Destiny of an Emperor (NES) review
"Capcom didn't want a player turning some minor figure like Yellow Turban lackey Cheng Yuan Zhi into one of the saviors of the Han Dynasty, so he'll be stuck with his piddling 195 soldiers the entire game. Meanwhile, major players like Zhang Fei and Guan Yu will find their soldier count get higher and higher. When I beat the game, my top generals all had well over 30,000 soldiers. Poor Cheng Yuan Zhi just didn't fit into that crowd."
Initially, I looked at Capcom's Destiny of an Emperor as being one of the best retro RPGs I'd ever seen and wanted to kick myself for never giving it a try before recent times. Controlling those wacky real-life Chinese icons one might be familiar with from such well-known games such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dynasty Warriors, I got to embark on a very long quest to unite China by beating the snot out of hundred of warlords and then recruiting my fallen foes to lend a hand.
Starting out with Liu Bei, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu (as well as a couple of nobodies), I set out to dispel the threat of the Yellow Turban rebels. It didn't take long to discover this game reminded me a lot of the NES Dragon Warrior games -- at least in appearance. Obviously, since this game does take place in China, as opposed to the fictional Alefgard, my adversaries weren't going to be dragons, wyverns and slimes. Instead, my noble and honorable generals went up against dastardly rogues with names such as Yellow Turban leader Zhang Bao or evil usurping emperor Dong Zhou. These folks would tend to fight along with generic fighting units like bandits and rebels, which also would be used to form many of the game's random battles. Of course, enemy warlords also could pop up in these fights. Beating them in these encounters, as long as their storyline requirements had been fulfilled, could give my party a chance to recruit them and potentially strengthen my army.
And early in the game, recruiting the right generals definitely makes it easier to progress. I remember being overjoyed to grab Li Ru fairly early in the game. This chap has next-to-no combat ability, but is one of the most intelligent early-game generals one could hope to find. That's the sort of fellow the "tactician" role was meant for. An army without a tactician cannot use any form of tactic (aka: casting spells), which is, most assuredly, not good. And, the higher a tactician's intelligence is, the most tactic points their party has, meaning I didn't want to put a smart, but not brilliant, guy like Guan Yu in that role. On the other hand, picking up the famed traitor Lu Bu and his 255 strength ensured I'd be whittling enemy soldiers (aka: hit points) down in a hurry.
But the childlike joy I had in recruiting new warlords and reconfiguring my party on a regular basis gradually turned into boredom. Certain heroic characters are destined to be in a player's party from the moment they are found because they do one thing that the vast majority don't -- gain soldiers upon increasing in level. Capcom didn't want a player turning some minor figure like Yellow Turban lackey Cheng Yuan Zhi into one of the saviors of the Han Dynasty, so he'll be stuck with his piddling 195 soldiers the entire game. Meanwhile, major players like Zhang Fei and Guan Yu will find their soldier count get higher and higher. When I beat the game, my top generals all had well over 30,000 soldiers. Poor Cheng Yuan Zhi just didn't fit into that crowd.
As I progressed from one region to the next, I'd pick up a new "superior" general here and there, making virtually all of the recruitable warlords immediately obsolete. Even the best of the bunch would only be in my party for a brief interlude before quickly being replaced.
Eventually, I was only recruiting warlords for the sole purpose of not having to fight them again. Towards the end of the game, virtually every one of them has over 10,000 soldiers, with the most prominent having up to and over 40,000 at their disposal. Some of these battles can take quite some time to complete, making random battles quite tedious at times. When I find myself praying that any given battle is against a handful of Rebel Forces because I simply can't stomach one more fight with Wang Can and his nearly 27,000-man army, that tells me something must be wrong with the combat system.
Most likely, that "something" is the uneven nature of this game's challenge. For a good portion of this game, any new region would play out the same for me. I'd enter the area and immediately struggle with ANY battle featuring a warlord. They would have far more soldiers than I did and seemed to be be more than capable of giving me a run for my money. I'd then make it to the first castle (possibly gaining a level or two along the way), struggle to liberate it, upgrade my equipment there and *poof* the challenge was gone. With my new weapons and armor, I'd be chopping off huge numbers of soldiers with one hit, while their attacks were barely doing a fraction of what they had been. After clearing out the region I was in, I'd move to the next and the process would repeat itself.
Until I got close to the end, that is. In these areas, I noticed far more of my adversaries relied on brains rather than brawn to best my generals -- and they were far too effective in doing just that. I would be besieged by one tactic after another until I'd become far more frustrated than I should be playing one of these games. The An Sha spell was commonly used to instantly KILL my strongest generals, while a good casting of Ji Mian prevented me from physically attacking for a number of rounds. Oh, and take my word on this -- it is not cool when a warlord with roughly 30,000 soldiers casts Wan Fu on himself to regain each and every one of them. And this is the sort of thing one has to contend with during virtually every battle they're in as they near Destiny of an Emperor's conclusion. It does eventually get tiresome.
Still, I found this game to be better than a lot of NES-era RPGs. Heck, I actually found it a bit educational, as it induced me to do a bit of research about the Three Kingdoms era, so I'd have some clue as to who guys like Zhao Yun, Huang Zhong, Sun Quan and Cao Pi actually were. And I have to admit that successfully creating a RPG from real-life (if somewhat dramatized) events is an impressive feat. I just found I'd lost interest by the end because the game seemed to get too tedious and repetitive. It seemed the further I advanced in the game, the less freedom I had, as every battle became virtually the same, with me doing my best to negate enemy tactics while S-L-O-W-L-Y whittling down their massive numbers of soldiers. Destiny of an Emperor started with all the potential in the world, but finished a bit too sluggishly for my tastes.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (January 16, 2007)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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