The Romance of the Three Kingdoms series has been around for a long time. In 1989 the first of the series was released for DOS machines and man was it good. I’ve been playing the ROTK series since its inception and it just keeps getting better. Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is no exception.

For those of you who haven’t played any of the ROTK titles in the series, here is a brief rundown: The game immerses the player into second century China. A time when all kinds of hell was breaking loose and no one power controlled China. Rebellion, roaming bandits and a lack of any real order was causing the mainland to eat itself up into chaos. The overall goal of the game is to unify China under one flag. Whether that be your flag or not is up to you. The ROTK series is known to be unbelievably historically accurate, involving all of the significant players of the time, including super warriors like Lu Bu or extremely effective commanders like Cao Cao. The player is able to take a role as one of these historical figures to try and help unify China or even create a new officer to see if he can influence the pages of history. The series although good, seems to only have a small following but with each iteration, seems to pull more and more players to its engrossing gameplay.

The ROTK series is not known for its graphical splendor. ROTK VIII is no different. The graphics are better than previous iterations but nothing so fantastic as to ask your mom into the room and show it off. There isn’t much to say here except that the overall graphics engine has gotten a face lift and that there are some added screens for certain events. Unfortunately this category seems to draw more people than any other rated category. For this game I urge you to ignore this rating and look at the rest of the review. Due to the lack of action in this game there really isn’t much to say about the sound effects as most of your time is spent in menus and the like. None of the effects are annoying and none really stand out as “Wow that’s neat!” I will say however that the Music is OUTSTANDING. The music changes based on which province your officer is in and some of the songs are extremely good. So good that it is the true influence of the score. I am very pleased on the choice of background music here as it is what the player will be hearing ninety percent of the time. Things are a little different in battle sequences but the sound effects and music are satisfactory. If I had to make a suggestion in this category it would be more voice acting. There is little to no voice acting in the game.

What can you say about the control of a menu driven interface? Not much. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Most of the game is controlled by menus and button shortcuts. All of the controls are laid out in a intuitive manner and make it easy to do quick commands without the frustration of accidental choosing. Cool and clean interface.

This is where all the meat of Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII lies. When you start a new game you choose some basic preferences like difficulty and historical accuracy. You then choose what time period of the era you want to start playing in. The condition and control of China follows historically depending on the time period and scenario is chosen. Finally the you choose which officers you want to play. You can choose more than one officer to play if you’d like (this is useful if you’d like to play with some friends or just play multiple officers.) If you’re like me you will go and create your own officer(s) to play in the “create-an-officer” screens. In my opinion one of the greatest features of the game, the ability to create your own officer and see how he can change the outcome of the history of China is extremely fun. You can create more than one officer if you’d like. One thing I like to do is create a whole family of officers and make our own nation placing myself as an officer under my “father’s” rule.

After you’ve created your officer(s) and or picked who you want to play you start the game in the province you chose to be placed in during the new game creation phase. If you choose an already existing officer, chances are you are already in service of someone or are a ruler yourself. If you’ve made a new officer you’re probably a “ronin”, an officer without a liege. This is a feature that appeared in the last couple iterations of the series. I absolutely love this feature. I’m talking about the fact that you can be completely on your own, start your own nation, serve whomever you like and generally do whatever you want. You’re not stuck serving one ruler the whole game. You can even resign as ruler if you want. Available commands are different depending on what rank you hold: Ruler, Regional Prefect, Vassal, Warlord, etc. Those are just some of the possible positions you can hold. Each position holds different commands and responsibilities. Gaining these positions made possible by gaining fame and deed points. These points are earned in a couple of different ways, but usually depend on you doing a good job for your ruler, exceeding in combat or helping the townspeople. The higher your points, the more recognition you get from rulers and other officers. Careful though, do something screwy or perform in an unjust manner and you may become notorious and other officers may not talk to you, in addition you may become demoted or a forced ronin.

The main interface consists of menu driven commands. Each month you generate action points. These action points are spent by doing activities like training, talking to other officers, improving a city, studying, etc. One of the additions to ROTK8 is the improved officer relationship system. You get along with some officers better than others. If you spend more time with other officers you will develop a bond with them and you will be able to influence some of their decisions. If a relationship is well developed, you can learn tactics from officers. If even more developed, you can become sworn brothers. They will be much more likely to join your cause and if one sworn brother is slain or wronged the other sworn brothers will avenge. One of the really neat things about the game is that if when you start a game you set it to historical mode, all historical ties and relationships are followed as they were in reality during that time. There are other relationships as well. If courted correctly your officer can get married! In fact if you don’t have offspring when your officer dies (of old age or executed) the game’s over!

The skill and tactics system is much improved. Let me begin by saying that a tactics is a special move used to benefit your side in combat and a skill is something that helps you with day to day activities (for the most part.) Tactics have levels and can be mastered by use or training. They can be learned from other officers you have developed a relationship with. Skills can be learned by doing certain things or generating certain events. Skills are grouped in to sets with each set relating to some general action in the game. If an entire skill set is learned you have the opportunity to learn a super skill that applies to that set. Pretty cool stuff. There are wandering sages that you can talk with to figure out how to develop your skills and the like.

Combat has been improved upon from ROTK 7 to ROTK 8. Battle graphics are a little better and long battles don’t feel as drawn out as in previous games. Tactics are very important in ROTK 8 combat and can easily change the tide of the battle. More weapons and units are available than previous in the series, including mighty elephants and deadly arbalests. Duels are still in and are still turn-based battles with special moves and commands. Does the enemy have too many troops for your unit to handle? Challenge him to a duel!

Overall the gameplay is what makes Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII great. It’s not an action game and requires patience and time to play. But it feels so rewarding and is just a ton of fun.

Replay value for ROTK 8 is extremely high. You can play as almost any historical figure of the time, create your own officer and test his mettle over and over in scenario after scenario. Replay doesn’t get much better than that. And since this game is so much fun to play I would have no qualms about shelling out $50 for a good quality game like Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII.