The beat ’em up genre entered a renaissance within the past couple of years with games such as Streets of Rage 4 and River City Girls. Among all the new game releases, one classic series has persevered and been on the rise. The River City series has been going strong since its inception and the momentum doesn’t stop with the newest entry, River City Saga: Three Kingdoms. This new entry by Arc System Works is a retelling of Romance of the Three Kingdoms with classic River City characters. Combining both works creates a very fun and addictive beat ‘em up with an amusing interpretation.
Romance of the River City
The story of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms covers most events that happen from the Yellow Turban Rebellion to the Battle of the Red Cliffs. While the source material is expansive, the game supplies the story in bite-sized segments that didn’t slow down the pace. The story may feel like a SparkNotes version of the novel, but it still is a fine and simple introduction to Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The game’s writing shines when focusing on the cast of characters. Plenty of moments allows the cast to excel during this comedic adventure. The main three characters are famous generals Guan Yu (Kunio), Liu Bei (Gouda), and Zhang Fei (Godai). Their interactions create a very amusing experience, allowing players to have a break before continuing an action-packed journey.
The Art of War
River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is an accessible beat ‘em up RPG. The controls are fairly straightforward with punches, kicks, grabs, jumping, guarding, and special moves. There’s a vast variety of special moves, attacks, and weapons at the player’s disposal. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms also rewards players for mixing and matching different moves, as some combinations will unlock ultimate moves as well. These ultimate moves will take out a whole squad of enemies in short order. The game actively encourages the player to unlock more moves and experiment with them. In addition, each town features a shop that sells special moves, and NPCs that give away hints on how to unlock them. The combat system is very satisfying to mix and match. Even during a third playthrough, there’s still fun to be had by unlocking all the moves.
River City Saga: Three Kingdoms also features powerful tactics moves. Tactics moves are another wide-sweeping attack that hits every enemy on screen. These moves range from launching fire arrows, flooding the stage, and even summoning new weapons and items to turn the tides of battle. All of the tactics moves are well animated, providing an eye-catching sequence. Tactics moves may be unlocked through story progression, completing extra missions, and shops. Four moves may be equipped at a time, but the tactics meter must be filled to use them. Overall, tactics moves add a whole new layer to battles as deadly finishers.
Thanks to the inclusion of co-op, the main story is fully playable with friends. Players may connect to the same system or play online. The entire story is playable with two players, and another game mode is playable with up to four players. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms offers a bonus mode featuring 24 playable characters across 10 stages of enemies, bosses, and secrets. In this mode, characters have a predetermined move list that cannot be changed. Although the mode lacks customization, it’s still a lot of fun with a group of friends.
To and From
Alongside the beat ’em up combat, River City Saga: Three Kingdoms features various exploration elements. The game features a large interconnected map across six chapters. In addition, the game encourages exploration with rewards such as extra items, new attacks, treasure, and more unlockable areas. However, there’s no way to track active missions or items. Its up to the player to remember side missions and the relevant locations. Some missions also require a collection of items to progress. On a first playthrough, trying to find one last piece of straw or wood with no way to mark on the map became tiresome. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms actively encourages the player to backtrack to previous locations and unlock items with newly acquired moves. Most of these items aren’t required, but it provides a sense of exploration similar to a Metroid game.
When starting River City Saga: Three Kingdoms, four difficulty levels are present but only one is immediately available. After beating the game on Moderate difficulty, Hard-Liner difficulty is unlocked. A second playthrough may begin with all prior unlocks from the first playthrough, similar to a new game plus mode. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms has a reputation system based on decisions made and side missions completed. During the first playthrough, reputation is not a major factor. However, reputation affects the story in subsequent playthroughs.
The game prioritizes replay value through various playthroughs and content to pursue. For instance, new events and boss battles are available during the second playthrough. Unfortunately, the game is missing some basic quality of life adjustments that would have been a welcome addition in later playthroughs. For example, there is no way to skip cutscenes or dialogue. A fast forward feature is present during dialogue, but a skip feature would have been great after having to replay certain sequences multiple times. Issues aside, River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is still an enjoyable game in multiple playthroughs.
The Final Battle
River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is an addictive and rewarding experience. A few quality of life adjustments can make this game even better throughout multiple playthroughs. It’s not a perfect beat ’em up, but it’s worth investing time into. By the third playthrough, there’s still more content to explore and ultimate moves to obtain. River City Saga: Three Kingdoms is a fine addition to the series and creates anticipation for what could come next in the River City franchise.
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Disclaimer: Arc System Works provided a Nintendo Switch review copy of River City Saga: Three Kingdoms to Final Weapon.