Romance of the Three Kingdoms is an ancient series, by console standards, stretching back to the NES. This series has been at the forefront of historical-war simulations since then as well. Koei has refined and crafted these games with more and more options in each iteration - but with no real innovation. Romance of the Three Kingdoms VI is a rich and textured game, but it's a victim of the company's unchanging ways.
ROT3K6 shares not only the same themes as its predecessors - a historically accurate account of ancient Chinese wars - but also virtually the same graphics. Certainly, any effect or graphical nuance this game possesses could be faithfully reproduced on the SNES or Genesis without any loss of clarity, color, or animation. The sole exception is the rather lackluster FMV opening. Of course, the amount of data and sheer number of historical characters is astounding, but the presentation is sorely lacking. This is an issue Koei has sought to remedy with the forthcoming Kessen on the PlayStation2 - and in fact, an FMV demo of this game is on the ROT3K6 disc. Unfortunately, that only serves to highlight the graphical faux pas.
Where ROT3K6's attraction lies, then, is in the complex and intricately woven gameplay. As you begin the game, you can choose from plenty of short or long scenarios, you can set historical accuracy on or off, and you can even create your own characters and name them. While short scenarios have their own goals, each long scenario can have only one - the unification of ancient China. The road to accomplishing this is long, hard, and menu-driven.
Each turn lasts a game month and consists of three phases: civil, military, and cattle. During the civil phase, you must choose which officers to set in what position (for example, you can assign an officer to oversee farm production or place him in charge of troops) and arrange your absolute multitude of settings to your liking. Moving into the military phase, you make decisions on strategy, and during battle you're sucked into a huge field map to watch miniscule stick figures dance. If you're lucky, you'll capture an enemy city and be ready to do it all again for the next turn.
What Romance of the Three Kingdoms VI has going for it may not be graphical prowess but the sheer level of content. No other developer has the history Koei does - the evolving scenarios and characters contained within this game point to the fact that they have been at it for years, and each game gets packed with more and more characters, scenarios, and situations. You could most probably play this game every day for a month solid and not run out of stuff to do. With hundreds of officers, tons of scenarios, customizability and options, and the whole of China to unify several times over, this game offers a lot of replay value. The main obstacle to enjoyment is that you must process endless arcane menus and settings. There is no action, and there is no flash - just pure historical simulation achieved through the judicious application of management skill.
While ROT3K6 won't win anyone over with its graphics - even die-hard 2D fans are going to find nothing to love about this title - it is a solid and intricate simulation title, recognized by fans as being one of the best. This series has carried Koei for a long time, and while it's nice to see the innovation the company is finally bringing to the genre in Kessen, for now, fans can enjoy the intricacies of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the original.