The classic historical simulation series Romance of the Three Kingdoms has already seen its second release on iPhone from developer Koei. Covering the same setting as the Dynasty Warriors and Kessen series, Romance of the Three Kingdoms provides a grand turn-based strategy outlook on the Three Kingdoms period of ancient Chinese history.
You control any one of the dozens of small factions that split China apart during this period, with the eventual goal of reuniting China under one banner. Turn-based strategy works well for the iPhone, and I’m happy to say that this title will nearly perfectly fulfill the needs of mobile wannabe conquerers.
First, some clarification: This game is not the same as the real-time strategy or character-centric editions of the series that have recently been released on console in North America. Nor is it a straight remake of the classic 1990 computer title Romance of the Three Kingdoms 2, but it is closer in gameplay to that version. The graphics are modern, with gorgeous paintings making up most of the picture assets. Only the battle graphics are a little underwhelming (grey hexagons aren’t much better than the 1990 game’s standard).
The writing, when there must be any, isn’t stellar. Going through the tutorial, fans of the series and story will immediately wonder why Liu Bei, often portrayed as the hero in most other media, is written as a pompous buffoon in the brief tutorial dialogue. But there are no issues with translation or obvious typos to frustrate the English-speaking gamer.
Turns consist of a mixture of low-detail domestic development, like upgrading farms and managing officers, and somewhat more detailed battle scenes using square grid turn-based combat between armies. There are three difficulty levels, which range quite quickly from ridiculously easy to the more typical hard difficulty of the series. Everything is simpler in the iPhone version than even in the 1990 computer version of the game, but some gamers may be happy with somewhat simpler gameplay.
However, battles do suffer slightly from the simplification, as the player will have little choice but to run straight up to the enemy and hit him over and over, until they see who won. The player may attempt to buy off enemy officers mid-battle (which is a total guessing game as to how much money it will take) or attack with fire (which doesn’t work often and doesn’t offer much reward when it does) so nothing is really a tactically significant decision. Even encircling the enemy doesn’t hurt their chances as it should.
Battles are unfortunately paced a bit slow as well, so a battle that should be completely finished will take another 15 minutes of combat to finish off the last remaining enemy troops. Battles are still fun, just not nearly as good as the rest of the series, which included character-specific strategems and traps that made battles much more interesting.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 2 is really a scaled-down version of the stellar strategy series for the iPhone. It’s not as in-depth, for better or worse, and some poor design decisions on battles take the luster away from the experience slightly, but I’m still a fan of this game. It’s very easy to pick up and play for a moment once you’ve got the hang of what to do, and I relish the opportunity to conquer China on the go.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 2 is rated RP (Rating Pending) by the ESRB. The game includes abstract depictions of violence and some adult themes.