I am a self-proclaimed filthy console peasant. I do prefer the console to PC for a variety of reasons, but it doesn’t mean that the console is the best for every gaming genre under the sun. For example, I personally think that point-and-click adventures are better with a mouse to, well, you know, point and click. Consoles have gotten better with this type of game, but the real-time strategy genre is still a complete beating with dual analog sticks. Case in point is Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII (RoTK13), which has numerous other problems, but the PlayStation 4 console doesn’t do the game any bit of service.
If you’ve never played a RoTK game before, this is most likely not the place to start. RoTK is a strange hybrid between real-time strategy (RTS), historical simulation, and time management games. The amount of detail to keep track of is overwhelming, even for someone like me who enjoys Total War games. On the one hand, you have to hand it to Koei Tecmo for including such a level of depth in a historical simulation. The Han Dynasty didn’t take over China in a few skirmishes; there was plenty of politics that had to be played as well, and your army isn’t just going to fund and feed itself. That said, it doesn’t mean that all of it translates well into a game, especially with the various mini-games they implemented to settle disputes between characters.
More to War Than Fighting
RoTK13 is in the same universe as the Dynasty Warriors games, which revolve around China’s tumultuous history with the Han Dynasty. All are based upon the Romance of the Three Kingdoms epic trilogy, which itself is rooted more in legends and myths than it is history. It’s a perfect setting for a game, as legends always make for better stories than histories. RoTK13 doesn’t deviate from the past settings, although the scenarios vary from past games, not to mention it’s gotten a bit of a facelift with the new technology.
Before jumping into the scenarios, of which there are five, the game encourages players to work through the Hero Mode first, which serves as a tutorial. The Hero Mode gradually introduces the many, many layers of the RoTK13 onion, with each mission focused on a particular hero of this age and a specific battle. The first mission introduces the idea of sending out officers on missions, and then each mission adds on a few new concepts, such as the RTS battles, patrolling the town to raise fealty, raising money, sending envoys for alliances, raising crops, bringing in money, training soldiers, etc., etc., etc. Even from the first mission, though, it’s easy to become extremely overwhelmed with all of the decisions the player has to make when you realize you’ll have to make every single one of these decisions in the future. Sure, in this Hero mission you may only have to patrol the city enough times to raise Fealty to a certain number, but later on, in either Hero Mode or in the scenarios, this is merely one small piece of the massive puzzle you’ll have to keep track of.
In addition to raising numbers via traversing several various menus, the player will also have to partake in duels and debates, both of which work very similarly. In duels, the Hero or officer you want participating will need to have either a high Dueling or Warrior stat. For debates, the officer needs to have a high Intelligence or Orator stat. Each debate or duel is fought in a set number of rounds, and for each round, the player will select a specific action for the officer in hopes of counter-acting whatever action the opponent selects. Certain actions will block others or will require a certain amount of Wisdom to utilize. There is some strategy to winning the debates and duels, but the character reactions that accompany them are so ridiculous and over the top, they make Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney games seem low key. For the duels, okay, I get it, because that is like a fight. The debates, however, knocking down “health” by merely yelling and pointing a finger is painful to witness. Couldn’t they at least include what points they are making? I’d especially like to know what the retorts specifically are.
Real-Time Strategy Battles Are a Real Time Nightmare
All of the minute details required to get through a scenario or a Hero mission certain make RoTK13 extremely obscure, but they don’t ruin the joy the game could create like the real-time strategy battles do. I’m not sure what game mechanics could be implemented to make the RTS battles more intuitive and not as headache-inducing, which just strongly points to why these types of games don’t work well on consoles. Simply zooming in or zooming out on the battle scene was constantly confusing. No matter how many times I did so, I never remembered exactly which button combination did it, because it does take a button combination, and I couldn’t remember which direction to move the analog stick. The speed for zooming is also ridiculously fast, so I either zoomed into the warriors’ nostrils or zoomed out to see all of China with a flick of the stick.
Even selecting individual squads to attack other individual squads is tricky, as lining up the cursor with the analog stick requires extreme precision and patience. At least the game allows for a click-and-drag option to select a group of squads, but it’s almost as troublesome as zooming in or out. I have never wanted to connect my mouse to my PlayStation 4 as badly as I did playing this game over the weekend. Using a mouse would have made the world of a difference for the real-time strategy battles, or even for choosing which cities to visit or attack.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13 Review - Talk to the Han (PS4)
Then again, the set time limit on each battle might have ruined the experience regardless. To “fit” in with the historical data, each objective must be completed within a certain number of days tracked in the game. Even in the tutorials it’s a super tight time frame with little margin for error. Real-time strategy games can be stressful as it is with all of their moving parts; adding on a time limit only compounds the stress.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII undoubtedly has a cult, niche following, as games don’t usually receive that many sequels without such a following. However, this is one niche that is as obscure for newcomers as it is deep, and it’s certainly an instance where real-time strategy simply does not fit on the console with a controller. If you’re a fan of this series, save yourself from grief and pick it up on PC.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.