TOKYO--Koei confirmed today that it will release Kessen III for the PlayStation 2 at the end of this year. The first Kessen was a PlayStation 2 launch title in Japan, and a sequel was released the following year. The long-awaited third entry in the series comes after a three-year hiatus. Taking a cue from Koei's best-selling Dynasty Warriors series, Kessen III will allow for more direct action-oriented control over the player's army of soldiers.The game's setting has also changed. While Kessen II took place in China and focused on the era of the Three Kingdoms, Kessen III will take place in Japan during that country's civil war in the latter half of the 16th century. The main character in Kessen III will be the historical warlord Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga is well-known to students of Japanese history, but the name should ring a bell with gamers too--the "star" of the classic Koei series Nobunaga's Ambition, he was also the villain character in Capcom's Onimusha. In Kessen III, Nobunaga will be portrayed as a young samurai with the dream of bringing order to Japan. Other characters set to appear are his wife, Kichou, his traitorous follower, Akechi Mitsuhide, and Kessen's former main character, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The game will feature 130 minutes of cutscenes, which will depict the turbulent life of Nobunaga. How closely the historical record will be followed is still unknown. The standout feature of the Kessen series is its use of giant battle stages where hordes of soldiers fight against each other in all-out war ("kessen" is Japanese for "decisive battle"). Like the last game, Kessen III can display up to 500 characters simultaneously. While having that many characters onscreen may sound chaotic, it's not hard to differentiate between the player's characters and the enemies: Nobunaga's troops are attired in black while enemy soldiers wear red. In Kessen III, the player will control up to 10 squadrons, with each squadron consisting of 30 soldiers led by Nobunaga or one of the other warlords. The player can take direct control of one squadron at a time, switching freely between them. The rest will fight on their own via the game's artificial intelligence. One significant difference from earlier versions of Kessen is that the player in Kessen III will have more direct control over his or her troops. Troops can be moved with the D pad, and they can also attack and defend by pressing the corresponding buttons. Holding down the attack button will let the player power up his troops and unleash a powerful attack move, such as troops organizing into a whirlwind formation that flips the opposing soldiers into the air. The game also features various kinds of fighters, including foot soldiers, mounted soldiers, and archers. Each type of squadron will have its own special attacks. There are also magic spells that let the warlords execute various supernatural phenomena, including those that can be used to assist troops or expose opponents to deadly attacks. The game features over twice as many special warlord attacks as Kessen II, and over 450 different items, weapons, and pieces of armor. "The Kessen series has been a memorable and monumental product," Kessen III producer Kou Shibusawa said at an event held Thursday morning in Tokyo where the game was announced. "Back when I saw the hardware specifications of the PlayStation 2, I noticed its potential. At the time, I was chairman of Koei, but in order to make the game that I wanted, I took a chance, returning to the ranks of game producer once again." Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi was present at the event, and he expressed his anticipation for Kessen III. Looking back, I still haven't forgotten the impact of the first Kessen when it was released simultaneously with the launch of the PlayStation 2. When we announced the new [PS2] hardware, Kou Shibusawa saw it as a challenge, and he created a game that was far beyond our imagination." When asked how much was spent in making Kessen III, Shibusawa commented that development costs will end up being somewhere between 500 million yen ($4.5 million) to 1 billion yen ($9.1 million). Kessen III is slated for release in Japan in late 2004 and will retail for 7,140 yen ($65). The game is scheduled for launch overseas in early 2005. Koei aims to sell 1 million units of Kessen III across all territories. Along with today's official announcement of Kessen III, Koei has taken a teaser site for the game live. The site currently hosts a number of photos from the Kessen III announcement in Tokyo, as well as a trailer for the game.