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San Goku Shi IV (Sega 32X) artwork

San Goku Shi IV (Sega 32X) review

"A game about establishing the Chinese empire that throws up a lot of red flags"

(Just stop and take a second to really take in that tagline pun. Iím spectacularly proud of it.)

Originally when trying to write about this, I drafted a lot of words that focused hard on how the most interesting things about San Goku Shi IV centred around its weird rarity as the only Japan-exclusive 32X title on the market. Not without cause - it is a little weird; known to us filthy gaijins as Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire, it was a well-received chapter in Koeiís long running strategy series that asks you to try and unify ancient China. This chapter alone received ports on the Super Nintendo, Mega Drive, 32X, PlayStation, Saturn, FM Towns, 3DO, and several different PC strains. Point is, it got about and, by the time the 32X edition was ready, there was already a completely translated script knocking about considering the 16bit strains predated it. Previously, I spent a lot of time speculating about why this game is the lone Japan exclusive, but I suspect itís not that deep; the series did pretty well outside of Japan, but the system didnít. The system didnít even do that well inside of Japan. A niche strategy game readily available on other, more popular, consoles wasnít going to save the 32X.

So, that leaves me with a game my Western mind canít understand, with minimal improvements over the strains competently translated into my native tongue that are obtainable for a literal fraction of the cost. The only notable improvements are cleaner sprite work and a revamped introduction. Except, the new introduction is a droning collection of still images with endless (probably unreadable) text scrolling over it, which is a big step down from the opening of the 16bit original, with bravely attempted animations and laudable pixel artwork. This wonít bother some because San Goku Shi IV is a collectorís item with a price massively inflated by its limited release and unique status. The people who want to buy this game do not do so because of the contents of the cartridge, but because of the cartridge itself.

Still, it would be unfair to say this is the only interesting thing about San Goku Shi IV; it remains a very enjoyable time that doesnít massively uproot the previous three games in the series, but instead presents little improvements here and there that make it more competent and enjoyable. It offers six different scenarios where your main goal is to unite all 43 Chinese cities under your banner, making you the undisputed emperor. On your way to the throne, youíre tasked with making numerous decisions, usually on a month-to-month basis for a set amount of years depending on the campaign chosen. This usually mixes military and civic duties; for example, you might concentrate your efforts on establishing your army, growing your troop numbers or improving the soldiers you have on hand. Or you may put more focus on maintaining the cities under your control, improving their economy and developing the satisfaction of your citizens. Or both. Or neither.

These are tasks you can designate to your officers, who all possess differing talents and skills that you can either let the game present to you randomly, or you can build a number of officers from scratch, letting you decide what their area of expertise should be. Thereís a lot of customisation options available to you, grown even more by the multiplayer aspects that can allow up to eight factions to be controlled by either competent AI or less proficient meatbag couch co-op players who refuse to agriculture right. Itís not particularly user friendly, and does seem to work off the assumption youíve played at least some of the backlog before youíve picked up IV. I wouldnít sweat if not; your first few attempts at playing conqueror will fail miserably while you learn the ropes, but a persistent player will learn the intricacies of warlording, building success atop the foundations of each failure.

Of course, without an understanding of Japanese, youíd have to be ridiculously persistent to work through San Goku Shi IV. I managed to bluster through a few campaigns based mostly on muscle memory, thanks to the time Iíve put into the 16bit Romance IVs. All this taught me was how thereís nothing notable between the original 16bit games and the supposed upgrade to the 32X. Thereís zero reason to play this instead of the SNES and Mega Drive offerings that come fully translated and donít require you to remortgage your house to afford. If you came to this game looking for a step up from the humble 16bit foundations then, good news; the 32bit versions on the Playstation and Saturn do just that, so long as you consider three extra campaigns suitable payment for ridiculously bloated load times. Thereís numerous better ways to play Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire; San Goku Shi IVís only flirtation with relevancy is as an oddity and a collection piece.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 08, 2021)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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If you enjoyed this San Goku Shi IV review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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pickhut posted August 08, 2021:

I didn't think you'd actually try to review this game, so consider me surprised when I saw this at the very top of the front page when I woke up today. Congrats!

Also: I didn't know this game has co-op, so I learned something!
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EmP posted August 08, 2021:

There's a very good reason I left this one until right to the end. But it's done now and I'm a little bit closer to the finish line.
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honestgamer posted August 08, 2021:

I own the SNES version of the game digitally thanks to Virtual Console, so I will probably just stick to that. I've played surprisingly little Romance of the Three Kingdoms, considering how much I've liked Koei's awkward but lovable fare from that era (the newer titles look a bit too complex to retain the simple charm of earlier ones). A Japan-only 32X version of RotK IV was never going to be my go-to. Great review!
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dagoss posted August 08, 2021:

I played a bit of RotTK4 on SNES. I wish there was a translation patch for the 32x one--I like the look of it more. The mode 7 stuff on SNES makes me nasceous. I haven't played a Koei game since Keshen on PS2, but I like the NES era stuff.

Do you like other iterations of this series?
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EmP posted August 11, 2021:

I came to the series late because it didn't get a lot of EU coverage. Most of these games didn't get official European release until the Virtual Console and, I think, some of the handheld remakes? Not sure. My first real dalliance with the series was the PC port for IV which was pretty well done. III and IV was where I sunk the most hours through emulation, and I did put a few hours into the first, but it didn't seem to grab me. I hunted down IV because I will still very much into my X-Com phase (which I still seem to be in).
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Masters posted August 13, 2021:

GOAT tagline.
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EmP posted August 14, 2021:

Appreciate the rare comment, Marc!
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honestgamer posted August 14, 2021:

Rare was a terrific development studio, and I would like to see a true return to form in 2022 and beyond.

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