When the fine folks at Arc System Works sent us River City Saga: Three Kingdoms, I immediately got excited. From playing the original River City Ransom, to the spin offs, and yes, even Kunio's first foray, Renegade, I have a certain affinity for these games. River City Ransom has my heart. I loved that fact that you could beat down endless enemies, and they all had different names. They come in talking trash to you, and all perished with a different saying. Then, for every guy you beat, you get currency (a mechanic so good, it was carried forward to one of my other favorite beat-em-ups "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game"). Then in the middle of the game, for no reason at all, you could visit strip malls, and buy food, and drinks. You could even buy new special moves. It was ahead of it's 8-bit time. So here we are, in 2022, with a brand new River City Game.
Let's start with the history. This game is a crossover between River City Ransom, and Romance of the Three Kindgoms. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a spinoff of The Records of the Three Kingdoms, a historic book written by Chen Shou. That book had very little detail of the battles that took place during the Jin dynasty, so those stories were passed down as folklore through the generations. It was then adopted into the Three Kingdoms for Spoken Theater, with character development, and geographical additions to make the stories even more interesting. Luo Guanzhong then takes those stories, and publishes "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms." That series is made into an NES game of the same name in 1985, by Koei Tecmo. Koei spins those games off into a game called Dynasty Warriors, and the spinoffs continued, on and on. This game is a mix of all of those, with a little bit of Double Dragon thrown in, but I think it's safe to stop there.
This game is meant to be a love letter to 'Romance', with Kunio (Main character of Renegade, and River City Ransom) cosplaying as the main character Guan Yu. His buddies from the start are old bosses of the same game, Gouda, and Godai (And yes, I had to look all this up. It's called research, people.) These three start you off in your adventure through a six chapter series, with comedic timing and LOTS of talking throughout the way. So much talking. Lots and lots of talking. If there's a reason you never read through or cared about the stories behind the novel, this is it. Some may find it interesting. More on that a little later.
This game is River City Ransom at its core. There is a bunch of remixed music from boss battles, to even the marketplace music, and you might recognize a few characters from the old games. When it comes to combat, you have your buttons set to punches, kicks, jumps (with one button, no less), a grab button, and a block button. You walk into a level, and there are multiple enemies to beat down. All have their own funny dialogue, and all drop some money. You'll definitely want to pick this up, all the time. At first, these enemies fill the screen and might seem endless, but as the game progresses and you get stronger, they become easier to navigate through. There are weapons and you can pick up too, and you can even use enemies to throw into other enemies. In this game, Farming (some would call this the definition of insanity) is a good thing. Get all the money you can. All of it. After you beat everyone down, and go to the next screen, go back, and do it all over again because they automatically respawn. More money for you. Does this get old? Well, maybe. But I implore you, do this for the first few levels.
The map is made up of main roads and towns. Your main roads are going to contain most of your fighting. The game will tell you if there are enemies off screen, so use that to your advantage. The towns will have everything you need to progress the story, and make your fighter stronger. There are stores in the towns that you can stop in and buy stuff with in game currency. Some of these items are just regular food that you can eat to replenish your health and stamina, and sometimes come with timed buffs. You can even buy armor to equip for strength and defensive purposes. The real gems here are the scrolls you can buy. These scrolls contain special moves that you can use to smash through hordes of enemies, and you can assign them to punches, kicks, and throws.
Even weapons get their own upgrades. Swords, spears, and even fans, can all have their own special moves assigned to them. There are even combination ultimate moves, that you can use with a bumper and a controller button. These will help you smash all the faces. You also have a super gauge, to unleash said ultimate moves, and you build that meter better with punches than kicks, for some reason. It also builds when you take damage. Later in the game, you also receive access to tactics. Think of these as the special move that wipes all the enemies off the screen. You build the tactics meter from pickups of defeated enemies. They don't always destroy everything, but they make a nice dent to bosses.
The map also tells you what your main and side missions are. Main missions are marked with a red exclamation point, and side missions are blue. Characters you have to interact with will also be indicated. The map is ideal and you will be checking it a lot to figure out what to do next. The main mission is also indicated in the top right hand corner of the screen, but in this game, the side missions usually lead to more battles, more money, and secret interactions with characters that give you the good stuff. The side missions are plentiful, but not over bearing. Sometimes, a side mission is "bring me some straw", then you go out on the main road, and find some straw, and take it back, and the NPC (Non-Playable Characters) says "Thanks, here's something cool in exchange". There are also NPC's you can talk to in a regular setting, but I don't deem it necessary. Also, if you get stuck in chapter 3, trying to find wood, look no further than the internet. There are playthroughs and guides everywhere. Oh, and two words, fast travel. Fighting gets old when you're fighting some level one guys with super powers, and they only give you 10 lousy bucks. Fast travel allows to go to your required destination for the price of a meat bun.
In battles, you also earn experience points. When you level up, you regain all your HP back, and your super gauge fills up. You can then assign allotment points to your status. You can upgrade the power of your punches, kicks, weapons, and throws, as well as your intelligence, luck, and endurance. I'm going to take a shot in the dark and say that luck not only keeps you from getting jumped, but increases your chances of critical hits. I used the first few level ups for my punches and kicks, Then distributed the rest to the others. You get 5 points every time you level up, and if you don't use them, they accumulate. Don't do this. Upgrade immediately.
This game's story is very long winded. Very long winded. They put so much story and folklore into this game, it becomes a little overwhelming. To combat this, I set the text to instant, because you can skip quite a bit of it. I got a little lost, but I think I got the gist of the whole thing. If you are a story buff, there's a LOT to take in. It's cool for those that enjoy it, but I just wanna beat people up. There's also a cool animation that happens every time you use a tactic, and you can turn those off to combat the story, if you please. I'm just forewarning you that you may skip through a lot of stuff, and that's quite alright. The characters are funny and entertaining more often than not, but again, it's a lot.
Other minor gripes: the controls are a little clunky. Sometimes, your kicks won't come out the way you want them to, and then you're beat up and thrown. The graphics are in the 2.5D format, and though they look so cool, some of the areas where you have to change lanes, can be unforgiving. I skipped every secret platforming level because of this.
Other features include local and online co-op for up to two players. You can use private invite only lobbies, or anyone on the internet can join. Easy to get in and get out; literally the push of a menu button. You can also set a difficulty level at the start of the game, however, you can't select anything harder than moderate until you beat the game. There's also a bonus mode called China Heroes, which lets you play it Renegade style, with no towns and very little story. This too, can be played with co-op, (four local) and while you only can go through the main story with Kunio, you have 24 characters to choose from in this mode. Some of these characters have to be unlocked, and will be after the first play through. There's also a full gallery, with character bios, the attacks you unlocked, a music gallery, and events if you want an abridged version of the story that they implemented into the game. It's a very nice package Arc System has put together, and I dare you not to listen to the remix of the shopping song, over and over again, and then make it your ringtone.
River City Saga has a lot of everything. Lots of people to beat up, lots of characters, lots of weapons, lots of upgrades, and lots of story. If you are a fan of the old school feel, you should definitely look into it. It's another beat-em-up to add to the collection, and contains everything you need to know about Romancing The Three Kingdoms. Check it out, if you're a fan of either game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Joseph is the resident streamer for Gaming Nexus. He grew up playing video games as early as the Atari 2600. He knows a little about a lot of video games, and loves a challenge. He thinks that fanboys are dumb, and enjoys nothing more than to see rumors get completely shut down. He just wants to play games, and you can watch him continue his journey at Games N Moorer on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook gaming!View Profile