With the variety of JRPGs out there, it’s hard to create something that can keep the player’s attention for longer periods of time. However, Arc System Works has decided to attempt its own with River City Saga: Three Kingdoms. This is the same developer from the previously reviewed DNF Duel and the Guilty Gear series.
As a developer who has created a variety of games that span genres, Arc System Works has the funds and skill to make any game they want. However, as previously mentioned, it’s not always easy to make something that’s been done to death enjoyable. Luckily, River City Saga: Three Kingdoms builds off the games before it while also staying true to classic tropes.
River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is the latest in the Kunio-Kun game series, translated to Three Kingdoms in the west. While it used to be handled by Technōs, Arc System Works bought the intellectual property and now owns the rights to the series. Kunio is the name of the main character in the franchise’s first game, with the whole series being built around this mascot.
The series originally started on arcade machines and NES consoles, which it clearly still respects. This representation of the past games in Three Kingdoms through the art style, music, and controls is very apparent, and it helps create a charming experience that bleeds nostalgia without trying to jam it down your throat.
At its start, Three Kingdoms doesn’t seem like much. Especially because learning the right keys to press to navigate the menu takes a good ten minutes to figure out before the game starts. This is extremely frustrating when instead of the Enter key like every other game, the player has to use the L key to confirm any choices on the menu.
There are no prompts that tell the player this is the key to use, they’re just left to sit in confusion and mild frustration. At a certain point, a player will refund the game if they have no idea how to navigate the main menu and actually play. In the same vein, the combat controls take some getting used to. While moving with the WASD keys is standard in PC games, the buttons to attack aren’t.
The way to rest your fingers on the keyboard for Three Kingdoms includes the standard left hand on the WASD keys and the right hand on the JKL keys. The latter, and the three keys above it, are what the player will use to fight. For some reason, this is reminiscent of an old arcade fighting game where the player has a button for punch, kick, throw, guard, and that’s it.
Getting used to these controls and taking on large groups of enemies definitely takes a lot of practice and dedicated upgrades. The game won’t hold back while you’re trying to get better though, throwing hordes of enemies or powerful bosses at the player from the beginning. This can be frustrating as players get used to the learning curve, but makes the successes all the more worth it.
The fighting itself is pretty standard to other brawler games, with the player side-scrolling the world in either direction and facing the enemies that come from there. However, the player can just as easily run past the enemies in their way, making this game a bit easier than classic beat-em-up titles. The player can also find and pick up weapons across the map, which help quite a bit when used in combat.
The special abilities, called Tactics, are interesting because they provide the player with a way to dominate the battlefield. It’s also impressive because of the animations that happen whenever you activated the tactic, showing a brief clip of your character calling forth whatever force that tactic is.
The game’s narrative is fairly simple, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting at times. The game follows three “brothers” who decide to embark on a journey to restore peace and harmony to Han. The simplicity of this premise helps keep the player from getting lost in some of the minute details. Most of the time the player is asked to go to a new settlement and fight whatever big bad is waiting there.
This would be a hard feat on its own, but the player often has the help of the two other brothers in the bigger fights. The player can enlist their help at other times too through the game’s implementation of co-op play. By plugging in another controller, the player can be joined by an ally taking the role of one of the brothers.
The trio, self-dubbed as the Peach Brothers, journey all across their home country, vowing to defend its people from any harm. This means traveling through a lot of the same towns over and over again as you run different errands for the main storyline. In the first chapter alone, the player will have to figure out how to get to each city, constantly having to reopen the map to figure out which route to take.
Something that felt unique about Three Kingdoms is the number of activities and choices in the world that the player can interact with. Whether it be recruitment for the Yellow Turbans or helping a little kid who’s lost his sandals. This level of interaction with the world makes the game feel like so much more than any other brawler. It really makes Three Kingdoms feel more like an RPG with brawler elements.
There are also other modes included in the game, like a retro-arcade style game that plays very similar to classic side-scrolling brawler games. Players can also read the character descriptions and replay events if they leave the story and come back to it later, which is always a welcome addition.
The Final Word
River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is one of the most unique brawlers to come out this year, managing to create something more than its side-scrolling relatives. The art and music help evolve this game into a charming experience that keeps the player interested through the tough battles. While there is a learning curve and the game’s controls are a bit strange, Three Kingdoms is a thrilling fight to be a part of.
Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website!