PS2 Review - 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII'

by Hank on Oct. 6, 2003 @ 1:19 a.m. PDT

Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is the latest installment of the historical simulation series set amidst the warring states of second century China. Near the year 184 A.D., China was reaching the end of the Han dynasty. The corruption of the Imperial Court triggered a rebellion, and civil war engulfed the land. Men and women of strong will climbed onto the stage of history. Some chose to stop the chaos, while others sought to fulfill their own ambitions. Together they wove the threads of a legend that came to be known as the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Koei
Developer: Koei
Release Date: August 12, 2003


The Romance of Three Kingdoms franchise is in a league of its own because there are currently no games that even come close to the genre of historical simulation. Romance of Three Kingdoms VII was the first game to make it to the PS2 (previous versions have been released on PC, SNES, PS1, etc.), and it gained enough support for Koei to bring out the next installment, Romance of Three Kingdoms VIII.

Koei’s goal for this sequel is to create the best game yet in the series, and in my opinion, they have succeeded. In order to achieve this goal, they have retained some of the popular features from the previous versions, in addition to adding new aspects like new relationships between characters. Perhaps one of the better additions is that there are a lot more events than before.

Let me give you fair warning: the game has one of the most advanced systems. This is because of the massive amount of options and menus from which you can choose. When I first popped in the game, I was just baffled about how to even begin. Expecting to find the answer in the tutorial, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of reading necessary to go through each lesson. If you do have the time to read through these long descriptions, they will be sure to enhance your understanding of the game. As for me, I went on the fly.

The first thing at hand is to choose which game mode you wish to play: new game or scenario. Within a new game, you will have several modes available, arranged in chronological order from 184-271 AD. Whichever time period you choose will lead to a set scenario. For example, within the Fall of the Han, you will be facing the Yellow Turban Rebellion, where your first goal at hand is to defeat and suppress them. While in The Time of Lords, there is no single faction you face; rather, you will be constantly fighting several different factions for lordship. If you feel that this is too easy, you can take one of the four available pre-set scenarios: Cao Cao and Wei, Liu Bei and Shu, Sun Family and Wu, and Famous Battles. Within each scenario, there is a subset of missions that retells their famous battles.

Once you’ve found the perfect scenario or time period, you will need to choose the character you wish to control. There are a total of 711 playable officers, 100 of which are original characters that can be created by the player. Out of these characters, you can control up to eight, but I suggest you control only one on your first try. After scrolling through the list and finding the official that suits you best, you are ready to start the game. With the staff chosen, it’s time to go through the proper procedure in unifying the nation.

The heart of the game lies within the council screen, the ancient Chinese legislative system. Just like the United States’ House of Representatives and Senate, the council officers try their best to get their law(s) passed. The possible bills available to all officers are personal, military, diplomacy, tactics and spy. Personal is where you ask the prefect to be transferred to another city. Military prepares your city for upcoming battles by recruiting soldiers and purchasing supplies, and if you have an excess of supplies, you can sell them, hopefully at a good market price. Diplomacy is probably one of the hardest bills to pass because the objectives are to persuade neighboring cities to surrender to your rule or ally with your forces. In order to have even slightest of chance of passing a diplomacy bill, you need to have been successful with a few tactics and spy bills. This is because tactics weaken your enemy by lowering the vassals’ loyalty to their master, causing a city to riot, sapping the gate, hiding a mole, or asking an officer to defect. You can’t even suggest these bills until you have already scouted the region. After the bill has been suggested, it is voted upon by the rulers, viceroy, and presents. Because of their rank, they have one extra option, and that would be policy. Within policy, you set your city or region’s goals such as harvesting, investing, or no focus whatsoever. If you are the ruler or viceroy, you can abuse this option, forcing cities to provide your city with food, money, and supplies. You can also set the focus of the region to conquering neighboring cities. To be able to pass the bill as an officer, however, you must have enough “council points.” There is only a certain amount of council points used to propose bills, and with a higher class level, you will have more points available. Because of the limited amount of points, it is very important to give good suggestions because if the bills pass and succeed, your character gains two things: money from the government and increased political status. With the right choices, you have a greater chance to defeat the enemy. As Sun Tzu once said, “Know thy enemy and know thy self.”

In order to maintain your strong policy, you must also maintain the safety and health of your city or region. In order to achieve this, you must cultivate, research, invest, and patrol at the right times. If you have a larger city, you will have a larger quota to fill, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. You would need to work harder to ensure the safety of your city, but if you and your vassals have put enough work into it, the city is a lot harder to defeat. The job of the higher-ups is to assign work to the vassals to ensure the city’s safety. When assigning vassals work, be careful because if they do not have a desire to work in that field, results can be drastic. It is also wise to know your environment for timing is critical, as we all know you cannot cultivate in winter, or even if you could, the results would not be very good. You have a total of three months to finish your assigned task, and like the council you have a set amount of points to work. The more you work at your job, the more fame and achievements you will receive. If you are already a high-ranking official, you can do the work yourself, but you should mainly be focusing on improving relations.

