Over the course of my life, I have developed and honed many skills. One particular skill I am absolutely, 100% lacking in is anything involving leadership. This is why I tend to work alone, or work with someone if they’re the one in charge. The multitasking and management is something I cannot wrap my head around. As such, I am completely unfit to be a politician or a cult leader (but I repeat myself).
Despite this, I still like to occasionally load up games that firmly put me in a leadership role. Stellaris, Sword of the Samurai (the best DOS game of all time), Sim City, A-Train, Mount and Blade, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I never get very far in any of these games, because I can’t manage for shit (except for Sword of the Samurai, which I can actually finish somehow). Maybe it’s out of some desire to improve this weak point I have? It’s not like they’re relaxing games to chill out to, what with all the war, financial disasters, natural disasters, and such.
I’ve spent the past couple days starting a new file in Romance of the Three Kingdoms X. ROTKX is one of those games I picked up on a whim one day, back when buying PS2 games wasn’t seemingly part of a money-laundering scheme. This would have been right when the PS3 was either on its way out, or had just debuted in horrific fashion, and when the prices on PS2 games had been slashed to shit. There had never been a better time to get invested in a Playstation 2, other than maybe when, you know, the system was at its peak. But hey, I was broke or homeless during most of the system’s life, and didn’t get mine until 2004. Anyways, during this time of stores wanting to clear out their inventory, people like me made out like bandits. I got ROTKX because it was different than the other stuff I had been picking up. And if it sucked? Who cares, it was like fifteen bucks.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a series that I had tried into before. Being so thoroughly entrenched in emulation, I had definitely tried out the first few games, to no avail: I was simply way too fucking stupid to Get It. This game, though, was either simple enough, or I had simply matured as a person, and got it pretty fucking quick.
This particular series of games is based on an extremely sensationalized historical novel that I somehow had the time and patience to read as a teenager. Boy howdy, there are parts of that book that are fucked up. The book itself is based on historical records from a period of major political upheaval in China. A lot of civil unrest, and various leaders plotting and scheming to unite the entire land under their rule. The kind of shit that makes for a good TV game. The rest of the world knows about this story from the Dynasty Warriors series, which is spun-off from the ROTK games.
I bring up the novel because this game has something I really appreciate: the “Fictional” mode. Rather than follow events as closely as possible to its source material (or at inasmuch as it can if you’re playing as a character that did not actually unify China), this mode plays a little more fast and loose with things. Some things, like Liu Bei swearing an oath of brotherhood with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei are still present, as are events kicking off with the Yellow Turban Rebellion. My current game began with me, playing as Guan Yu, following Liu Bei into battle against the Yellow Turbans. Liu Bei, Tactical Genius, thought charging a well-stocked rebel army with only a few hundred troops was a good idea. I guess it makes sense: the ROTK novel makes Liu Bei out to be an absolute sociopath who relies on everyone else to think for him. Guan Yu got captured, was given an opportunity to join the Yellow Turbans, which I accepted so as to avoid public execution (you will always be executed if you say no), and that’s where I’m at now. Years in, the Yellow Turbans are still around, and are even taking over other lands, as opposed to being quickly destroyed by the combined efforts of the Royal Court.
Normally, these games place you firmly within the position of leader. You pick a character, and you run their particular territory, expanding more and more until you run it all. X however, changes things up. You don’t have to be a leader. This is great, because as I opened this post with, I am a terrible leader. I can spend the rest of Guan Yu’s life serving under this group. Maybe the Yellow Turbans get overthrown, or lose all their major territories, and I’m offered a job by a former enemy. I can serve long enough to earn enough money and influence to go rogue, and form my own kingdom. I can retire from office, and spend all my time wandering from town to town, helping regular people in need. I have this freedom to run a kingdom before I inevitably fuck it up, but I also have the freedom to become a renowned folk hero of the downtrodden. I can be known as a fearsome warrior who has never lost a duel, or a peace-loving intellectual master debater. The scope can be so massive, but then you can hone in and focus and the smallest of details: a person’s life. Given how fucked up a lot of the characters in this actually are, and how the events are essentially a series of brutal wars, maybe retreating from that life to do good things is the right course of action. It should be noted that this is one of the only games in the series to let you do this; the sequels went right back to leader-only roles.
Of all the off-beat PS2 games I bought “just because,” Romance of the Three Kingdoms X is among the best of that group. In a lot of ways, it really does feel like the PS2 was built off of its “weird” games. For every major title, like a Final Fantasy or a Metal Gear, you would have dozens of these unloved games full of heart. And yes, before anyone thinks to correct me, I am fully aware that Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a megahit in Asian territories. But like with Hydlide and Druaga, it’s an unloved bastard of a game over here in America. It has a reputation of being utterly inscrutable. I will tell you, as a Major Dumb Ass, that it really isn’t. I can’t run a country for shit, but that’s more to do with my own personal failings, rather than a lack of detailed instructions. I would say to at least take a quick look at the game and see if it’s for you. If not, hey, you can always wander the land, choosing to rule yourself, instead.