the regular units which will make up your core fighting force. They come in four flavors, Spears, Pikes, Bows, and Horses and form a weapon triangle of sorts which goes like this;
  • Pikes<Horse<Spears<Pikes
  • And Bows are weak to everything but have a range of two spaces and sometimes three if the character has a certain skill.
All those stats I was talking about earlier? Yeah they affect this. Leadership and War determine how powerful the unit is and intelligence determines how easily they will fall for traps and ploys.
Hint: Only a fool sends a low intelligent unit by itself.
Aside from regular attacks you have at your disposal a number of tactics unique to the type of unit which you are attacking with, these tactics range in cost and power. Tactics cost willpower which is something you build up at your city by training your troops or by hanging around band towers. These tactics can turn the tide of a battle when used correctly as some of them have effects such as setting a unit on fire or confusing them. Another nifty thing is the ability to have any unit challenge an opposing unit to a duel, though the opponent reserves the right to deny it they can sometimes be forced which brings us to the duel system. . .
Don’t mess with him, he’s got 100 War.
The duel system is fairly simple and is mostly determined by a characters War stat. Though when equipped with items (which are randomly found) like throwing knives or bows one can easily turn the tides of a duel. In a duel you are given several options, Attack, Defense, Spirit, and Fury. They work like this, Attack just has the character attack regularly, while defense that the character focus on defense, spirit raises his spirit gauge which lets him use special moves, and fury give him a 1/10 chance of executing a super strong combo. As fun as they same Duels won’t happen that often, however if you do get one to occur and you win you will completely eliminate the opposing unit and capture the enemy general, if you lose the same thing happens to you.
There is also a diplomacy system in place which determines your relations with other warlords and your ability to get ceasefires, coalitions, and alliances. You perform diplomacy from your city and it is an absolute requirement that you use someone with high Intelligence and Politics in these actions, otherwise they will almost always fail. Generally you will just select an option and then send an envoy and some money and that will be all, though sometimes when your case doesn’t seem all that compelling the warlords strategist will request a debate with your envoy. . .
A tale of swords and souls eternally retold. . .
Debates are just like duels in that they are determined almost entirely by the stats, though personality can also play a role in them. Debates are fought using little option cards you are dispensed and your objective is to throw the highest level version of whatever card is being requested by the orb in the center of the screen. The person with the highest level of that card deal damage to his opponent. There are three standard types of cards, Fact, Logic, and Time, there is no weapon triangle to this as its all about having the highest level if whatever is being called for. There are also special cards which can either deal damage or diffuse an opponents rage mode; now here's where personality comes in as Rage mode is determined by the personality of the person, for instance a person with a cool personality will never go into rage mode, while a timid person will flip out.
Now that we’ve talked about all these fun things like debates and battles I think its about time we talked about the Character Creation System in this game. Now the CCS of this game isn’t all that different from its predecessors aside from allows you the option to choose what skills you want. So here’s a run down of it in mostly picture form. . . (click to enlarge)
You can set the basic things such as name, age, and gender along with who the person is married to and who the like and hate.
You can also set their stats, aptitudes, and special skill.
You can also adjust most every facet of their personality which will determine how they view things and interact with other people.
The CCS system allows for a decent amount of customization while remaining incredibly simplistic in form.
This game also sports an incredibly hand (and quite hilarious) tutorial mode which teaches you how to play the game by setting you up in scenarios and asking you to complete objectives. As extra incentive you unlock bonus officers for completing it. The tutorial mode teaches you the basics of building your economy, how to duel, and even how to debate properly. This mode is by far the most important as even fans of the series will need a bit of help with the major facelift this game has given the series.
Liu Bei the great!
The writing for this game is really good, though being that this is based off a book, a majority of the jokes in it are lost on people who haven’t read the novel. Jokes aside though this game sports two fun modes of play, a free campaign mode, and a preset mode. The free campaign mode allows you to choose any scenario from the incite of the Yellow Turbans to Shu’s last Hurrah and gives you the ability to either create your own army or to play as an established force. The preset mode only allows you to play as an established force and gives you a set objective such as capturing a certain location, or not dying for a period of time. Campaign mode has the most replay value being that its open and lets you play as anyone and allows for endless possibilities for scenarios and gives you the capability to shape history with your own hands.
Yes, yes please give me your ideas so I might plot to take over the world bwahahahahaha!
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI is by far one of the best installments in the series where it returned to its roots and both renewed and improved upon it. The game has many small innovations such as a mini map which constantly tells you what's going on but allows you to quickly jump to another location to investigate something. It also has a beautiful musical score orchestrated using zithers and other classical Chinese instruments which is both soothing and enjoyable to listen to. However despite the games incredible depth and great writing its obviously not for everyone. This game is first and foremost a strategy game, meaning that it requires patience and the willingness to constantly think critically. The game is also a historical strategy game based on a novel, meaning that for the most part a lot of what is happening will be of no interest to non-fans. This is an amazing strategy game, but is more for a niche audience then it is for everyone.