One of the more interesting announcements that occurred around Tokyo Game Show this year was that the next Romance of the Three Kingdoms would actually be a case of looking back: Rather than moving to Romance of the Three Kingdoms XV, as might have been expected, we’re instead getting a remake of Romance of the Three Kingdoms 8.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 8 is more than 20 years old now, being released first on PC in Japan back in 2001. It was also a PlayStation 2 title, but it’s safe to say that overall, it wasn’t released in the series heyday, making it interesting that this one, specifically was selected for a remake.
While I was at TGS, I had the opportunity to chat with two of the team behind the project, the Producer, Echigoya Kazuhiro, and Development Producer, Ishikawa Hisatsugu. The first thing I asked was the motivation behind a remake, rather than a new title.
“We did start thinking of a sequel to be the next game,” Echigoya said. “But we couldn’t come up with a consensus on what that should be. At the same time I was working on several other remakes, and I found the process inspiring to apply to Romance of the Three Kingdoms, too.”
And what, specifically, was it about Romance of the Three Kingdoms 8 that made it an ideal candidate? “We were conscious of the fact that a lot of people would have experienced Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV as their first entry point to the series. Meanwhile, 8 takes place from the viewpoint of the individual officer, and we thought that it would be a new point of view for those newer players.”
It would be an interesting contrast, in other words, and help players get a better understanding of what the overall series can offer, while it continues on the growth trajectory that it currently is.
The most authentic Three Kingdoms to date
Of course, Romance of the Three Kingdoms 8 is a full remake, and not a port. It’s going to feel like a new game to people – even those that do remember the original. One of the ways that Koei will deliver that is through the art.
As you can see in the screenshots, this is a gorgeous game, and it comes with an additional dose of authenticity, Echigoya said. For the first time, the art direction is being led by Koei Tecmo’s office and people in China.
“This is actually the first time we’ve actually not used a Japanese CGI director, and I do think that the art style in the game comes from a place of personal experience and knowledge of the history and the novel, especially with regard to the atmosphere that we were trying to set with the game. Essentially, we did really want to make people feel like they were looking at something authentic from China.”
That commitment to authenticity reminded me of an ongoing tension that I feel must be part of any project to do with Romance of the Three Kingdoms. RoTK itself is a work of historical fiction, and it often leans very heavily into the fiction. There are critical characters mentioned in the book that we have little to no evidence actually existed at all in history. Diaochan, for example, was a woman so beautiful that she convinced Lu Bu to kick off a massive civil war by murdering his adopted father.
Diaochan is fictitious.
So, when it comes to developing a game that the developers want to be authentic, does “authenticity” mean with relevance to the real history or the book, and in the cases when there is conflict between the two, how do the developers resolve it?
As Ishikawa noted, he is aware that this series has the potential to play an educational role for players. “I actually just recently finished re-reading the novel, and now I do want to do further research into the real history side of things,” he said.
“I am conscious of it being a potentially educational resource, because I was inspired by the game myself – I wanted to work on the series after enjoying the earlier games when I played them as a youth.
“I think that in Japan there is that knowledge that the novel is divergent to the actual history. And while I know that the novel isn’t always the best representation of the history, if we stuck too close to the history it might not be as exciting. So we try to find a balance, and in a lot of cases it’s actually feedback-driven. We often get comments from players about their interpretation of events that helps us to incorporate that into future releases.”
Perhaps the best way to think of it is as an entry point, and those that do find it interesting will use the game as a launching point to a broader journey to learn about the period.
What is interesting, Echigoya noted, is that while the western community, overall, might not be so familiar with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, those that do get stuck into the game tend to get up to speed really quickly.
“With RoTK XIV, we did a scenario contest, aimed at getting suggestions from all the players. The ones that we got from the Western audience were a lot more specific and their knowledge was so much more precise. It’s a very hardcore set of users, so while I think a lot of people in Japan learn about the novel and leave it there, the Westerners that we find tend to be far more interested in the history itself.”
What to expect from RoTK 8 Remake
In addition to a gorgeous game that will, hopefully, inspire a new community of players to want to learn more about both an incredible book and period of history, RoTK 8 will feature several features that will help players to focus on the storytelling quality of the conflicts and political drama. Two key elements that will help to help invest players in the unfolding story include Destiny, which can dramatically change the course of events, and Tales, which offer a variety of stories to choose from. There will also be new battles where the “officers’ emotions will affect the outcome.”
The latter feature is particularly interesting since so much of the conflict that went on during this era (at least, according to the novels) did come down to the capricious nature of so many of the leaders.
With Koei also including a record number of officers and scenarios in this remake, Romance of the Three Kingdoms 8 Remake has every chance to become a highlight for a truly venerable series.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 8 Remake will release in 2024.