Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a near-impenetrable series of strategy games based on the famous Chinese novel of the same name. However, the series has garnered enough fans over the years to warrant more than 20 different incarnations across platforms ranging from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the PlayStation 2. Now the series has made its way to the Wii in the form of Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire for the Virtual Console. Originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995, the game is now available for download for a steep 800 points ($8). Just like all the other Romance of the Three Kingdoms games, IV is a dense, esoteric strategy game that can be rewarding, but only if you're extremely patient or well versed in the mechanics of the series.
Wall of Fire is a turn-based strategy game in which your goal is to unify all of the 40-plus cities in ancient China. There are six different scenarios to choose from, each with different starting conditions. You can choose a scenario, select an officer to play as, and get right down to conquering China...that is, if you can actually figure out how to play the game. There's very limited documentation with the game, and no tutorial or explanation of what it is you're actually supposed to do. If you've played a Romance of the Three Kingdoms game before, you'll be able to fumble your way through the menus, because the basic commands and strategies haven't changed in more than 10 years. If this is your first foray into Koei's brand of historical simulation, however, you'll have to spend a good few hours with the game before you finally understand what's going on.
You play the game as a single officer, but you have other officers under your command. The game is entirely menu based, so you'll wade through some rudimentary and confusing text menus to do things like recruit new officers, draft soldiers, allocate resources, and establish foreign policy. There's a lot to do, and managing all of the minute details of each and every city under your control can be a daunting--but occasionally rewarding--task. If you do manage to get past the ridiculous learning curve, there are a lot of ways to play the game. There are six scenarios, dozens of officers, and two difficulty levels, and you can also create your own officers. You can even play the game with up to eight players by passing the controller around between turns. Bear in mind that this game can't be played with the Wii Remote alone; it requires either a GameCube controller or the Wii Classic Controller.
It can easily take you 20 hours or more to clear a single scenario in Wall of Fire, but given the extremely slow pace of the game, you'll often get the feeling that you aren't making any progress. If you've got a mind for strategy and at least a passing familiarity with the Three Kingdoms history, you might be charmed by Wall of Fire. However, even then you'd be better off with one of the more recent Romance of the Three Kingdoms games. If anything, Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV makes it painfully obvious just how little this series has evolved over the past 12 years.