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Developer: Koei Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform: PlayStation 4, PC Release Date: July 5, 2016 ESRB: E10+ This review is based on the PS4 version of the game Long before Koei was predominantly known for its Musou franchise (a longstanding series of hack-and-slash action titles that emphasize simple controls and accessible gameplay), the company was much more well-known for its lines of historical simulation strategy games. Koei“s early catalogue is rife with titles like Nobunaga“s Ambition, Genghis Khan, and Liberty or Death. Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the company“s longest running strategy series, recently celebrated its thirtieth anniversary with its latest entry: Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII. Like its predecessors, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is inspired by the Chinese historical novel of the same name by Lo Kuan-chung. Set in ancient China during the waning years of the Han dynasty and the decades of conflict that followed, it features officers and events of the era as the basis for its scenarios. It is also, much like its predecessors, a highly complex and very challenging game with numerous systems that interweave, and it can leave newcomers easily flummoxed by the sheer scope of it all. Fortunately, ROT3K13 does new players a favor with its Hero Mode. Hero Mode serves as the game“s tutorial of sorts, offering a series of scenarios that are small in scope and are meant to ease players in. With each scenario in sequence, more and more elements of gameplay are introduced, allowing players the opportunity to let concepts sink in a few at a time. The first scenario, for example, features no combat or city management. Instead, it“s all about interacting with fellow officers, engaging in house visits, and buying and gifting items. The second scenario introduces basic combat, the third introduces a few city building and management systems, and so on. The player“s role in ROT3K13 isn“t a faction or nation, as in most strategy games, but that of a single officer. The officer in question is chosen for you in each Hero Mode scenario, but in the main game, it“s the player“s choice. What actions the player can undertake are in part determined by the player“s rank; low ranking officers have little sway in their faction“s overarching affairs, but by completing assignments and gaining reputation, it“s possible to earn promotions and achieve titles such as minister, governor, or viceroy. Or the player can simply choose to control the leader of a faction and govern everything from the top from the very start. What“s particularly unique about this is that the game doesn“t end if the player“s faction is destroyed by its rivals. In fact, if the player“s faction collapses, it“s possible to find service in another faction and work back up from there. There are only two ways that the player can truly ”lose“ the game, in a sense: the player“s officer dies without an heir to carry on, or the game“s calendar passes to its maximum year of 340 before any faction conquers all of China. This may sound relatively simple, but as stated before, the game has numerous systems, many of which have interplay with each other. Assignments that officers can undertake include, but are not limited to developing a city“s facilities, sending officers on patrols, training soldiers in the spear, horse, or bow, journeying to hire free officers, or engaging in subterfuge to encourage rival officers to defect. It“s also possible to enter diplomatic negotiations, form and nullify alliances, hold banquets, or just visit a friend at their home. All of the above actions are performed through the use of menus and submenus loaded with pertinent information. The game does well in keeping everything organized, but it“s still easy to see stats upon stats and wonder what every individual number means and how much of an effect they have. It may be daunting to take in if you“re not the sort that enjoys games where large swathes of time are spent engaging in smaller tasks and watching numbers increase. Combat is a much more active part of the game, and comes in several forms. Standard combat takes place in real-time and sees the player“s forces engage an enemy in an open field, during a siege, or even on the water, but can be paused at any point in order to issue new commands. Even with this in mind, however, combat can be very tense and grueling. One battle I fought went on for some time and led to both sides losing most of their forces. I had the enemy on the ropes several times as I laid siege to their gates and gave chase, only for yet more reinforcements to come, again and again, until I finally slipped up and let the enemy destroy my base camp. Ouch. And this isn“t even getting into officer duels and debates; one-on-one battles of might and wit that play out by trying to anticipate the enemy“s action and responding accordingly. The general principal is like a more complex rock-paper-scissors with more options and ways in which actions defend or nullify other actions. The situations under which these sorts of battles arise vary, but they make for an interesting break in the general flow. Encapsulating the full experience of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII in a succinct manner for a review such as this is a daunting task. It“s a hardcore strategy game that makes no apologies for its complexities. But if deep, system-rich strategy games are of interest to you and you have the willingness to learn (and make plenty of tactical mistakes along the way), then it“s definitely recommended. Pros + Hero Mode helps ease players into the game with smaller-scale scenarios and basic gameplay explanations. + Open-ended game structure allows players to experiment and approach scenarios in vastly different ways. + Beautiful character artwork and classical soundtrack. + Voice audio is available in both Japanese and Chinese. + Officer Edit feature allows players to create custom officers to insert into campaigns. Cons - Some PS4 controls are awkwardly converted from PC mouse controls. - The high level of complexity and challenge will deter players looking for a simpler strategy experience. Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great If deep, system-rich strategy games are of interest to you and you have the willingness to learn (and make plenty of tactical mistakes along the way), then Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII definitely comes recommended. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher