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Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is, essentially, a management sim of China’s three kingdoms period. The bastard offspring of a drunken three way between Dynasty Warriors, Kessen, and Championship Manager; and the eighth of what is currently an eleven game franchise. Up to eight officers can be picked from a pool of six hundred historical and one hundred user created characters, ranging from wandering free officers to empire controlling rulers. Each one has their own statistics for War, Politics, Intelligence, and charisma, as well as specialist skills for use in work or battles. A selection of starting time periods can be chosen, from the turbulent yellow turban rebellion to the later periods that see the three main kingdoms firmly entrenched against each other. There’s a lot of freedom to setup a nomadic band of officers, serve existing factions, or even start a new force and take on everyone else.

The game is split into officer management and battle phases, both of which are turn based. The game cycles through each character once per month, allowing you to train, forge relationships, and carry out work for your respective force. Every three months a council session, if you are part of a force, decides and executes all diplomatic and military matters. Spying, defections, sabotage, drafting, attack orders, it all takes place in there and is the main area for characters specialising in politics. As a standard officer your goals are determined by the prefect of your province, progressing further up the hierarchy will allow you more freedom and command of your supporting officers.

The battles in ROTKVIII will be familiar to anyone who has played Kessen; each officer in the army commands a single unit of troops and can use any special abilities they have to provide bonuses in battle. However, the level of control you have is dependent on your position in the faction. A low ranking officer will control his unit alone, while the commanding warlord or prefect will have control of the entire army. The battle is preceded by a war council phase where the appointed tactician for the fight suggests a strategy for the commander to approve. Here you can see a map of the battlefield, gather information on the enemy, choose army composition, set traps, and plan your general strategy. Once that’s all decided it’s on to glorious battle! The main problem with the battle part is the unnecessarily zoomed out camera; large fights become a seething mass of pixels and the damage results from attacks are almost impossible to read. Another issue is the computer AI, which can control individual units fine (makes uses of terrain for bonuses, etc), but struggles with using them as a group. Beyond their general strategy the units act too much like a mass of independent units rather than an army and allow themselves to be undone by a coordinated player.

In theory though, you don’t have to get involved with any of the battles if you don’t want to. They aren’t the place for politicians or diplomats, unless you need some reserve troops to bulk up your numbers, and prefects/rulers can designate their warlords to lead assaults without getting directly involved.

Continuing to impress your superiors, or having them drop dead, will open the door for advancement. An officer must take care of his given tasks, but as a prefect they have control of the whole province and can dictate work to the officers under them and have the final say in the council meetings. Above them are the viceroys, they have control of an entire region as well of their own province. Viceroys set general orders to other prefects in the form of policies that give them such task as improving their province or sending support to another within a set time. Ruler is the highest rank in the empire; they have authority over every region and control the strategy for the whole force.

ROTKVIII is definitely an acquired taste, and almost the antithesis of Koei’s other three kingdoms series: Dynasty warriors. People who have played the previous games will feel right at home, but for the uninitiated it is a daunting beast. The tutorials and glossary are easy to access and essential to getting the hang of the game, but it’s still missing more thorough introductions and documentation. As a management game made specifically for console it’s surprisingly deep. It would be possible to lose days, even weeks, to it; especially when controlling a full set of characters. It does suffer from some serious engrish on the translation though and really needs more variety in character events. There are only so many times you can go on a hunting trip with another character, or arrest a corrupt official, before it starts to grate.

(Written April 2007)


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