It's China, late second century. The collapse of the Han dynasty has created chaos of unforeseen complexity, and China is now divided into many small states. There is an ambitious warlord, Cao Cao, who wants to reunite China, but he is not alone ... Well, what did you expect? I mean, who wouldn’t want all of China for himself? Anyone?
In the beginning of the game you choose whether you want historical or random conditions, and the time period. After that, the game begins.
As a ruler, you have a lot of freedom. You can improve cities, draft troops, build weapons, search for useful people ... Simply put, you have a lot of things you can do. Naturally, most of these things are done by someone else, so you have to choose the right people to do the right things. Advisors are important too, as they can make decisions in state matters much easier.
A small detail I like in particular is diplomacy. When you send someone to negotiate, you can see how the whole negotiation process goes on - it’s like a short dialogue. I know ... nothing too fabulous, but I always enjoy such details in a game.
People are an important part of the game. One can never have enough skilled officials. You can reward them (i.e. - by giving them an item which will increase their strength) to increase their loyalty, change their positions (make a military officer a civil officer, etc.) or fire them. Speaking of people, you must (just like every good ruler) care even about ordinary people. You simply must buy their favour by brib- erm ... giving gifts (giving out food for free), or else they may decide you’re not quite the ruler they’d like to work for and rebel. Also, you may hire soldiers instead of drafting them.
The military is also important, and I’d say it’s quite accurate. Even a small, well-trained elite force can successfully defend your city against a large army consisting of untrained peasants. You can arm your soldiers with crossbows, give them horses, etc.
Also, another plus for this game is the interesting battle system which more or less repeats itself in most of KOEI's games. It’s hard to describe, but it’s rather simple to understand.
The good thing is that while the game is realistic, it isn’t all that complicated, which is where I think its greatness lies. I can think of only one downside, and that is the AI, which can be a little dumb ... but is more or less OK.
So, how good is the game?
It's excellent! A real classic, very well-balanced and very replayable. I give it 4 out of 5.