Romance of the Three Kingdoms X

I've got a business opportunity for you, Xu Shu...So, I’ve picked up RTK10 again lately and have continued my game as Yu Jin, except I’m serving under the Southland’s ruler Sun Jian instead of the crafty Cao Cao (who Yu Jin served historically). The AI in this game really is too dumb. I’m the only reason Sun Jian has gained any territory at all, since I’ve been serving as prefect and later viceroy for most of my game. I’ve conquered quite a bit of territory, marching steadily up north from the Southland through the middle of the central heartlands, right up until I’ve bumped into the Yuans and have started to encircle the Caos, while Sun Jian’s mostly traded a few petty cities back and forth with unambitious Southland lords. Sun Jian tasked me with taking Ji province, which is right smack in the center of the territory the Yuans control and includes their capital. Naturally you don’t try to pull apart a weed at its thickest point, so I began to encircle their capital by taking a city south of it. But while I was stirring unrest and undermining the walls of the capital, the Caos (who had been harrying the Yuans constantly up until now) decided I was in their way. Even though I paid them off handsomely to try to get them to leave me alone while I took apart the Yuans, the Caos have attacked a couple of my weaker cities twice in a row. I fought them off both times through the judicious use of fire, catapults, archery towers, and taunts, but Cao Cao’s AI is some of the best in the game and he can’t be taken lightly.

Now I’m a tight spot. Yuans to the north, Caos to the southeast. I think I can start taking the Caos apart bit by bit, because the Yuans seem content to ignore me for now in favor of their war with the Caos, even though I’m breathing right down their necks. The Caos have lost enough strength while smashing their troops against me that I think it’s time to move in for the kill.

I originally started up 10 not long after it came out last year, and had managed to build my career with Yu Jin up to his current position as viceroy (through about 18 hours of play) until I dropped the game for a while…due to what? Too many games, probably. Anyway, as far as it compares to 8 (the previous RPG-tinged series entry), 10 is much prettier in all respects, with more incidental art for locations and even more of a classical, painterly style for those. It adds more detail in character development and a nice variety of quests one can do to improve one’s skills and standing in the world. This has the effect of making the game take a lot longer while you’re a free officer or vassal, but it does add a little more variety to the game.

The battles have larger graphics and nicer animations, and the battle engine seems to run a lot more smoothly than 8′s. There’s almost no emphasis on battles in the field now; rather, when you start a battle you’re immediately attacking the city walls, and if you get past those you move to a battle inside the city gates (provided the enemy hasn’t retreated before that point). This helps the battles move at a much nicer clip. Unfortunately, the only battles I’ve lost came when I was still getting familiar with the game, and the enemy (outside of Cao Cao, who has some of the highest war, leadership, and intelligence stats in the game) usually puts up a half-hearted effort at attacking or defending. One of the most common complaints about the game is that the AI in it is simply too dumb. I hear that was fixed in the Power Up Kit expansion that was later released for the game, but naturally we never see the console versions of those in the west. I would like to try the game on the Advanced difficulty the next time I play, just to see how things change.

Once again, Koei’s done a great job of translating a complex mouse-driven interface into one suited for a Dual Shock. Every single button on the controller is used, whether as a hotkey, a shift key, or the ingenious “Quick OK” button. The fact that the condensed country map now uses a mouse-like cursor instead of hopping directly from city to city (like in 8) is a bit clumsy, but it’s more of a necessity now, with the way individuals, armies, and bases are now visible on the map at all times. The beautiful country map from the PC version took a pretty nasty hit in the PS2 version, having had its resolution cut in half (at least) and then stretched out to fit, but it doesn’t make a gigantic difference on my rather small RGB monitor.

The game has its flaws, but it absolutely succeeds at the goal it shares with RTK 7 and 8: to put the player in the shoes of a Chinese historical figure, at any point in that person’s lifetime, at any point in a possibly divergent history. What would you do when facing Cao Cao’s million-man army as the Southland’s military commander Zhou Yu at the pivotal battle of Red Cliff? As Zhuge Liang, would you aid the virtuous Liu Bei or would you lend your unmatched strategic talents to a more canny leader? It doesn’t quite give the same result a story-based game that asked those questions might, but I think the feeling resulting from making the right decisions and getting where you want to be in a sea of simulated egos and ambitions is still more compelling.

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