Three Kingdom: The Journey is a roguelike deck builder developed and published by Senmu Studio. Set in China during the Han Dynasty, the Kingdom is facing an armed uprising of bandits, things are looking hopeless and the only ones willing to fight are volunteers. You are one of these brave souls and it’s up to you to build and lead your army to victory against the Yellow Scarf (or Turbans? They use different terms between the game and Steam page) or, more likely than not, die trying.
The intro cutscene, the setting, and the overall art style is appealing and overall I enjoyed the presentation of it all. Each faction has unique dialogue with the bosses, which is nice, but I didn’t really care much about the story. I felt that for a fast-paced game it claims to be, the banter with the bosses breaks the pacing and it just made me want to skim dialogue to get to the fun stuff. The premise was good enough, I didn’t need more elaboration. I also have a few issues with the localisation from Chinese to English. It’s not perfect. I noticed a few misspellings and errors here or there and I think some cards and effects are ill-defined. I don’t know, but it seemed to me that in one or two fights the information wasn’t accurate and that the formatting was off. Some of these issues should've been resolved before release.
However, the story and presentation is secondary to gameplay. There are three factions you can choose to play as for a run. The Liu, where offence is the best defence and offers the most simple playstyle. The Cao, who is all about deck control and drawing cards. Finally, there is the Sun, who relies on random combos of cards to unleash devastating effects. I liked playing as each of the factions, who each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but I did lean towards the Sun, which encourages having a variety of different cards that combo off each other.
Three Kingdom: The Journey plays very similarly to Slay the Spire. You travel along a map fighting enemies, doing events, and refining your deck. In battles, your enemies will telegraph what they’re going to do and you must react accordingly with the cards in your hand. The difference here is that you can switch out your general to add their special ability card to your hand at any time, but must wait for a cooldown before you use it again. For every battle you win, you take over that area and add it to your Territorial Resources. Conquer enough of them and you gain a special bonus like reducing the mana cost of certain card types or more money. It’s a cool system that makes you plan out your path forward more carefully. Do you go to the Guest House to heal or risk it by getting into a fight in the Horse Pasture to get new Calvary cards? Both have their benefits, but you can’t do everything in one run so choose carefully.
And that’s sort of it. I have nothing else to describe about the gameplay other than it works as intended and that the interactions with different cards, abilities, and buffs are interesting, but that comes with the territory with games like Three Kingdom: The Journey… or Indies' Lies, Roguebook, and all the other roguelike deck builders heavily inspired by Slay the Spire. This isn’t a knock against it, but man does it feel like I’ve played this before. At the very least, I managed to break the game after a couple of failed runs. Turns out, the Morale buff is OP, as it boosts the damage of attack cards and if you have enough stacks built up, every card hits like a truck that can wipe out even the spongiest of bosses in only a few turns. I did beat a run, but the only reward was a higher difficulty. No new cards unlocked as far as I can tell, which is a shame.
Onto technical performance. It ran perfectly fine. 60 FPS all the way through, and with no visual bugs that I could see. However, I did run into a glitch where I couldn’t use my cards in the middle of a battle despite the fact I still had enough mana to play them. I had to quickly save and load the fight, but I didn’t lose any progress or even need to reset the fight. I can see that it could be abusable where you could manipulate how a turn would play out, but I didn’t test it out.
If you’re looking for something to scratch that deckbuilding itch Slay the Spire has left you, Three Kingdom: The Journey is for you. While it doesn’t have the polish it needs, it serves its purpose as a fun game to play with a unique setting and nice innovations, all at a cheap price to boot. While I don't see myself coming back to it any time soon, as there isn’t much incentive to do more runs, it is worth at least a try.
Three Kingdom: The Journey (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Three Kingdom: The Journey will scratch the itch for a new roguelike deckbuilder, with fun new mechanics and great setting. However, it does suffer a few problems that aren’t easily ignored.