Once your three-month period is up, there are several events that can occur to your city, depending on your location and stats: floods, blizzards, bandits, famine, locusts, and good harvest. If any of these occur in your city, it is wise to assign or not assign jobs in that job field. Cultivating in a blizzard is impossible, but keeping your city safe during that time is very doable. After your council session, you may want to focus on increasing your city’s safety and give the citizens a feeling of protection, making it less conducive to riots, revolts, and bandit attacks. Once this is over, you will see small cut scenes. For example, when the Imperial family wishes to speak with you, there will be nice little transitions of the scene scrolling in like a movie with intriguing background music. Generally, the main event that you will witness would be the ruler greeting fellow vassals or a man of military strength informing him that they have a new ability that they can use. The event I like the most is the battle event, when neighboring cities ask for your reinforcements or you decide to go battle the neighboring region.

If you are the ones who organized the battle, you will get to choose your army’s tactics and form of attack, such as march (slow but steady), jog (rush to finish off the opponent), and many more. If not, you will not get any special abilities but rather fight with just your strength. Once you are on the battlefield, make sure you take over the outpost because if you are too far from your home base, your supply line will be cut, leading to definite defeat. If the city you are attacking has neighboring allies, they may have reinforcements, so you may be fighting more than one force at a time. From each city, you can have a total of 10 different armies, making the battle very tactical. Even though you can have so many factions, you never really get to see the battles up close. All you see is a group of units with a number representing how many units are still alive, and with this format, it is somewhat difficult to tell who is on whose army. Accidentally attacking your own military units is never a good thing. Since the units are in bunches, it forces the battles to be turn-based so if there are several units on the screen, you may wait a good amount of time before it’s your turn again. During your turn, you must move your units into attacking range. Once within attacking range, you can begin the battle, attacking with normal and tactical attacks or duel, my favorite. This is extremely fun and gives you a better chance of winning, but most the time the enemy will not accept your request for a duel. You’ll have to rely on normal and tactical attacks. Normal attacks are just a standard attack where the unit can counter but if you use a tactical attack, the damage can be devastating and not allow the enemy a chance to counter. There are two conditions necessary to achieve victory: defeat the main army, and destroy the castle gate. As you can see, sapping the gate can give you a huge advantage.

Romance has a very in-depth story, and it plays an important role in the game. The game itself is based on a book of the same name, and let me tell you that if you have read the book, the game is 100 times more enjoyable. I was lucky enough to run across this book at the library, and after reading a few chapters, I was impressed with how intertwined the two were. If you have played Dynasty Warriors, you would know that Lu Bu is widely acclaimed for never losing on the battlefield. To keep this accurate interpretation, Koei represented this by setting his war stats to 108, the highest in the game. If you have the chance, recruit him into your army, for he’s a devastating force and can turn the tides of battle all by himself.

The graphics and load time of the game are quite poor. The two-dimensional graphics are so outdated that this could probably be a game even on the SNES. You can clearly see the jagged edges on the screen here and there. The only time the graphics were of PS2 quality was within the intro sequence. Another big flaw that I wish Koei had fixed is the ability to distinguish who is friend or foe on the battlefield. Lastly, the load time is quite sluggish, forcing you to wait a few seconds whenever a new scene occurs. The wait is quite a bit longer when you are about to hit the battlefield, but you will get to enjoy a quite interesting loading screen.

The sound in the game is actually pretty good, even though it lacks variety. If you have seen any movies based on any Chinese era, you will be familiar with the clich├ęd music that I’m mentioning. I’m actually quite glad they used the same genre of music. The only time you will ever hear different background music is when you visit other towns. It’s not great, but it does give a slight variety. There is no voice acting in the game, making me respect Koei so much more. To me I feel that implementing voices for these famous Chinese generals can do two things: anger the audience, as well as offend those of Chinese heritage if you do not find the correct actors.

Romance of Three Kingdoms VIII proves that graphics and sound don’t make a good game. With solid gameplay and the ability to play as several different characters, the game has a lot of replay value. There are over 40 different endings so whatever you choose can alter your ending. Trying to achieve them all will be a task on its own. I would strongly suggest this game to anyone interested in tactics, government, and especially to those who have read about the Three Kingdoms, especially “The Romance of Three Kingdoms” series.


Score: 8.9/10

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