After 14 games and numerous spin offs, the Romance of the Three Kingdoms video game franchise has been running longer than most millennials have been alive. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV offers one of the largest rosters to date, with over 1000 officers plus the ability to create custom characters. This iteration sticks with the franchise’s tried and true turn-based strategy gameplay on a carefully crafted map of China.
Since the franchise is based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms historical novel, the story’s main plot points do not change between titles. There are some non-historical scenarios in the game, but the main focus is clearly on scenarios that are based on the contents of the novel. The book is considered to be one of China’s four great classical novels, so the tale has already endured the test of time. However, not all is well in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV as the dialogue is terrible. It’s corny, stilted, and about as subtle as an avalanche. It feels like a poorly translated Japanese video game from the early PlayStation 1 era with none of the campy charm or excuses. The introductory cinematics on the other hand are much better, concisely laying out the historical context for the scenario in an interesting manner.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is a turn-based strategy game. The only goal is to unite China under your leadership before the year 351. Failing to do so or losing all your cities will result in a loss. To win, players will need to recruit officers, raise armies, and control territory to slowly push out competitors.
The game’s emphasis is squarely on combat and politics. The economy is extremely simple and is mostly automated. Armies are led by an officer who dictates their formation and troop numbers. Each officer has their own set of traits that can trigger, and some have special abilities that can turn the tide of battle. Success in combat focuses on troop positioning, managing supply lines, and configuring the right army for the right task. Actual combat itself is completely automated based on army and officer stats, down to the duels that officers may engage in. While automated combat is not necessarily a bad thing for turn based strategy games, the automatic duels are quite disappointing considering the game drags the player into the same duel screen each time.
While not nearly as complex as combat, the politics system is where players will conduct a variety of diplomatic intrigue and assign officers to positions of power so they can manage the day to day operation of the player’s territory. At the end of the day, players must control all of China to win, so politics is simply a means to create the most ideal situation for their armies to operate in.
Romance of the Three Kingdom XIV has no single campaign, but rather a series of scenarios that start at certain points in the book. Each scenario uses the same massive map of China, but configures each ruler and territory based on the source material. Players are free to pick any of the rulers, and the game provides a rating showing how difficult each ruler’s path to victory is. There are some configuration options to lower the level of realism, adjust the difficulty, and create random leader placements instead of following historical events.
The learning curve for new players is poor. There is a four-part tutorial that teaches new players the absolute basics of the game. Upon entering a scenario for the first time, players will be bombarded with new features that are only explained in pretty bare terms in the help menu. There are some features designed for new players that automatically populate officers and armies based on the area of focus a player wants and the needs of the kingdom. These are not the ideal min/maxed set ups but do a good enough job for the new player just trying to keep their head above water. The game is oddly simple compared to other grand strategy titles, but Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV still manages to be incredibly opaque. The game has a strong “figure it out yourself” attitude that seems to be designed for long time fans or incredibly patient new players. For example, the in-game suggestions and messages tend to be extremely vague and rarely give good shortcuts to the matter at hand.
The PC port quality is good, with some minor hiccups. Most of the configuration can be done in game, but more granular graphic options can only be accessed from the start up menu. The mouse and keyboard controls are well executed. Since the game is a strategy title, it does translate well to the PC. The UI layout is clearly designed for consoles as the menus are optimized for scrolling around with buttons instead of a mouse.
The graphics are decent. The illustrations are by far the best the game has to offer. The beautifully drawn portraits are captivating, detailed, and lively. The environment and models are decent, although not extremely detailed. The duel animations are the weakest in the game as it looks completely lifeless and robotic. It’s as if the duel animations were torn out of a title in the series from ten years ago.
The audio experience is enjoyable. The sound effects are good, though nothing to spectacular. The soundtrack is excellent, providing the right balance of calm and unobtrusive music that suits strategy games while still channeling enough energy to not sound like a meditation music album. There is no English voice acting in the game, just a handful of Japanese lines for major characters. I much rather have only Japanese voice acting than a poor English voice work.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is not a game for everyone. It has a laser like focus on politics and combat at the expense of everything else. At the same time, it does not offer great depth in either discipline. Instead, the game is more focused on the broad strokes, much like the boardgame Risk. Determined newbies and seasoned veterans of the franchise who enjoy big picture strategies will find some interest in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV; however, most players will probably want to avoid the game’s clunky learning curve and sometimes shallow gameplay.
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