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Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII PlayStation 2

Published by KOEI Co. Ltd
Developed by
KOEI Co. Ltd
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99

Whilst I've always known about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms series I've never actually played any of them until now. I suspect many of you will have played a previous version of the game but if you haven't a small explanation is in order. The series of games are based on the book Romance of the Three Kingdoms (sometimes just called Three Kingdoms). The book is written by Luo Guanzhong and is an account of the fall of the Han dynasty 206BC - 220AD. It's not strictly an historical account (it was written 1,200 years later) but Luo Guanzhong used combined histories, poems and drama's based on the period to create what is regarded, along with The Journey to the West, as the finest piece of literature to come out of China. More can be found on the book here. In short then the book is an excellent source material for a series of games. Let's look at version eight in this highly acclaimed series.

Even taking just a cursory glance of the sheer amount of content in Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII will amaze you. The game contains well over 50 scenarios that are spread over different periods such as The Fall of the Han 184-188 and The Northern Campaigns 227-234. In the game there are over 600 commanders (as well a further 100 that you can create), 81 item classes, 100 types of events and 40 different endings. Such a volume of content would be considered excellent for any PC strategy game but the fact that the game is on the PlayStation 2, where strategy titles are in extremely short supply, makes it even more amazing.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is a turn-based strategy which puts you in the role of a commander/officer during your chosen period. You don't have direct control over events as you would in most strategy games. You can choose whether to play as a Ruler, Viceroy, Prefect, Warlord, Vassal, Captain, Comrade or Free officer. How the game plays is determined by the nature of the character you play as. If you're a Ruler or Viceroy for instance you'll be giving the orders whilst the other ranks will see you taking orders and having to complete a large and varied amount of tasks. If you're a Free officer though you'll be you're own boss, so to speak, until you agree to ally with someone. In fact the game is just as much a RPG as it is a strategy game. You can choose to control up to eight officers but you can just control one if you want to. Of course you can make it a multiplayer experience by allowing a friend to take control of an officer if you want to. Assuming you're not a Free officer you'll meet every three months to receive your orders and you'll also be allowed to offer suggestions on what strategies should be taken. Of course it would be boring if that's all that occurred and there is far more to the game.

We said above that the game is as much a RPG as it is a strategy game and this is absolutely true. The officer you control will have to build his reputation with not only his fellow officers but also with the inhabitants of the town he is responsible for. You'll have to gain the trust of all those that can help you succeed and this can be done in a variety of ways. You can arrange banquets and other niceties for when fellow officers visit one of your town's buildings or areas (each town has a gate, fields, castle, barracks, Tavern, Inn, Tower, Factory and Market and you'll need all of them working for you if you are to become successful). Each officer has four main attributes War, Intelligence, Politics and Charisma. When you begin a game your officer will have a rating (between 1-100) for each of these attributes and they will also have a maximum rating that can be attained through using the Train option. Once their maximum potential has been reached it will be useless attempting to improve the attribute any further. Your officer also has many other rating such as the Fame rating, which will improve or decrease according to the deeds you carry out.

It's very surprising to see how much there is to do in this game. There are 100 different events that can occur when you least expect them to (you could be asked to find an officer and recruit them to your cause for instance) and it helps to keep the game play fresh and full of surprises. Of course sooner or later you're going to be involved in a battle whether it's defending your own town or helping one of your allies. The battles, like the rest of the game, are turn-based. They can be a bit slow and can take quite a long time to get through. If you're a strategy fan though it's the kind of pace you'll be accustomed to. You'll have control over your men only and will have to watch your allies battle. Incidentally if a battle occurs that you aren't part of, it's resolved very quickly indeed and you see almost a board game presentation of it that gives you an idea of how the battle progressed. I particularly liked the way you can challenge or be challenged to a duel and this in itself is another aspect of the game.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is one of those games where taking a quick glance of the screenshots does the game no justice at all. Many would argue that the graphics are the weakest part of the game but you have to remember that we have a strategy game here and not a FPS. In actual fact I think the look of the game is more than satisfactory and had it been a PC strategy title I would have still been pleased with the look of the game. Essentially the game is 2D with many character portraits, flat depictions of the towns and a whole load of Chinese artwork used to good effect in all areas of the game. If I had to pick an area where improvement would have been nice, it would have to be the battles. The units in the battles are too small and have little detail. They are fine for the turn-based combat that's involved but I think more could have been done given the graphical power of the PlayStation 2. In fact this is one area of the game where it would have been nice to see 3D graphics but overall I was pleased with the visual presentation of the game.

All we can say about how deaf gamer friendly the game is, is that it's excellent. The game is virtually speech free so everything is in text, which is absolutely fine and causes no problems at all. You'll occasionally have sounds for event such as the fanfare when one of your skills has improved but you won't miss out on anything as the information is also shown in text at the same time. What I would have liked to have seen was a diary that kept track of orders you've been given in greater detail. For instance I was asked to find and recruit an officer named Man Chong in the region of Yan and I was given six months to find him. Now had I not written this order down I would have forgotten the name of the man I sought and all the game had noted was that I needed to recruit an officer, which is insufficient. The game has a variety of text tutorials that can be accessed at any time. Whilst the tutorials are OK they could have been more intuitive. The manual (which has 38 pages of English text) makes up for this though and covers the various aspects of the game on a screen by screen basis which is excellent and particularly useful if like me you haven't played any of the games in this series.

I said at the top of the review that I hadn't played any of the previous versions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms before this version and all I can say is that I'm surprised that I've missed out on such a great strategy game for so long. The amount of depth in the game is amazing and once you've overcome the initial learning curve and begin to appreciate the subtleties of the game, you'll be hooked. The life span of this game is amazing and it's definitely a good thing that the PlayStation 3 will be backwards compatible because the strategy gamers amongst you could potentially have years worth of play out of this game because no two games are ever the same. The game won't appeal to all gamers though and it doesn't have the immediate Wow! factor of some games but those who like great turn-based strategy games with plenty of depth and are patient enough to learn the basics of the game will truly appreciate the almost endless possibilities that are on offer here.

Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10
KOEI have created a very good strategy game in Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII that is on a par with the best turn-based games on the PC. As a fan of strategy games I've found it refreshing that such an accomplished strategy game is available on the PlayStation 2. There are a few areas of the game that could be improved but all things considered it's a must for strategy fans who have access to a PlayStation 2.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers.