Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is part of the Historical Simulation series of grand strategy games, which covers both Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Nobunaga’s Ambition. We reviewed Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence at the end of last year, though it actually came out in Japan in 2013.
As you’d expect, given the 3 year gap, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII has improved on what we loved. But, what’s actually different in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII compared to Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence? Well, for starters the location and the history it covers. Romance of the Three Kingdoms explores Ancient Chinese history as opposed to Japanese, and is based on the historical work of the same name. These are also the same events that Dynasty Warriors covers (another Koei Tecmo property), so Warriors fans should already be well aware of what’s going on over this period of history, and you even play as some of the officers Warriors fans already know and love.
Which brings us to another difference — the name. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a lot more broad than the fairly specific Nobunaga’s Ambition. Romance of the Three Kingdoms doesn’t just centre around one guy, but a tumultuous time for a whole nation, largely revolving around three faction in particular. In Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII who you’re playing as is more important than ever. Sure, in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence you had one main officer you were playing as, but it often didn’t feel like you had all that much real presence over what was happening.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII makes an awareness of who you are, where you are, and what you’re actually doing yourself more important than ever, and it adds a whole new dynamic to the way grand strategy is handled. Need to make sure your city upgrades happen as fast as possible? Make sure you’re in the right city and you can assist yourself, speeding up the time it will take. Need to get hands on to make sure that difficult battle goes your way? Well you better make damn sure you’re actually at that battle, then. Both strategy and role-playing slot together marvellously in this instalment in the series.
Along with having a greater sense of character in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, relationships and interactions are more important than ever. In battles they can boost your officer’s special abilities, and enhance your special bar in one on one fights (be they duels or debates). The hint system from Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, which had your officers make suggestions in the UI of what you should do next, has been given an overhaul and a fresh coat of character-based paint.
These “hints” now largely take the form of suggestions from the Ministers you appoint — for War, Military, and Domestic. You yourself can only dish out a couple of orders at a time, but by setting Ministers you unlock more slots for orders to go. However, you cannot dictate these yourself, and can merely approve or not approve suggestions from your ministers, setting the amount of resources to give to the task if you allow it. Who you place as Minister can affect what sort of suggestions you’ll get. The larger your territory gets the more you’ll end up relying on their suggestions. The series has always been great at gradually increasing the tiers of its grand strategy management, but this time it feels more than ever based on a network of real people with their own agendas. It all makes it come wonderfully to life.
Making sure you’re maintaining the cities in your territories is now more crucial than ever too. For most of the game it’ll be a constant juggling act against the clock that are your enemies. You’ve constantly got to balance resources, fealty, and military training. A weak link in your chain of cities can be just another opportunity for your enemies to exploit. The great breadth of China as opposed to Japan makes it all the harder to deploy your war banners in defence. Being in command of a battle is not the only way war can be strategically managed. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back, commanding forces in multiple locations, spreading the enemy thin and laying siege to key locations.
This time around you’ll want to dirty your hands in battle more than ever. More than just speeding up battles by playing them right, you can completely turn the odds to your favour even against forces that greatly outnumber you. The number of enemies in an opponent’s force is a pretty good indication of their strength, but even the mightiest can fall easily with no morale. Battles often come down to crushing morale by capturing forts and strategically outmanoeuvring them until they begin to crumble and can be decimated.
Adding to that personal touch are two new types of “combat” in the game which are built around your main officer. Duels see your officer fighting one on one another officer, using a turn based rock-paper-scissors esque system. Debates are almost exactly the same but see your officer trying to win a battle with words as opposed to violence. Debates especially are a nice idea, but both duels and debates are a little too similar. There’s virtually no difference.
However, the mechanical impact is pretty game-changing, capping off some of the most important elements of both battles and negotiations with the importance of your main officer yet again. By taking matters into your own hands you can obliterate enemy morale by taking out their officer, or greatly speed up negotiations by stepping up to the debating platform yourself. Different officers will often favour one style over the over — officers are both skill and stat based — but really you’ll either want to start as one that is skilled at both or learn the necessary skills through your relationships with other officers to build the ultimate war machine when it comes to both bloodshed and words.
The biggest new feature of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is the Hero Mode that stands alongside the standard Campaign types. It’s basically a story mode that teaches you how to play the game unchained. Out of all of the chapters in Hero Mode only 3 are considered to not be “tutorial”, but even those final challenges, while open-ended, are built around testing you in specific ways — you’re always learning regardless. It does a good job of teaching you small minutiae early on without you having to worry about the bigger picture, and then bringing it out over the course of the chapters. Anyone new to the series, or wanting to just get the feel of some of the differences in Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, is going to want to check this mode out first.
Hero Mode is also a great way of experiencing the actual history of the period. The main campaign does have historical events and goals to work towards, but as with Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence these can be hard to completely follow through, just because of the free-form nature of the game. On its own Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII‘s Hero Mode will likely take around 8 hours, which is a solid experience in and of itself.
Of course, it’s the main mode that will form the majority of any strategy fan’s time with Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, and it’s as fully featured and customisable as ever. You can pick the period you want to start in, and even if you want rival factions to play “historically accurate” or not. There’s a huge amount to customise, and you can even make your own factions and officers. China is a huge playground in which to get some serious grand strategy action going on.
Just as with Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII will provide you with many experiences that will stick with you for a long time. Not only will it make you more historically knowledgeable while having fun, which is always a great thing, but it will give you many personal memories of victory and loss. More than ever in this instalment you’ll feel personally responsible for conquering, or failing to conquer, the land. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII takes some of the mechanics that worked so wonderfully in Sphere of Influence and improves upon them in just about every way. Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII has hit a fantastic return. Now with the ball in the court of Nobunaga’s Ambition, I can’t wait to see what kind of volley the two franchises can maintain between them, and the history nerd inside of me is loving every minute.