Pretty much anyone that you talk to who knows videogames has heard of Koei’s flagship series, Dynasty Warriors. You pick an ancient Chinese warrior, mash some buttons, and then defeat an entire army single-handedly. It’s some great, mindless fun that pretty much anybody can hop into and enjoy while at the same time making even a series novice feel like a master. But that’s not what I am here to look at today. Contrary to popular belief, Koei isn’t only adept at making button mashers. They also have some excellent strategy games based off the Romance of the Three Kingdoms book as well.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms VII is a very different kind of game compared to any of Koei’s Dynasty Warriors titles. It could be considered a military strategy game, a city simulator, or even an ancient Chinese nobility simulator as well. But, this mashup of different kinds of games all rolled into one makes for a very enjoyable experience overall.
ROTK7 gives you an incredibly large variety of characters to choose from to begin your military career in ancient China. The total cast numbers 535, to be exact. With all of these characters appearing at different points in history throughout the game, there’s no guarantee that your hero of choice will have even been born yet, depending on your scenario. This isn’t that big of an issue. Thanks to the large cast, it’s easy to find quite a few favorites to play as throughout different scenarios. There is a slight issue with officer balancing, though. No-name generals will not be as easy to play as the heroes of the Dynasty Warriors series are. A minor general isn’t going to be able to contend with the mighty Lu Bu, after all! Thankfully, there are ways to train all of your officers to try to make up for their weaknesses so that anybody can become viable with enough training. There are also different items you can acquire to boost certain statistics. If none of those 535 characters appeal to you, the game does allow you to create your own officer—male or female—to experience their own story.
As you play through the game, your officer may be assigned several varying ranks of responsibility. Your character can be anything from a wandering Ronin to the Liege of their own provinces and countries. The higher your rank gets, the more management responsibilities you are given. This is where the game starts to dive into city-simulator territory as you may need to manage things such as food stores, soldiers conscripted into the army and the defenses of either the individual city your character controls or, if you’re a Liege, all of the cities throughout your empire. Delegating tasks to your vassals becomes important, considering each task takes up a certain amount of your character’s energy, which replenishes at the start of every month. Watching your city or empire turn into a well-oiled machine as you continuously defend against enemy soldiers and barbarians is incredibly satisfying. I never thought I’d actually find it thrilling to know that I had successfully stockpiled enough food that the locust swarm that appeared this month was no issue.
In addition to all of the city management and building, the game does have engagements between armies that you can choose to play out as well. If turn-based combat on a grid isn’t quite your thing, you can always allow the computer to handle the combat for you. The main issue here is that the computer isn’t really adept at combat in any way, so it’s usually best if you can take the reigns. As you can imagine, this can get frustrating if your officer’s rank isn’t higher than your allies. If you don’t outrank them, you can’t command them—which leads to frustrating encounters as the computer bumbles around the map and you try to hold everything together with what few units (or unit) your rank in the army allows you to command.
Once you are actually able to wrest command away from the incompetent computer, however, combat is actually pretty enjoyable. Characters with more combat prowess than others can lead their units into daring charges and flank enemies based on their positioning. Those with a mind for strategy can do things such as attack from afar with fire arrows, place pitfall traps on the battlefield and even convince enemy units that they are using magic. There are so many ways to approach an encounter that you can be sure that even if you choose to replay an engagement it won’t play out the same way twice. The multitude of skills each character can use on the battlefield also allows you to tailor your officer to use tactics that you prefer as well. You want to litter the battlefield with traps? Sure. Are you all about being a master of naval combat? Go for it. There are tons of opportunities to tailor your unit the way you want them to be.
The biggest issue I could find in RoTK7 came from the learning curve. I understand I may have given you a ton of information at once, and the game itself is no different. Players new to the series will be bombarded with a lot of information at once and many won’t immediately be able to tell where they should begin. Quite the opposite of Koei’s Dynasty Warriors titles, some players will feel overwhelmed by how complex this title will feel when presented to them. I would definitely encourage newer players to play through the game a few times before writing it off, though. I say that because under the complex systems and three different types of gameplay lies one of the most satisfying strategy games out there that, thankfully, manages to stand the test of time.