More Vocation Than Mere Recreation
Luo Guanzhong’s fourteenth-century novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, probably isn’t suited for most modern readers. Most contemporary works are born into a mass mediated ecosystem where immeasurable amounts of video, audio, and print all compete for our attention. Now, the term ‘epic’ is routinely used to describe a six-minute song. Likely, a 120-chapter novel with nearly a thousand characters culled from the annals of history, legend, and myth would be pushing the boundaries of attention spans.
Similarly, Koei’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, which simulated the re-unification of late Han dynasty China, often felt like a work from another time. When Koei released the franchise’s inaugural entry in 1985, the NES game’s sophistication was unrivalled. At the time, most console games centered around reflex-driven action. Even, Dragon Quest, widely considered a template for Japanese role-playing games, wouldn’t be released for another year.
Three Kingdom’s turn-based strategy was like managing a dense spreadsheet of statistics, with players responsible for doing everything from recruiting troops to keeping enough rice to feed your soldiers. Only a handful of computer-based simulation dared to offer anything so complex.
Tempered Complexity Helps Newcomers
Thirty-five years and fourteen iterations on, Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ only real historical/political rival is Koei Tecmo’s own Nobunaga’s Ambition. Sure, a few PC-based grand strategy titles like Crusader Kings 2 and Europa Universalis IV offer the kind of sophistication found in the Three Kingdoms series, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as intricate on console. But that said, the latest installment admirably strives for accessibility. But that’s a relative term when you’re juggling a myriad of tasks and have a handful of oppositional armies encroaching on your castle.
Know that before attempting re-unification, the journey will require hours of careful observation. Like any respectable simulation, changing one variable can trigger a multitude of unanticipated consequences. Learning how it all works requires a hefty investment of time, but the rewards are enchanting. These kinds of sims aren’t for everyone. But if you marvel at layers of intricacy, Three Kingdoms XIV’s balance between approachability and sophistication might just keep you glued to a screen for a few weeks.
Hit the Books just as Hard as Your Rivals
Agreeably, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV eases players into the duties of feudal aspiration. Head into the game’s tutorial and you’ll enjoy interactive lessons in city strengthening, area expansion, combat, and administration. Each imparts a fundamental task in territorial management. While they’re unfoundedly helpful, these tutorials can’t impart the intricacy that accompanies playing a full campaign.
Enigmatically lacking any kind of multiplayer component, you’ll begin your quest toward dominance with either a created or historical officer. Either way, you’ll be able to select from hundreds of portraits, allowing your leader to be either male or female. Detailed customization also lets you determine family lineage, basic stats, vocal style, battle tactics, favored marching formation and you write your own biography. From there, you’ll be able to enter seven ‘historical’ scenarios or a fantastical one where Cao Pi, Cao Zhang, and Cao Xiong compete for succession after Cao Cao’s defeat. But whatever option you select, you’ll play the role of ruler; XIV no longer lets you be a retainer who’s determined for a place in the history books.
Here, Three Kingdoms XIV extends a wealth of flexibility, with players able to customize office placement and select which force you’re going to lead. As such, you can head into the Yellow Turban Rebellion as Sun Jian, seizing unaffiliated cities in the South to grab a commanding foothold. Or you can role-play as a Zhang Jiao, who controls a mass of territories, but is surrounded by ruthless rivals. Additional options let you choose from a trio of difficulty levels, whether historic events will play out, how fast soldiers are healed, the appearance of disasters, and whether officers can be killed in battle. Collectively, you can play a game that mirrors Guanzhong’s text, down to life spans and the presence of only male officers or you play a game where immortal leaders of both genders populate randomly across the map.
Wandering Allies and Fire Attacks
While play takes priority over plot, the historical scenarios impart context through cinematics and dialog sequences where portraits gently oscillate with 2Dlive-style animation. Fortunately, these sequences are infrequent enough to elude the flow of things, since you’ll already receive a steady string of updates from domestic advisors and field captains. XIV’s gameplay is regulated by a mechanic where you’ll strategize, indicating marching orders and administrative changes. But they won’t go into effect until you’ve clicked a button to advance time forward. Here, all factions move across the game’s single, scalable map. The mechanic keeps the pace lively, but occasionally you’ll find frustration when an army has difficulty pinning down an adversary.
Territorial acquisition occurs when one of your armies pass over the hex-based playfield, gradually leaving a color-coded trail in your officer’s wake. Interestingly, these swaths of color represent supply lines, and if another factor paints over your controlled terrain, you can expect an economic impact. Similarly, you can take over unfortified cities, which provide resources. But expect to encounter heavy opposition before taking over rival castles. Sure, you can lay siege, with fire attacks whittling their numbers, but a good strategist might coax out armies before attempting to overtake a stronghold. Of course, any decent strategist will also blend force with influence, using diplomacy to realize a long-term strategy. As always, rival factions may come to you with proposed agreements, which you can honor or violate as you see fit. Here, Kingdoms XIV’s AI shows its aptitude, with old grudges often coming back to disrupt your best-laid plans and double-crosses when your guard is down.
Home is Where the Stats Are
Just don’t forget about your homefront when subjugating the landscape. Expectedly, domestic duties mean who can have an influence on everything from food supply, barrack competence, to food production. Mercifully, Three Kingdoms XIV extends a wealth of autonomy. With micro-manager can tweak variable to maximize resources and developmental speed, rule can also slot-in officers to have them tackle these labors. Either way, you’ll likely face some scenarios where you’re underhanded. Whether it’s battlefield astuteness or a homespun benefit, you’ll need some kind of advantage to elude defeat.
Although the lack of any multiplayer is disappointing, individuals looking to create history might want to seek out Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV. While you’re going to have to invest some time to enjoy the dividends of strategic gratification, Koei Tecmo’s latest entry does a lot of accessibility. Likely, you’ll making alliances and adversaries after a few hours. But what’s important is that complexity is only marginally impaired. If you’ve ever admired Romance of the Three Kingdoms but worried that it might be too dense for you, the fourteen iteration might be the closest you’ll get to approachability.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV was played on
PC with review code provided by the publisher.