HIGH Strategic elements kept me hooked and coming back for another run.

LOW Difficulty spikes and a lack of tutorials.

WTF Lu Bu, as always, continues to be the GOAT.

With the success of roguelike deck-builders such as Slay The Spire, many developers have sought to create their own unique spin on the genre. Three Kingdom: The Journey, from Senmu Studio, is another entry in this vein.

While based on the history of the Han Dynasty and lore from the Three Kingdoms saga, I found that this foundation was only thematic — the story didn’t contain a great amount of depth, but instead used these famous characters to populate its roster of cards and enemies.

Each of the three available generals to choose from has a different playstyle. Liu has more command points and specializes in strengthening cards, Cao focuses on discarding cards for powerful damage and effects, and Sun specializes in a combo system to use cards in a specific order that allow his other cards to pack a powerful punch.

As their chosen general, players must think about not only defense and attack but the specific number of command points they have to utilize cards.

For example, a basic archer unit will attack twice, whereas a shield unit will prevent a certain amount of damage to the player, each for a minimal cost. In contrast, there are more expensive cards that can be used for bigger damage, but players must consider what they have on hand, as well as how the cards interact with their specific general, potential enemy effects and so on.

As a deckbuilder, players can expect to tweak their setup after gaining new cards by defeating tough and powerful bosses, or by picking some up from specific map nodes, such as cities, academic centers, and the like. Map locations can provide additional units after a battle, provide an opportunity to recover HP for free (once per site, then a fee is added on for each additional rest period) or buy new cards. Events will allow players to choose between two or three specific actions for rewards (such as new cards) or penalties (e.g. lost max HP).

Many of the card mechanics are easy to learn and enjoy, and there are numerous strategies to employ with each general. There are also some ‘ally’ characters from the Three Kingdoms lore that make an appearance, either to be fought, recruited, or in some cases, both. For example, Lu Bu, the legendary spear-wielding general, appeared as a mini-boss at one point. After defeating him, I was given the chance to spare him and gain him as an ally or kill him for a small boost to my own general.

Three Kingdom features a nice watercolor art style for its opening cinematic, plus for portraits and sprites for many characters. Some of the character art felt a little off, but generally the visuals were well done. The music is surprisingly good, using a number of Chinese instruments to evoke the mood.

Unfortunately, there are some issues stemming from the lack of good tutorials. For example, morale was not spelled out properly, and this is a crucial aspect of gameplay as it greatly increases the amount of damage cards will do. Sadly, it was barely brought up in one out-of-battle tutorial that never appears again. This key tutorial didn’t even have the option to be revisited in the menu after an initial playthrough, making it impossible to brush up on the concept, and I was left to parse out this and other mechanics on my own.

There’s also no way to know when a boss character may show up, and they often come in immediately after all current enemies have been dispatched. While this creates tense moments, it would have been beneficial to know that these enemies would appear. As such, unexpected difficulty spikes like these surprise encounters can make things unfairly difficult.

Finally, maps have a great number of battles to go through, making it difficult to go through a run at a good pace. While it is possible to save and resume, if a player gets a game over, it’s back to the start of the first map. The challenging fights, as well as mini-bosses randomly appearing during some battles, make it very hard to get to the end of the game, which is a key concern for a roguelike that wants players to come back time and time again.

There’s also a decided lack of polish on some things. For example, spelling errors appear in text, and the map screen has a bug where the mouse will still move the map even after it’s been deselected. Also, some text can be difficult to read since card text cannot be resized.

Three Kingdom: The Journey has the makings of a great roguelike deckbuilder, but a number of issues like the harsh difficulty of surprise bosses and minor technical hiccups prevent it from reaching its full potential. However, despite this, the tactical and random nature of play meant that I discovered something new each time. The theme of Three Kingdom makes it stand out by forgoing fantasy tropes for a more grounded military-style affair, and there’s a good journey waiting to happen here… players just might have to power through a few issues to get to it.

Rating: 6/10

— Justin Grandfield

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Senmu Studios. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately six hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed, but one general’s path was beaten. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game has no ESRB rating, but this game has some minimal swearing, such as “s**t”. Enemies are defeated with animations, and no blood is present. There are discussions of war and executions, and certain characters can be “killed”, instead of being recruited. The game over screen shows defeated enemies with weapons and projectiles sticking in them. In addition to this, some enemies can be defeated after they’ve surrendered.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game offers subtitles, and they cannot be turned off. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Text size on cards cannot be changed, either. Some cards with ample text, as a result, can be somewhat difficult to read. As this is a turn-based game, there are no audio cues needed for successful gameplay.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

GC Staff
Latest posts by GC Staff (see all)
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments