With last weekend being a holiday of the red, white and blue variety, I decided to try out a new (to me) trio of beers while grilling some food and playing the recently released Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII. It was really a perfect weekend for the latter. I had my advance copy to review and an extended holiday weekend to delve into what I knew was going to be a deep game with a high learning curve. How does that fit in with Beeps and Beers? Well, for one a trio of the main characters drank and swore an oath of brotherhood together, so we’ll start with that.
Now amusingly, I did not originally set out to do a combination of beers that play nicely with the whole Fourth of July theme. It was super warm this weekend, and I had already been playing a lot of Romance over the first two days. Now that it was the fourth, I was grilling some food and pacing myself over the afternoon. If you read my review on the game, you know that I was quite fond of it – but there was a lot of depth to it and the systems definitely took some time to learn. By day three however, I felt that I had a really good grasp on the game and was able to settle in and just start playing through the proper scenario.
So, I did this while making some food on and off for the family that afternoon. As previously mentioned, it was hot so I decided to grab one of the fruit beers – the Blueberry Wheat. It was hot and that just sounded good. Of course it doesn’t hurt that I have a huge soft spot for blueberries. It did set the tone for all three beers as it was my favorite with its very pronounced blueberry aroma and crisp, straw colored body. The beer was a little sweet, but not blueberry pie sweet – definitely drinkable on a day where it was just shy of ninety degrees out.
I’m not going to lie – it went down really quick and easy. So I decided to go with something a little less sweet, and happened to have a Big Easy IPA in the fridge by Abita Brewing Company. The scent was a hoppy one, with color similar to the blueberry wheat and a hint of lemony zest on the tongue. It was not as sweet as such, a slightly slower drink than its predecessor. However, this is meant to be a sessionable IPA as it rings in at a light 4.5% ABV for an IPA.
By this time dinner was served and everyone was merrily eating and doing their own things, which meant that I could return to Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII. Now that I was less concerned with learning how to play the game and simply experiencing it, I had an opportunity to sit back and think about my history with the series while I plugged away at the game itself. I said in my review:
Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a game about people – interesting characters set against the backdrop of war. While there is a lot of overlap between these two games, the characters of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII help it to rise above most other strategy titles. In fact, for a game about war, combat is often a secondary concern. Of course you will never unite China without military prowess, but victory or failure have more to do with your preparation beforehand than the actual tactics executed on the battlefield.
And I meant that, because the strategy elements of the game and its similarity to my beloved Nobunaga’s Ambition drew me in, but it has always been the characters that made Romance my favorite of the old Koei strategy games. The game series shares its name with the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, set during the time of the Yellow Turban Rebellion in the 180’s. Often considered some of the most important characters, Lie Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei take an oath of brotherhood in the Peach Garden as they swore to protect the empire. This was a fictitious event, and many of the events chronicled in the book (which I have read twice over the years – believe me, there is some dense reading to be had here, but I loved it) fluctuate between historical and mythical legends that make a rich backdrop for the series. Koei Tecmo has been fond enough of the setting that the characters and locations are used in their long-running and popular Dynasty Warriors games as well, but the strategy games have always been captured the essence of the story due to its ability to better portray political intrigue and ability to balance economic considerations with those of war.
The Romance series has sure changed a lot over the last few decades. The old NES title was a strictly turn-based affair. To be honest, there is a small part of me that would love to see Koei Tecmo do something like that with one of their other properties down the road. Bandit Kings of Ancient China, L’Empereur, Genghis Khan and more seem as though they would provide ample source material if they were so inclined. It is kind of amazing to look back at these titles as they evolved over the NES, SNES and PlayStation consoles and see how far they have come. The technology obviously allows for greater visual and audio effects, but also more computations in the background and a greater number of options for the developers to work with.
Admittedly, some part of me longs for an almost simpler but modern take on the old Koei games. I was certainly enjoying my play time with Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII – that’s why I scored it an 8.5 out of 10. But I think there’s room here to take one of those other titles and give it an updated feel (enhanced visuals and sound with more focus on the characters and narratives) while still leaving it a somewhat simpler time-tested game. One of my biggest complaints about this latest release is how it was clearly designed in such a way that a mouse would be ideal – but I recall playing these games on the old NES and selecting factions and moving around the menu or selecting a unit or knowing which move to make next in combat were all pretty straight forward. They were not as pretty and the options were not as plentiful as the presentation of Nobunaga’s and Romance’s latest releases, but I am convinced that something like Bandit Kings of Ancient China would do well if modernized but was still kept close to its roots.
Anyways, these are the types of thoughts that roll around in your head as you decide that it’s time for one last beer later in the afternoon. At that point, I realized I had one Abita left in the fridge and that it was another fruit one – their Strawberry Harvest Lager. I poured myself a mug and was about to walk back into the den to pick up where I left off with the game and also my thoughts on the Koei strategy titles in general when I saw the three beer bottles sitting next to one another on the shelf. I decided to sneak out and take a picture of them then, arranging them from left to right in the order of red, white (type of beer: pale ale – if not the label) and blue. Amusingly the opposite order of how I drank them. It was not intentional, but seeing as it was July 4th? It struck me as amusing.
The Strawberry Harvest Lager was probably my least favorite of the three, with a somewhat golden-orange color and an aroma that reminded me of artificial strawberry syrup. It was not a bad beer by any means, but the least complex – though it complimented the other two quite nicely on a hot afternoon. Abita beers tend to excel at that, as the reason we had those three in the fridge in the first place was a trip to a party store we don’t visit very often. See, my wife and I went to New Orleans last year with my dad and had a great time – and probably the most common brewery down there was… you guessed it, Abita. It is hot however, so they definitely know how to make brews that compliment that hot weather and offer a lighter, more refreshing drink that I really came to appreciate while I was down there. To that end, these three did an admirable job. If scoring at home, I would give the blueberry my top marks with a 7.5, the IPA a 7.25 and the Strawberry a 7. We’ll split the difference on the score below.
As for the game? I will no doubt continue to play it regularly over the following weeks. It is a lot of fun, and did a nice job of reminding me what I love most about the Romance titles – the characters that give the overarching narrative focus. At the same time, I will also find myself hoping that we can get even more strategy games of this like made, perhaps with more traditional elements that will appeal to my sense of nostalgia and desire to play turn-based titles as well.
Article by Nick