Although some of the basic mechanics have been simplified, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI still has a very steep learning curve that will prove daunting for newcomers. The tutorial alone will take three or four hours to get through, and each of the more than 20 available scenarios can easily take 10 or 20 hours to complete. The replay value is nearly endless, but the sheer amount of content is limited by the game's glacial pace. A 20-hour scenario demands a tremendous amount of patience, because you can spend anywhere from five minutes to a half hour on a single turn, only to end that turn almost exactly the same way you began it.
If you're willing and able to devote the time and effort that this game requires, you'll find that it can be a lot of fun. After spending hours picking away at an enemy, you'll get a great sense of victory when you finally wipe an opposing force off the map. There are more than two dozen different scenarios to play, and each one can be modified to be played dozens of different ways. There are open-ended scenarios that let you choose which force to play as, as well as preset scenarios that require you to play a specific force. Challenge scenarios are another option, and these require you to focus on a narrow set of objectives rather than simply being the last force standing. The game can also be played with up to seven other players, although that consists of just choosing different forces in one scenario and then passing the controller around each turn.
If you don't like any of the hundreds of officers in the game, you can create your own.
Because Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI is entirely menu driven, there's not a lot to look at. Most of your time with this game will be spent poring through menus trying to make sense of all of the information on display. The interface is strictly utilitarian, and although you'll eventually get used to it, the menu system could stand to be simplified. It also doesn't help when you have menus and other displays covering up your view of the map, making it difficult to locate anything. And, it takes way too much effort to keep tabs on what all your officers and units are doing, especially later in the game when you're trying to manage a force of dozens of officers and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Although they're sparse, the painted backgrounds and character portraits all look great. The 3D map looks clean and colorful, especially when the seasons change. The world has a flat, cel-shaded design, which looks fine, but it lacks detail. The sound is functional as well. The rousing score is heavy on chanting and war drums, which fits the game perfectly. The minimal amount of voice acting is passable and is available in both Chinese and English.
Although XI doesn't bring anything new to the series, it's still a game that you can really sink your teeth into if you have the time and patience to surmount the steep learning curve. Aside from the previous Romance of the Three Kingdoms games, you won't find another strategy game this involved on the PlayStation 2, so if you have a mind for stat tracking and resource management, you'll certainly get your fill with Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI.