As fans of this series are well aware, the core gameplay in Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is driven by text menus, numbers, and a lot of Chinese names. The progress of your faction is charted by months, and each month you'll have a certain number of actions--again, determined by your rank--that you can take to strengthen your own position or undermine that of your foes. The number of things you can do in a turn is almost overwhelming. As an example, you can send a gift to an allied kingdom to increase your influence with its leaders, you can conscript more citizens to bolster the ranks of your army, or you can send a spy to gather information about a city you plan to invade. There are a ton of stats and figures to track, from hard assets like gold to less tangible numbers like your fame or friendliness. It can also be a little difficult to keep up with all of the cities and characters in the game, unless you happen to speak Chinese--many of the officers have the same surnames, for instance. Thankfully, an extensive online help mode is always available, so with enough diligence and attention to detail, even inexperienced-but-determined players should be able to make sense of things.
As before, the unification of ancient China is your goal.
If you hoped part eight would be the game that brought the Romance series visually up to date, you'll be sorely disappointed--this game is as graphically simplistic as the last one. Presumably, the school of thought here is that graphics don't automatically make a great game, and furthermore, the kind of gameplay in this series operates just fine without even remotely impressive graphics. Technically, that's true--Romance VIII plays fine while looking like a higher-resolution Super NES game. But couldn't Koei have thrown a little more effort into the game's visual presentation? Even a small degree of graphical fluff would've helped give the impression that this series is truly moving into the next generation of gaming along with the other genres, since the gameplay certainly doesn't. At least this game's music, like last year's, is higher quality than you'd expect--it's well composed and appropriate to the setting, and it manages not to become tiresome even when you've heard a lot of it (and you will).
Let's be realistic here: If Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is your kind of game, you don't need this review to tell you to go out and get it. Fans of this kind of intensely complicated strategy game who for some reason haven't given it a look should definitely do so, since it does bring enough new features to the table to warrant a whole new game. If you're dead set against this sort of plodding, number-driven gameplay, though, there's absolutely nothing here to win you over. In short, Romance of the Three Kingdoms VIII is built for a select group of gamers. Koei knows its audience for this series, and it's certainly playing to them, and that, at least, is commendable.