The smarter cousin of Koei's Dynasty Warriors series, RotTK takes the setting of Dynasty Warriors - namely, the Three Kingdoms period, the end of the Han Dynasty in China. Whereas Dynasty Warriors is about brute strength and button mashing, RotTK is a deeply involved series that requires a huge amount of thinking and planning. RotTK IX is one of the rare English-translated RotTK games.
The player takes the role of one of the warring faction leaders in China's history. Starting usually with only a small holding of the 40-odd major cities in China, the player works his way through the countryside, using his officers to increase his holdings and fortify his positions. There is a great variety of assignments for your officers - besides obvious military actions, there are diplomatic and subversive solutions to problems. The magnitude of assignments is staggering and complex; when dealing with an enemy city, do you attempt to make peace? Is peace too unlikely, and thus you must weaken their resolve before attempting it? Do you ignore peace entirely and lay siege to their fortress? Are your numbers strong enough for that? Will another ruler attempt to take advantage of your conflict and hit you from behind? These are the kinds of issues present in the game.
The gameplay is a micromanaging style - assign your officers to different tasks, ranging from domestic affairs to improving the city they are in to preparing for war. The main goal is, of course, conquest, and most of the options are meant to head towards that. Different officers are better at different things, and some you may wish to make civilian ministers, while others you will make generals of your armies. Keeping track of your cities and their stats - how much food they have, how much the people like you, how much defense has been built - is important. On occasion, you must enter battle as well; this is done by selecting some officers, assigning troops to them, and choosing formations and tactics. While you cannot interfere directly in battles, you can choose how the soldiers should fight. Knowing your enemy is a good trait, as it helps you pick the right kind of formations to use.
The option exists to create your own officer (a hallmark of the RotTK series). There are many tactical considerations to make, but also the officer's personality - what they value, and how they behave - can be customized, as well. In addition to the regular conquest mode (already fairly customizable, with different campaigns for different years and events) the option also exists to do more specific scenarios with certain goals.
The graphics are of a 2d sprite style - well illustrated and accurate (with realistic proportions on visible characters, unlike many other sprite games), they create the proper mood for the game. Every character has a custom portrait as well, done in a beautiful artistic style.The sound is impressive; there is voice acting only at certain points (narration for campaign modes) which is done in authentic Chinese. The music is atmospheric at times and bombastic at others. The quality of the music is very good as well, with lots of classical instruments.
This game is very complex, and fans of the Dynasty Warriors games or the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels may find themselves confused because of its steep learning curve. However, if you can get into it and puzzle it out (with the help of the solid in-game tutorial), this game is definitely worth it.