The game begins with a brief introduction to the setting. It starts off with Guan Yu (who looks and acts like Kunio-kun) in his village. But the Yellow Turban Rebellion casts a shadow on the countryside. Guan Yu immediately runs into Liu Bei and Zhang Fei, causing the three to go into the village and become sworn brothers under some peach trees. Obviously, River City Saga: Three Kingdoms focuses on a Shu kingdom story. The game is divided into six chapters, with the first focusing on fighting back against the Yellow Turbans, while the next one has the heroes going up against the villainous Dong Zhuo, which also introduces Cao Cao. You know where this is going.
This is well-worn territory for fans of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but the execution is cute here. The characters are all Kunio-kun characters basically dressed up as Romance of the Three Kingdoms ones. Less important characters with familiar faces pop up throughout the story as well. Each chapter can easily take a couple of hours depending on if you do sidequests and if you feel like grinding, so there’s a good amount of content here, although that’s par for the course for the series. The environments are a mixture of 2D and 3D elements, with all of the characters being 16-bit sprites. It’s charming, if a little jarring at times.
Kick and kick again
The world of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is surprisingly large, as you maneuver your character through a bunch of interconnected towns and roads. You can pay a small fee to fast travel to any major location that you’ve been to, which is well worth it considering all the running around you’ll be doing. Enemies spawn on the roads and drop coins and experience, making it worth it to regularly get into scraps.
The combat, while solid, is not all that great compared to other beat-em-ups, however. Instead of being skill-based, it revolves around stats. Enemies roam in groups and have the same general movement rules as the player. That means that everyone punches, kicks, blocks, and gets stunlocked whenever they’re hit. Seriously, you just get stunlocked constantly, to the point where I only approached enemies via jump-kick. Once you accrue enough experience, you level up and gain five stat points to allocate to various abilities, such as punch, kick, throw, defense, and weapon attacks. But it’s preferable to pick one and pump stats into that in order to stay threatening to your foes.
You’ll use coins to purchase new armor, healing items, and special attacks, but most of the special attacks make it so that you can’t use your default strike, which is awkward. It led to me mostly sticking with a specific attack that I got early on. You’ll also get super attacks and tactics attacks, the first of which calls fire arrows down on your foes. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is pretty good and has a lot to see and do compared to other games in the genre, but it’s also lacking in terms of gameplay. If you’re a fan of the series or the idea of wandering China and beating up thugs is appealing, then the game is certainly worth it. Just be prepared for some archaic gameplay elements.