As you may have read previously on this site, I love the Chinese. It's not romantic, or paternal, or even a healthy love — I love them the way Louis Pasteur loved bacteria. Scurry about, my minions, as I subject you to the vagueries of my whim and will.
Specifically, for those of you too lazy or gun-shy to click the damn link, I love the ancient Chinese characters depicted in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games. Prior to this week I'd only played the first three installments, but thanks to the unabashed fanboiism on various gaming fora, I was convinced to go out and buy the latest installment, RotTK 2K5.
In order to play the game I had to buy a PS2, which bumped the price over the $300 mark. On top of that, Mr Anderson lost a fight for the first time in his career (maybe it's time for him to retire and concentrate on training younger cats like a feline Morgan Freeman) and as punishment from God he got an abscess on his hip that requires $100 worth of antibiotics. But my finances are none of your concern (unless your credit card number ends in 3805 and you made a purchase processed by CardSystems prior to May 22).
The menu interface is both deep and intuitive, if a little unattractive
The China of RotTK 2K5 is eerily similar to the China I recently conquered in RotTK III on my Genesis. All my old friends (and enemies, like the faithless traitor Lu Bu) are still there, although the cities are no longer numbered which makes the game slightly more confusing for my nerdy Anglo brain. Province 11 was the imperial capital before, is that named Ji now? How far apart are Yun Nan and Nan Pi? Is Cheng Du a city or a person hiding in a city? Fortunately there are simple ways to find out all this information, with even simpler tutorials explaining them to people like me who read manuals only as a final, shame-filled option.
Most of the differences in gameplay can be summed up in three letters that would ordinarily send me fleeing for the door: RPG. Instead of the omnipotent God-view you had in the early games, you now control one guy and can only do the things that that guy is allowed to do (and level up your various stats). If that guy is a no-talent fourth liner like Xiahou De, your options are pretty limited in the early going. If it's Cao Cao, I expect the game will play very similarly to earlier versions, as you rule your kingdom and conquer China.
I don't know that for sure because I'm playing as Xu Huang, who although statistically talented starts out as a free general, and the highest rank I've held is Prefect (governor of a city). That was with a po-dunk little backwater nation in the south, where I was ordered to use my überwarrior (never defeated in battle or a duel) to develop the land and improve trade. Wooh.
So, after a while thinking about starting over with a custom character, I decided to quit my job and roam free for a while. But not before raiding the treasury for 50,000 gold pieces. And surprisingly, neither my sudden resignation nor the massive embezzlement the day before generated any ill-will toward me. Maybe Shi Xie is Chinese for Enron.
Dueling requires a combination of skill, stats and luck
While roaming the countryside, I took on a quest to win 10 straight duels against warriors better than me. The hard part, as it turned out, wasn't winning the duels (although I did do a little save/reload two-stepping), it was finding people to duel. Those fuckers should have a union or something.
Dueling is a minigame similar to rock-paper-scissors-hammer-napalm-smallpox. A gong sounds to begin the duel (but sadly the Mortal Kombat theme doesn't play) and you choose three moves from a random list of options, and depending on how your choices match up against your opponent's you deal damage and gain buffs. Once you pound that little bitch into sweet-and-sour sauce, the minigame ends and various numbers go up. Which is the goal of all games. There's also a debating minigame which is similar to a mutated CCG version of Go, but harder for dumb brutes like Xu Huang to win at.
Once I got tired of doing FedEx jobs for NPCs like some sort of pod person, I signed on with Cao Cao and the majority of the guys I'd met on my dueling circuit. Usually when I play, Cao Cao is my most bitter nemesis, but this time I decided to take the path of least resistance and sign on with ancient China's version of the Yankees. Sure, I like the underdog and all, but I like winning more. Even if I have to play all buddy with ancient China's version of A-Rod, Lu Bu.
Since then I've been doing fairly menial labour as a mere Vassal, but at least the missions have been somewhat war-related. According to a forum post I read today, I can suggest invading to my leader. I may try that tonight.
Today's filler art was ironically provided by our own Artiste Emeritus, Penguinx. Someday there will be comics again, I promise. Even if I have to recruit Battle Dwarf as a full-time replacement.