- Machine: Nintendo
Each time Koei translates one of its epic historical simulations from PC to Nintendo format, the results improve. So it is with the elaborate and subtle Bandit Kings of Ancient China.
Every important feature of the PC version is here, complemented by sharp, fine-grained graphics. The battle scenes are more detailed and the scrolling is much smoother than in previous Koei games for Nintendo.
In Bandit Kings, you play a chieftain in 12th-century China who must eliminate an evil warlord before barbarians invade from the north. The basic gaming system remains the same as in other Koei games (Nobunaga's Ambition, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Genghis Khan). Each "month" of game time, you issue one command from a long list of military, economic, and political options.
Bandit Kings has a few refinements, however. Most importantly, each action you take now costs a certain amount of physical stamina. When your character's strength gets too low, he must rest and recover before doing more. As a result, it's vital to delegate authority and find reliable subordinates early in the game.
Another difference is the game's overall philosophy. In previous Koei games, the outcome was open-ended - survival and expansion were the main goals, and some games lasted long enough to span dynasties. But in Bandit Kings, you have a definite goal: to kill Gai Qiu, the evil despot. Furthermore, you have only 25 years of game time in which to do it, or else you'll be invaded by the barbarians.
Because Bandit Kings plays on a more intimate scale than the other Koei games, individual personality traits are very important. Your chances of recruiting or forming an alliance with a valuable hero are greatly improved if the two characters have compatible personalities.
Like any real chieftain, you must also learn to make clear-minded, realistic judgments about your subordinates, even as you take steps to cement their loyalty - which, in the world of 12th-century China, usually meant a liberal donation of gold.
Bandit Kings, like its predecessors, is a deep, sophisticated, utterly absorbing game of strategy on the grandest scale.