Destiny of an Emperor is a classic, turn-based style RPG. While it looks and controls much like Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy, the fights are a little different. Instead of HP, your generals command troops, but they basically represented your HP. You can “Battle” instead of fight, or use “Tactics” instead of magic if you have a strategist on your team. You can also automate fights by selecting “All-Out”. There are over 150 characters in this game, and if you’re not familiar with Chinese names, it can be pretty daunting. Defeating enemies nets you food, money, and experience. Rations go towards replenishing troops.

The over world graphics are par for the course, which is to say, not mind blowing. The battle sequences don’t look amazing either, as it’s simply generals facing each other off with a very small amount of data under them on a black background. I think the character profiles do look very cool, as they are based on a manga. If you’re a fan of late 70’s/early 80’s style anime, like I am, it’ll be right up your alley. The music is well done, representing traditional Chinese instruments and style in chiptunes. It’s jaunty and instantly recognizable for what it’s going for. I quite like the music, and think they did a great job.

If you have some time on your hands, check out this video of game play footage and see if it’s for you.

Some History Behind the Game

Tenchi Wo Kurau, “The Devouring of Heaven and Earth” is a manga based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. We recently covered one of the follow ups to this game, which is an excellent beat’em up. I bought it on the Capcom Beat’em Up Bundle, which is avilable on most new systems. It is known as Warriors of Fate, aka Tenchi Wo Kurau II. I believe it’s the direct sequel to very similar beat’em up called Dynasty Wars (not to be mistaken for Dynasty Warriors).

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to play through this RPG, as it spans over a century of warfare. However, I have always been intrigued by it. I picked this game up years ago, gave it a shot, and was impressed, but also unable to dedicate the time needed to play it. This is definitely an old-school RPG, which means lots of relentless grinding that I just can’t do anymore.

I’ve gone back and done a bit of research, for I’ve always felt like I missed out. ROTK is one of my favorite books. I love Dynasty Warriors (5 most of all), for all it’s faults and fumbles. Red Cliff was an okay set of movies? The Lost Bladesman starring Donnie Yen is pretty rad, so I felt like I owed it to the game to learn more about it. Turns out, this game is quite good! It’s made by Capcom, and is a relatively unknown RPG for the NES. While most people automatically think of Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, and rightfully so, there were others. Ghost Lion, Destiny of an Emperor, and Times of Lore were all JRPGs, although not well known.

The Three Brothers

The Oath in the Peach Garden, from wikipedia.

In Desinty of an Emperor, you command Shu leader, and relative to the Han emperor, Liu Bei. He, as always, is surrounded by his sword brothers. Guan Yu, noble and fierce, is the personification of honesty and battle prowess. Chang Fei is a feiry warrior, unmatched on the battlefield. They became sworn brothers in what is known as the Oath in the Peach Garden, and promised to die on the same hour of the same day. How’s that for your bros having your back?

These three are so important in Chinese history that if you look closely, you can see them in many places. In Kung Fu movies, there is often a mural or shrine in the background. You may notice “Saint Kuan” (Guan Yu) in restaurants. Liu Bei is the good guy by all accounts. He is honest and compassionate, and is everything you want in a devoted leader. In one section from the book, somebody points out that the sick and elderly are slowing down a retreat from an unwinnable battle. Somebody suggests that they cut them off and flee to safety. Liu Bei responds with “If we leave the sick and elderly, who are we fighting for?”

Cao Cao, a Hero in a Time of Chaos

Cao Cao (say Tsao Tsao in your mind) is almost always seen as a bad guy, as he is the antagonist in the books. He was, however, considered a “Hero in a time of Chaos”. Confusingly, he is both revered and judged. He once said that he would rather turn his back on the world than give the world a chance to turn its back on him, if this gives you a taste for his character. He did, however, almost completely unify China, so he gets it done. I love that Cao Cao is such a dynamic character. He rewards hard work handsomely, and trusts his men; commands respect everywhere he goes. He is cunning. Not many people can be considered a hero or villain depending on how you look at them.

Other ROTK Media

As I mentioned before, there are several dozen characters in this game, so I won’t even attempt to cover most of them. If you’re interested in the story, there are several ways to get into it. As far as movies and TV goes, there’s more than one long running Chinese TV series, Red Cliff 1 & 2, Lost Bladesman, and many others. I particularly enjoyed the Lost Bladesman, and NOT because I have a creepy obsession with Donnie Yen, no matter what my co-workers suggest. Donnie Yen recently portrayed Ip Man, Bruce Lee’s Wing Chun teacher, as well as Chirrut Imwe from Star Wars Rogue One.

While many movies try to cram entire books into a two hour film, this movie focuses on one or two chapters of the book. Cao Cao captures the mighty Guan Yu, who is prepared to fight to the death. His captor convinces him to join sides, because he won’t be able to win, hence, he would break the promise to his brothers. Additionally, Cao Cao will allow him to return to Liu Bei when they meet back up. He takes Cao Cao up on this offer and fights for him temporarily. It’s an interesting chapter, and I love how it shows off that no character is simply good or bad.

Furthermore, there are also several anime adaptations, although the only one I’ve seen is an old VHS copy of Great Conquest. I’ve been told Ikkitousen is based on it loosely somehow, but is contemporary and sleazy, so…If that’s your thing, go nuts.

One last little side note…

In addition to buying and reading the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, you can also buy the Art of War, written by Sun Tzu. Interestingly, Sun Tzu’s descendants are directly in the Warring States. Sun Jian, Sun Ce, and Sun Quan are all related to the author of the Art of War. That book is referenced occasionally in Romance. Furthermore, you can buy a copy called “Remastering the Art of War”, which has commentary and additional insights provided by the wizard Zhuge Liang. Some versions of Art of War even have commentary by generals over time, one of them being Cao Cao.

What about you?

That’s enough out of me, how do YOU feel about it? I love Romance of the Three Kingdoms, as we all know, but what about you? Which one is your favorite adaptation? Were you introduced through Dynasty Warriors like I was? Leave comments down below and let us know! Who’s your favorite character? I’ve always loved Zhao Yun, one of the Five Tiger Generals, who was brave and unstoppable. Thanks!