The Romance of the Three Kingdoms series has a long and glorious history. Having debuted in 1988 on almost all systems including the NES and continuing to be released on console throughout the decades it is an anomaly that a grand strategy game did not become a PC led game as the series grew more and more complex. Based on the historical, but romanticised, novel of the same name the series chronicles the various trials and tribulations during the Han Dynasty during the third century AD.
Given that the series has been running for thirty-two odd years you have to expect that quality to vary across games and sadly it looks like that this is an instalment that is at the lower end of the quality scale.
The game places you in the role of a leader of a small but ambitious kingdom looking to grow your sphere of influence. To do this you look over your world from the usual top-down view of many an unseen and quiet grand strategy overlord. This hexagonal map is what you are going to be staring at for many, many hours. That is unless you are navigating through all the menus to issue commands, manage your territories, your armies, and their economies.
This all sounds exceptionally complex, and it can be, but in terms of design it boils down to simply this – money. To expand your sphere of influence you need to conquer and bring neighbouring territories under your control. To do that you need money to hire, feed and otherwise support your troops. So it is a simple loop, conquer neighbouring lands for income and use that income to hire more troops to continue your campaign of pacification.
By that description, this could be Civilisation or even Total War, but while those games have a satisfying mix of systems and action, RTK XIV fails to make this loop interesting and exciting. The biggest problem is with the conquering part of the game. There is hardly any strategy in the grand strategy game. You simply choose a leader for your army and send them off to conquer the neighbouring land. You can choose the formation they will march in, which is important as that formation will determine how much territory they will conquer as they march around. And that is how easy it is to conquer your neighbours just send your army out and as they cross each hex, they will conquer it. You will run into opposing armies, because who is just going to let you take over their land, but unlike a Total War game you do not get to control your armies they will clash automatically with no intervention from you and it simply boils down to making sure your armies are stronger than theirs – there is no strategy to the battles. What you do get is a battle between the head of your army and the opposing army, but all in CGI and all automated. It is fun to watch in the beginning but does get repetitive.
The management aspect of the game, really the only aspect, does quickly become tedious. As you conquer cities at the core of each region you will assign a governor. That does not automate the tasks associated with the government, all it does is allow you to maximise the various benefits of holding a city based on the governor’s key attributes. You can set overall policy and diplomacy strategy but that is simplified and can only be accessed when your advisors bring the suggestions to you. That removes a lot of agency from the player as you are only allowed to access it when the game deems it necessary.
For a title billed as a Grand Strategy Game, it sadly has little to offer in both the “Grand” and “Strategy” departments.
While the gameplay may be lacking, graphically the game is gorgeous. Watching things play out in a historical Chinese setting is novel as up to now we have been used to mainly a western setting with some Japanese settings. The setting leads to gloriously cheesy dialogue. If you have ever been a fan of Hong Kong kung fu films, you will love the bigger than life characters and truly awful/great dialogue. Of course, this is a matter of personal preference but having a game that does not strive for important, serious dialogue is a wonderful change of pace.
Playing the game in handheld mode is a big draw since almost every Grand Strategy game is only available on PC and lounge-based consoles. Sadly, the game has not been designed for the smaller Switch screen. Text on screen can be difficult to read something that the developers of the Civilisation port considered. You can at least zoom in on the map, however, the analogue stick input is not exactly accurate so you will be constantly zooming in and out as you try and select your armies and cities to view their various menus and commands.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV is not the Grand Strategy game on the Switch that you are looking for, it is not even a good introduction for newcomers curious about the genre. That is not to say that the series is a complete write-off, it has not lasted for thirty-two years by being bad. Hopefully, the next instalment fixes some of these issues to make the series more compelling for Switch owners.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV: Diplomacy and Strategy Pack was reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Developers: Koei Tecmo Games, Koei Tecmo
Publishers: Koei Tecmo Games, Koei Tecmo, KOEI TECMO AMERICA Corporation, KOEI TECMO GAMES CO., LTD.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo Switch
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