Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review of the Week: Romance of the Three Kingdoms (iPhone)

Koei games tend to have a bad reputation in the West. "Dynasty Warriors version x is too similar to previous games," is a typical complaint, right up there with "Romance of the Three Kingdoms is too complex to be any fun."

But the developer and publisher knows its niche, and its games continue to sell quite happily to that niche. As historically-accurate as feasible given the video game medium allows, Koei games demand a genuine interest and respect for the historical background to appreciate, but those that are hooked are guaranteed a long-lasting, rewarding, and even enlightening time.

With that in mind, the version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms that is available on the Apple iPhone isn't going to win any new fans to the fold. It's a complex, unwieldy and hardcore simulation game that is very unwelcoming to the casual audience that the iPhone usually pulls. It's not about to leap-frog Angry Birds.

At a basic level, the game is a turn-based empire-building simulation, somewhat in the vein of Risk mixed with Civilisation. You'll find yourself massing armies, while managing civilian happiness.

When your armies clash with an opposing the general, the game shifts to a turn-based strategy game - think of it as a more nuanced and complex version of Advance Wars. There you'll find yourself managing your armies supply levels while attempting to whittle down his numbers.

On paper (and indeed from screenshots) it all looks dull, but its a beautiful game, its a rewarding game, and its a fulfilling game. Managing the complexities of properly running a kingdom at war is an accomplishment that few games adequately reward as well as this one. Managing to pull off a rear guard action against a massive enemy army, effectively crippling its supplies and leaving it open to counter attack deep in your territory is not only possible in this game, its necessary.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a game that will take weeks, if not months to play through each of its campaigns, and you can take control of any of the numerous factions in each campaign. Different factions have different associated difficulties, so it's safe to say that mastering this game will take longer than the top 100 selling games on the App store.

Not that that is a complaint on those other 100 games, but Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the kind of hardcore simulation game that those disappointed by the relatively watered-down Civilisation Revolution will be able to bite into in a big way.

It's disappointing that Koei's mobile effort won't sell that well, but at the same time, it's heartening that it doesn't try to. The game is purely for Chinese history aficionados who have the constitution for an unforgiving, but very fair strategy game.

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